Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Exodus 23:1-9) transports me back to the desert of Sinai, where Grandpa Moses climbed the steep mountain to hear chapter and verse of what it would mean to be a people of faith. Ten broad commandments were followed by 11 chapters of detail. Here in this passage we hear what would become central to the prophets and to Jesus: Have no other gods before me and the other nine commandments expanded into Don’t act as a malicious witness, help your enemies when they’re in trouble, don’t pervert justice, don’t oppress the aliens in your midst, avoid bribery. I wonder if Jesus remembered these precepts when he sat down to supper with his disciples, knowing that his priestly enemies were creating malicious testimony against him and one of his friends at the table was preparing to take a bribe and conspire in the plot to pervert justice. I imagine he might have thought about those conspirators and done an impression of Colonel Blake on MASH: Judas Priest! What now?
Both Judas and the Priest were hellbent for leather to get Jesus and his message out of the way. It is the terrible irony of virtually every faith that the faithful are so prone to forget their core values and act in complete contradiction of those values. The priests and scribes certainly would have known the Law backwards and forwards. I imagine you could have awakened them in the dead of night after a long evening of copious libations and they would have been able to recite the entire book of Exodus without missing a jot or tittle. And yet in their thirst for power they wound up perverting justice in the ways that passages like this in chapter 23 plainly prohibited.
Judas is another story. He came from the band known as Zealots; his surname Iscariot reveals that he was one of the sicarii, a special forces unit among the Zealots that engaged in unholy violence in their attempts to overthrow the occupying Roman enemy and restore Jewish control of the Holy Land. The Iscariots were mercenaries, trained assassins always carrying daggers under their cloaks. For Judas, putting an honest man to death was simply a price to pay in carrying his movement forward. He could not accept Jesus’ message, the message of love for enemies, of not mistreating aliens and foreigners in your midst. For Judas, this was strategic suicide. For him, the metal gods of sword and silver won the day in the pursuit of ridding Jerusalem of the alien enemies. So there we have it. Judas and the Priest. The Patriot and the Pious. This unlikely team of betrayers serves to remind me just how easy it is to live in contradiction to the core values of my faith: nonviolent engagement with an unjust world system, powerful love that is able to transform estranged relationships, unbounded generosity toward those who are outside my boundaries of comfort. Judas Priest! What now?
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.