“FREEDOM!” Bellowed With a Mel Gibson-as-William-Wallace Zeal

I couldn’t contain myself.  I had just heard for the second time in my men’s small group’s study of John 18 that “God hardened Pilate’s heart”.  “Where does it say that in the text?” I blurted at the small-framed, unfailingly pleasant Pilipino sitting on the other side of the circle.  His eyes fixed on me, saucer-like, and he was speechless.  “Pilate had a choice.” I rebutted.   He was still speechless, probably wondering if 260 pounds of middle-aged fury was going to go Hulk on him.  The rest of those moments are hazy, except for the other members of the group throwing me some theological bones undoubtedly hoping that would prevent me from turning green and bursting out of my clothes (thank the Lord I was wearing the expandable waist-band pants!).  At the end of the session, as we repaired to the sanctuary for the homiletics, I put my hand on his shoulder and apologized for my outburst.  “It’s no problem,” he said, “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.”  At that moment it took everything I had not to take the hand off his shoulder and deliver one of those sharp, short karate chops to the neck that were so popular in ‘60s spy movies.  No, everyone’s not entitled to their opinion, I raged inside.  Then almost the first thing out of the homilist’s mouth – a minister I respect very much – was “The most important point to remember from tonight’s lesson is that Pilate and the Jews were pawns in God’s plan for redemption.”  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!  And in my mind I could hear my friend – like that annoying kid on “The Simpsons” who always shows up as someone falls off a skateboard or slips on a banana peel – going “Ah-HA!”  “Did we not just say  in our study of John 13 that Jesus gave Judas every opportunity to repent?” I blurted inside my skull. (I had enough self-control to keep my mouth shut in a room of about 300 men, most of whom were beefy Protestants zealous enough to wield a monkey wrench for Jesus)  “In this week’s lesson itself, we were not asked to cite the precise texts were Jesus gave Pilate opportunities to embrace the truth?”  ARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

The Jews and Pilate and the Romans were all pawns.  If you want to use that metaphor, then obviously you have to take it to the conclusion that God plays chess using human beings as pieces.  Our freedom is the pivot point on which faith rests for me.  Without it Jesus’ sacrifice makes no sense.  If we are ruled by determinism – instead of the result of the random collision of atoms materialists believe, the controlled collision of atoms overseen by God – then what is the point?  It’s easy to fall into the trap that if God is omniscient and knows everything that is going to happen, then it has to be pre-determined, that our choices are illusions.  Why would Jesus agonize on the Cross as Satan tormented him with visions of the apathy and denial of his sacrifice down through the ages if people were not making real choices?   As I sit there remote in hand considering that “Drunken Busty Babes on Spring Break IV” on pay-per-view is just a few clicks away, what merit is it for me that I resist this temptation if it’s not really my choice?  (Actually, even if I’m truly free, not really much merit if you knew what Mary would do to me if she caught me watching those drunken busty babes cavorting on the pristine sands…)

I think an important point about Caiaphas, Judas, Pilate and other villains of the Bible that God’s plan coming to fruition did not mean that after Jesus’ death and resurrection they couldn’t have made right choices.  If Judas had hung in there and been there like Thomas to proclaim “My Lord and my God!”, he would have been forgiven – granted, he’d have been a little worse for wear after having the crap kicked out of him by the Sons of Thunder – but he’d been forgiven.  Pilate could have embraced Christianity like his wife instead of committing suicide.  God sees all, but God does not control us like puppets.  What merit in faith, hope, and charity if we are not free?

God bless us all!

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2 Comments on ““FREEDOM!” Bellowed With a Mel Gibson-as-William-Wallace Zeal”

  1. big bob Says:

    If Judas had hung in there…

    well, in the end… he did, didn’t he?

  2. The high priests insisted he take his 30 pieces of silver and not hang around the temple.

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