The God of justice


Matthew 26

File:Jesus bearing the cross - Sagrada Familia - Barcelona 2014.JPG

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

59Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death

They needed an excuse. Not that they needed to justify their actions to themselves – they had good reasons, and they, after all, are the smart and intelligent leaders of the land who know what needs to be done and how to get it done. But there needs to be the appearance of propriety. Plausible deniability. Cover.

When King Ahab pouts because Naboth will not sell him his field, Jezebel, daughter of the Sidonian king, shows Ahab how power is exercised in the real world. She finds two willing witnesses, sets Naboth between them at a public liturgy, has her “witnesses” accuse him of cursing God and the king, and has him executed.

As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

The leaders of Judea have become Naboth and Jezebel, adept at the exercise of power. They understand the real world of Rome. They know how to pull the levers of power. They have a dependent class of people to use as a rabble to cry out for Jesus’ death. The only thing to work out is the official story so Pilate will bring the terrible power of Rome crashing down on this uppity peasant who challenges their world.

They have abandoned the way of God for the way of the world.

It is not hard to rationalize their decision. If Jesus gains enough followers, if he becomes a threat to Rome, if his followers cause any political instability, Rome will quickly march in, depose them all and appoint someone else to rule the land. Romans want order. They want nothing to interfere with the flow of tribute to Rome.

These leaders in Jerusalem can’t control Jesus. He is a loose cannon. Talk of justice, talk of the reign of God – these are dangerous ideas. A few wondrous deeds, a healing, and suddenly people will think anything is possible. He must be silenced. And more than silenced – he must be neutralized completely. He must be crushed. He must be disgraced in the eyes of all.

It is the way of power. Whether with the skill of lobbyists in congress or lawyers in the courts – drag out the case for years until the poor suitor is penniless or exhausted – the advantage lies with the strong. They need only the thinnest veneer of respectability.

So the God of justice is served by the unjust. The protector of widows and orphans, the defender of the poor, the avenger of the alien with no one to protect him against predation – this God is preyed upon. 30 pieces of silver. An accusation that he has threatened the temple. A couple lackeys to say he claims the kingship. And Rome will smack him down.

But he doesn’t stay down. The God of justice arises. The defender of the poor defends his faithful one. Death must give back its victim and the power of this world is shown to be powerless.

So we watch the machinations of politicians and corporations; bankers, lawyers and lobbyists; clever manipulators of markets and social opinion. But the world belongs to the God of justice. Jerusalem was destroyed. Rome no longer exists. A succession of Romes have come and gone, but the followers of this Jesus are still here, passing on his words and deeds, and living by the knowledge that Ahab and Jezebel do not get the last word. It is spoken by the God of justice.