Nothing can stand in the way of God

strong>Easter 3 – 2014
Matthew 25:8a-15
Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to proclaim the truth in the face of all efforts to discredit us.Amen.

I do not have much experience of court procedure, however from media reports – particularly of the more sensational trials – it seems to me that one of the techniques used by barristers is to try to discredit the defendant, the experts or the witnesses. If they succeed, if they can prove that the witness whom they are questioning is unreliable or that he or she has a background of behaving erratically, then they may be able to convince the jury that that person’s testimony is flawed and can be rejected. Likewise if the prosecutor can demonstrate that the defendant has a history of behaviour similar to that for which they are on trial – violence or sexual abuse (for example) – he or she can lead the jury to believe that the defendant is more, rather than less, likely to be guilty. The case for the prosecution is made stronger if it they are able to expose a weakness or a vice in the defendant or the witnesses for the defense.

Today’s gospel has nothing to do with a court case, but the situation is similar. The Chief Priests have been successful in determining the outcome of Jesus’ trial. By planting a seed of an idea in a volatile crowd they convinced the crowd that Jesus deserved to die. Now however, their credibility is under threat. It is they who may be exposed as unreliable witnesses. If there is even the slightest hint that Jesus is alive their judgement and their authority will come under question. If Jesus is alive, his conviction as a traitor and a heretic cannot be justified. If Jesus has been raised from the dead, their status as God’s representatives will be seriously compromised. It is little wonder then that the priests want to ensure that there can be no mistaking in the minds of the people that Jesus is well and truly dead.

In fact from the moment that Jesus was taken from the cross the leaders of the Jews have been conspiring to ensure that there can be no question that Jesus was dead. They had remembered that Jesus had said he would be raised from the dead and were afraid that the disciples – in order to make it look as though Jesus’ prediction was right – might steal Jesus’ body. This would both justify the disciples’ faith in Jesus, but would also give their teaching credibility and provide the momentum for them to continue the movement which Jesus began. Were this to happen the Chief Priests would find themselves in a worse situation than before – instead of one man to contend with there would be several. In order to circumvent the possibility of Jesus’ body being stolen, they have asked Pilate for, and been given, a guard for the tomb. All should now be well.

However, they have not counted on God (which, of course, has been their problem all the way along). Their plan fails to work. Despite the fact that the tomb was protected by guards, it has been opened and the body has disappeared. What is more, the guards appear not to have noticed it happening. The earthquake, the resurrection and even the angels seem to have made no impact on the soldiers. At least it none of these events are reported by them. Whether they were asleep or simply stunned, they appear to have seen or heard nothing. All they are able to tell the priests is that the body has gone.

The worst fears of the priests have been realised. They are confronted with an empty tomb and a missing body – ammunition for the disciples to use to convince Jesus’ followers (and others) that he has been raised. It doesn’t occur to the priests that Jesus really has risen from the dead. Their concern is to defend their position and to retain their credibility – after all wasn’t it they who pressed for this man’s death?

So, in order to protect their version of events and to ensure that Jesus (and now his followers) continue to be seen as trouble-makers they pay off the guards and give them the task of insisting that the body was stolen. There is a certain irony in this situation that is presumably lost on the priests. Three days ago they were trying to prevent the disciples’ stealing the body and claiming that Jesus had risen. Now that they have lost control and the body has miraculously disappeared, they themselves want to promote the idea that the disciples stole the body of Jesus.

It seems that nothing – not even the empty tomb will convince them that God is acting in and through Jesus. Even though the guards have not satisfactory explanation for the open tomb, they cannot revise their perception of Jesus as someone who must be silenced forever. Having chosen murder, obstruction and deception are their weapons, the priests are unable to change course, to revise their opinion of the Jesus’ movement. Their attempts to destroy Jesus and deal a death-blow to his followers are under threat if the body is not safely in the tomb. As Jesus’ crucifixion has not achieved their goal, they must resort to subterfuge. They are not able to rid themselves of Jesus’ disciples so instead they try to discredit them, to present them as liars and thieves. Even though there is no evidence to support their claim, they will spread the rumor that the body was stolen.

That they were not successful in their deception is evident by the disciples’ continued conviction that Jesus had risen; in the spread of Christianity; in the willingness of people then and every century since, to go to their deaths rather than deny the resurrection; and that people in churches across the entire world meet Sunday after Sunday to declare their faith in the risen Christ.

The seemingly impossible was shown to be possible, the apparently ludicrous (an unknown, homeless crucified man) was demonstrated to be the one sent by God. Those blinded by their conservatism and their desire to protect and maintain their position of authority were unable to see it. Nothing, not even logic and reason can stand in the way of God.

Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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