That’s your problem
By Nathan Decker
Do you remember the day you realized your hero was human? For me, it was when Michael Jordan wasn’t as good at baseball as he was at basketball. He was the king of the rim, the duke of the court, but when it came to the field of dreams … it was a nightmare. I had the same experience with historical figures, politicians, preachers and even parents! The people we lift up today as saints were the same people who were under the heels of authorities. We forget the people we admire today were ridiculed in their own time. Let me tell you the story of two Martins.
Martin Luther loved the Church. He wanted to see the problems of the church reformed. He loved his country. He translated the Bible into German so they could read it in their own language. He became one of the most influential theologians of Western Christianity. A hero!
His reward? The church he loved excommunicated him, offered money to execute him. His beloved Germany would go through a religious civil war of Protestants and Catholics killing each other. Historians argue about whether or not he was anti-Semitic; he wrote an entire sermon about how Jews were evil. His words later were used by Nazis to justify concentration camps.
Martin Luther King Jr loved the Church. He wanted to see the problems of racism and injustice in the world reformed through the Gospel. He loved his country. He wanted the United States to live out the promise written long ago: “all men are created equal.” Everyone would be allowed to vote, be represented, and participate in this beautiful democratic republic. He became a symbol for non-violent protest, lifted up to sainthood by almost every American. A hero!
His reward? Southern white pastors accused him of being from the devil. Newspapers accused him of inciting riots and a race war. The FBI constantly had him under surveillance, sent pictures of him committing adultery to his wife. On April 4, 1968, he was killed. Today his words often get twisted and misquoted as a means to tell African Americans to stand down, quiet down, pipe down.
Many heroes we lift up today were considered traitors in their own time. Crazy radicals who just needed to sit down and know their place: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez and Jesus Christ. We forget the people we admire today were ridiculed in their own time.
Let me tell you the story of two Jews.
Judas Iscariot wanted to be faithful. He left family and work to follow a travelling preacher. He wanted to see his people free from Roman rule and conquest, their own nation, a Davidic King on the throne. There are lots of theories as to why he did what he did. He wanted to force Jesus’ hand, make him call upon an angelic army to bring about Judgment Day. He had become disillusioned with Jesus’ path as Messiah. He saw Jesus going in a direction he didn’t like. He needed the money. The devil possessed him.
Whatever his reason, he became remorseful and repentant in Matthew 27. He tried to return the 30 pieces of silver. He tried to tell them, Jesus is innocent. He wanted forgiveness, to be washed clean, to not be remembered as a traitor. And the religious leaders said, “That’s your problem.”
Jesus of Nazareth. He wanted to be faithful. To show the world what it meant to be human, to love God and love neighbor, to lift up compassion as law. He wanted to set his people free. Free from sin and shame. Free from sin and brokenness. Free from injustice and slavery. Free from this world’s desires. There are lots of theories as to why he did what he did. He had to be a sacrifice. He had to trick the devil into thinking he’d won. He had to show the ultimate non-violent act in a violent world. He had to die to rise again.
Whatever his reason, he stood before the crowd as Pilate offered us a choice. “Which man should I set free? Jesus, the traitor, the instigator, the King of the Jews? Barrabas, the murderer, the terrorist, the political zealot? I wash my hands of this. He’s an innocent man. It’s your problem.”
Our problem is we want to see our heroes as perfect people who lived lives we aspire. History is much more complex. Faith in Christ is much more complex than we want it to be. All saints are sinners. The difference is they didn’t stop trying. Martin Luther didn’t give up trying to reform the church. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t give up trying to make this nation live up to the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Judas saw no way out but the end of the rope. Just imagine if he’d held out three more days. Just imagine if he hadn’t stopped trying. God challenges us today. See our heroes as human, but don’t stop trying to make this world better. See Jesus, and follow his radical vision of Kingdom. Amen.
“Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere and that a riot was starting. So he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I’m innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It’s your problem.”
NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.