Figures in a darkened landscape

By , 21 March 2008 9:32 pm

It’s been a busy week. I have been desperately trying to finish off all the critical teaching before the Easter break and doing various other things too. I also wrote – in some haste – my monthly blog for Speculative Faith; called Clarke’s Blind Spot it addressed the late (and genuinely lamented by me) death of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. The blind spot, I said, was his failure to recognize the propensity of the human race to sin. In the course of writing the blog the following sentence came to me. “To make a Holy Week link, there is far more of the range and diversity of human sin in the few chapters of the passion story (think Caiaphas, Judas, Peter, Pilate, the crowd, the unrepentant thief, the callous soldiers) than there is in the hundred plus books that Clarke wrote.”

Thinking about this subsequently I have come to the conclusion that this is actually a very remarkable feature of the passion narratives. It is not just that here one or two people do things that are disastrously and tragically evil. It is that, with the exception of Jesus, almost everybody does evil but in different ways and from different motives. I feel I could write a book of seven chapters on the different but wrong (albeit to varying degrees) reactions of the protagonists. Let me then, as part of an Easter contribution, briefly sketch some of them here.

  • To me, Caiaphas represents religion gone wrong. He is a man who is so zealous for the externals of a faith that he is prepared to rip out its moral core. If you don’t take this in the wrong way, I can honestly say as an elder in Baptist Church I now have a much greater understanding of Caiaphas’ decisions. The system must survive…
  • About the motives of Judas much has been written and much of that is contradictory. I almost wonder whether his real motivation is deliberately left blank lest we pat ourselves on the back and say that we have avoided his sin. Whatever the precise trigger for his betrayal I think we can be fairly confident about the soil in which the betrayal sprouted; he was disaffected and disappointed and any spiritual affection he had for Jesus had clearly grown cold.
  • Peter’s near fatal over-confidence is surely that of a man who sees courage and dedication in himself but fails to recognise that it is only a thin veneer over a great hole.
  • In Pilate, I sense a weariness with things that ultimately dulls any scruples. He is out of his depth and in survival mode. I see him going back to the villa and smashing a bitter fist down on the table in sheer frustration at the way things have frustrated him.
  • Time does not allow me to treat the jaded, bitter crowd, the brutally efficient soldiery and the snarling unrepentant thief. But I – and you – recognise them.

Three thoughts:

  1. If the gospels are the human invention that some claim, then to have this menagerie of human evil so briefly yet finely drawn is one of the wonders of ancient writing.
  2. The failings here are all too scarily human. Let us pray, reader, that neither you nor I ever see them in the mirror.
  3. In the almost total moral gloom of the crucifixion there are small flickering lights, notably the women and John, but all around the scene is darkness. The state of the human heart portrayed here serves not just to point up the nature of mankind but to highlight the Jesus who is at the centre of it all. Nowhere in the Gospels does the Light of the World shine more brightly than when the darkness in deepest.

One Response to “Figures in a darkened landscape”

  1. dugmad says:

    Wonderful blog this week. Loads of insight. Thank you.

    Could not agree more on Ciaphas. This man was ultimately so blind to anything other than his interpretation of “the system” that you are right that is all he could see. He seems to have whipped himself into a frenzy as much as he and his cronies did the crowd.

    In regards to the crowd. I find in many ways they “feel” a lot like humanity’s representatives. I am left with one phrase in my mind…”But by the grace of God, go I.” A very freeing thought and yet also very scary. Without Jesus, we are all so close to that line.

    Blessings to you and your family.

    He is Risen!!


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