Envy and Greed

Rev. Megan Huston
March 29, 2015

Matthew 27:15-26
15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted.16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.19While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.21The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”22Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”23Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”24So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”25Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
26So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

I once did premarital counseling with a couple who I knew very well. I invited them to fill out a questionnaire which would guide our conversations. I felt familiar with some of the issues that they would face, but I wanted to use this instrument as a guide into our time together. So, they took the survey, and then slipped it under my office door so I could read it before our session. I studied the results, and based on those, put together some reflective exercises for us to do over the course of several weeks. When the couple arrived a few days later, the man laughed and said, “What did you think? You know that I was playing a joke on you. I made up all those answers.”

I was furious. I had spent a lot of time preparing for our session based on their feedback and apparently all of it was false. The woman offered a half smile and said, “I answered mine honestly.”

One of my biggest challenges as a pastor is when people come to me for help, but they are completely unwilling to be honest- honest with me, honest with themselves, honest with God. No matter how hard I try to convince them of God’s unconditional love for them, it becomes impossible because they have been lying to themselves for so long that they don’t even recognize the truth anymore. I’ve seen it in the cheating wife who tells herself it was justified. I’ve seen it in the manically happy man who is heartbroken but can’t say it. I’ve encountered it in the alcoholic who blames everyone else. I’ve seen it in the perfect Christian who never questions God because if he did his whole theology would crumble. We all have been guilty of covering up the truth.

I wonder if Holy Week is an opportunity to remember what is true and what are just lies we have been telling ourselves. Holy Week is a strange time because of its many ups and downs. Tomorrow I will preach on when Jesus visits the home of Mary, Martha & Lazarus. It is a miracle that Lazarus lives. And this miracle will lead Jesus to the cross. It is this beautiful scene of an intimate meal with friends, a final celebration of life. But Judas can’t be in the moment, instead he insults Mary. Yet the room smells so good- like expensive perfume, surely a breath of fresh air in a time of no plumbing and long walks on dirty roads. And yet, that smell is like the smell of carnations. They smell sweet and yet they remind us of death or of loss. Many church members have demanded, “No carnations!” at their loved ones funeral because even that sweet smell is utterly painful. Holy Week is this beautiful, disastrous paradox.

In a world where shaming is rampant, I struggle with how we enter into this beautiful disaster we call Holy Week. And I wonder, why is it so important that we remember Jesus’ death? When we remember our loved ones who have died we don’t reflect on cancer or car accidents or heart failure. We don’t recount the long hours in the hospital or the moment where the one we loved lost her earthly dignity when her body failed. We don’t remember all of that because we choose to focus on life, refusing to allow death to define the ones we love.

But I wonder, if we rush too quickly to resurrection, if the truth will creep up on us and start manifesting itself in strange ways. Like overeating, or laziness. Like unhealthy relationships or pride. Like increased instances of losing our cool over things that don’t matter. Like having too much stuff or becoming obsessed with someone else’s stuff. I wonder if our unhealthy habits are simply a tool for covering up the truth. Maybe we are hiding behind these habits because we don’t really want to face the truth.

Because the truth stinks. The truth is that the people we are closest to, they let us down constantly. The truth is that as much as we want to be the best at what we do, we often feel like failures. The truth is that as much as we try to move on with our lives after losing someone we love, we are often haunted by our loss, and some days just aren’t all that great. The truth sometimes stinks. But if we refuse to face it, if we build lives revolved around feeling good all the time, the truth will come back to haunt us.

This is why we walk this utterly painful road to the cross with Jesus. Because in his sorrow, we discover our own. Because in his story we learn that death will not have the final word, and so we know that whatever it is that is eating away at us from the inside, that eventually, somehow someway, the stone will be rolled away and new life will happen.

But how will we ever get to new life if we aren’t present to the one we are living now?

This week is sort of like a survey of our lives- remembering the hope amidst despair, and not running from the parts of our stories, the parts of our worlds stories, that haunt us. When we remember the betrayal, the violence, and the grief of Jesus’ journey to the cross, we are reminded that we are not alone and we are offered the courage to tell our stories- not just the pretty parts, but all of the ups and downs, our Judas failures and our Mary miracles, knowing that we are defined not by what we accomplish but by what God has accomplished in an act of love so great we may never fully understand it.

It struck me at the dinner last Sunday, hosted by EFM, as Cobey played Barabbas, that he claimed that he was actually envious that Jesus was chosen to be crucified. It was a power struggle if I’ve ever seen one- that someone would prefer going through an agonizing death to being forgotten.

If we tell the truth, I think we may admit that our grabs for power, and our clinging to things that are superficial and that don’t really satisfy, they often stem from this idea that we are not enough. We compare ourselves to our friends and our enemies and we hoard what is good for ourselves because we are desperately trying to be someone.

But this week, this Holy Week, we have to face the facts. Jesus is on his way into Jerusalem, and shortly the shouts of Hosanna will turn into cries of Crucify him. Soon, Jesus’ silence will turn to agony, “My Father, why have you forsaken me?” It won’t be long until Mary weeps at the feet of her beloved son. And when we really hear this story, we won’t be able to run from the truth anymore because we know it all too well. We know it because often his story is our own. We too, often walk this lonesome valley.

Resurrection will come, but we cannot understand it, we cannot live by it, we will not be changed because of it, unless we tell the truth.

So I hope that this week you will find an opportunity to uncover truth in your own life and in the world. Read the story of Jesus’ final days before his death and resurrection. Or write your own story down- facing the dark days and remembering the sweet ones. Listen to someone else’s story, learning about someone who suffers be it a friend or someone living a world away. But whatever you do this Holiest of weeks, be honest. Tell the truth. Prepare for resurrection.

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