By Tom Ehrich
I wonder if there came a moment during his final days when Jesus felt about his work as I feel about the Presidential campaign: Will this ever end?
Can the power-hungry find yet more nasty things to say, pander to yet another niche constituency, and drive their followers into one more frenzy?
When people have no other apparent purpose in life but to seek and to hold power, they are never motivated to let up. Bullying isn’t about winning, it is about intimidating and the strange satisfaction of seeing the other cower. Pandering isn’t about getting one’s way, but seeing the glint in another’s eyes, mistaken perhaps for acceptance but known better as collaboration. Snarky know-it-alls don’t want to convince, but to keep earning applause for, well, knowing it all. No one wants to move on.
The religious leaders who hounded Jesus had no apparent purpose but to remain in power. They had created a tidy little world, not exactly free of oppression, for Rome remained boss, but free of day-to-day intrusion. Jesus threatened that, not by claiming the perks they had cobbled together, but by lifting up God’s loftier purposes. Jesus exposed them as small. They hated him for it.
Most politicians who run for office have little aptitude for the actual holding of office. They know little of the issues facing a complex nation in a complex world. They would be lost from day one, and only a handful figure it out before their time on stage ends – and those few get pilloried for doing their jobs. Bill Clinton got slammed for being a womanizer, and Barack Obama has been rejected for being black. But their biggest offense is that they have been effective at their jobs.
Behind the scenes, you see, are some deeply entrenched wealthy folks who are determined to see government fail at everything except serving their narrow interests. They use whatever tools are available to maintain their grip on the nation’s wealth. They claim to be patriots, but in fact they behave like Judas, sacrificing the good for the sake of wealth. They claim to be superior, entitled to live as large as they want, but in fact they are schemers and bullies, who shower money on political sycophants and excuse whatever evil those toadies pursue, from pointless wars to vicious bigotry, so long as they promise not to meddle in the wealth machine.
Jesus pushed and prodded against God’s enemies, and he pushed and prodded the people for settling so comfortably into evil’s grip. For a time, the people resonated with his promises and ideas, for he spoke of a God they had actually been seeking. But they turned against Jesus when he went too far, seeking a total transformation, rather than small adjustments. The powerful recognized Jesus as a threat from the start, and they worked against him without letup.
In the final days, Jesus walked away from the crowd, said farewell to his friends, and withdrew to a quiet place where he could pray and await his enemies. He hadn’t given up. He had seen the truth about evil: evil will destroy itself if goodness remains resolute, not in fighting back, but in being good.
When goodnes remains good and doesn’t match evil for evil, violence for violence, evil has no place to go except self-destruction, as right-wing politicians now are doing.
As our political life pushes toward bigotry and fascism, the good and decent cannot just wait for the storm to pass. It won’t pass. Goodness and decency must remain resolute in the face of darkness, and true to God’s ways, which are beyond our full understanding but certainly comprise more than bigotry wearing a cross.
We cannot pretend that bigotry and fascism are acceptable. We must continue to name the good, even when evil seems to be winning.