The seeming triumph of evil
March 14th, 2016
By Sister Maria Catherine, OP
In my most recent reading Luke’s account of Christ’s Passion, it’s the Pharisees’ accusations that stand out. This group, so key in the religious and political life of the Jews, cannot make up their mind how to prosecute Christ: “… (he is) misleading our people … opposes taxes to Caesar … he maintains that he is … a king.” There are three accusations, and three times Pilate declares Jesus not guilty. It is after Pilate’s third affirmation of Christ’s innocence that the Gospel writer tells us, that the accuser’s “voices prevailed.” Why did they prevail when it was so clear that Christ was innocent? Why did they “win” when it was the mob, incited by Jesus’ enemies, who are in wrong? It seems like there should have been a number of opportunities for truth to “win.”
Scriptural exegetes point to Pilate’s weak political position as part of his motivation. And his moral weakness. The buck was supposed to stop with him. But he didn’t have the chutzpah to say no. This is what made him a coward when it really counted.
What comes across so clearly is that Pilate’s statement of what we all know to be true is not enough. He has to act on it in order for his verdict to be meaningful. And he doesn’t. This is a key part of the tragic symphony of Christ’s passion. This is the key example of the downfall of authority from an empire which was so committed to reason and logic.
In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s commencement address to Harvard in 1978, the Russian survivor of communist gulags makes a similar claim about western culture. Rather than delivering a hearty pat on the back to enthusiastic graduates of one of America’s most prestigious universities, he delivers a startling indictment of the Western world. Among his list of the West’s failures, is what he calls a “decline in moral courage.” This courage is observable in the ruling bodies of western governments, and most importantly, he claims, is pervasive in the conscience of western society. Our media, and pornography usage are big indicators of this.
Solzhenitsyn’s observation of this dynamic is not unlike what we read in Luke’s interplay between Pilate and Jesus’ detractors. The Roman procurator’s choice to collapse under the pressure of a mob, however, puts him solidly in the camp of what Solzhenitsyn refers to: becoming “tongue-tied and paralyzed” when dealing with “threatening forces.”
Solzhenitsyn claims that the lack of moral rectitude gives way to spiritual exhaustion. It’s this lack of gumption to choose the good that characterizes the spiritual malaise of our society, and I find it characterizing even some of my own choices. How can we overcome this?
Christ points us to the answer going into Holy Week. All of Lent we have been encouraged to commit ourselves to acts of penance. It is self-sacrifice that teaches us, in small ways as well as big ones, that letting God have his way will teach us to be just and virtuous.
In an interview with Joseph Pearce years before his death Solzhenitsyn claims exactly this when he says, “The difference (between Communism and the Ten Commandments) is that the Gospel asks all this to be achieved through love, through self-limitation.”
Dominican Sister Maria is a perpetually professed member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and is pursuing her master’s in theology at Ave Maria University in Florida.
From March 17, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.