The question of collusion as a means of gaining and exercising political power has figured prominently in public discourse for the last two years. Ironically, interest is at a flash point during our Holy Week.
Maybe that is appropriate! After all, the execution of Jesus resulted from deliberate collusion between the Roman empire and organized religion.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple threatened the prevailing governmental and religious powers epitomized by Caiaphas the high priest and Herod the Roman ruler of the region.
Throughout that fateful week the conflicts multiplied and plots to silence Jesus intensified. Controversies over authority, paying taxes, what laws have priority, the future of the temple, and reading the signs of the times dominated the interactions between Jesus his opponents.
It was the religious leaders who led the opposition to Jesus and conspired with Herod and his loyalists to silence him.
Gaining and protecting privilege often results in corrosive compromise, devious conspiracies, and deadly collusions.
Since at least as early as Constantine (272 – 337 AD), the rulers of the church and the state have colluded to gain and protect their privilege at the expense of justice and the common good.
Herod and Caiaphas have descendants in every generation, including our own. Proximity to power is addictive! It has been the downfall of many!
Some of history’s most dastardly events have resulted from the collusion and compromise between religious and imperial power. The Crusades, the holocaust, slavery, genocide in Rwanda come immediately to mind.
More subtle forms of collusion between religion and empire are taking place before our eyes. We may even be participants either by our silence or outright support. I name a few:
- Subordinating the Sermon on the Mount to the platform of a political party
- Prioritizing political partisanship over justice and the common good
- Protecting the privileges of the already privileged at the expense of the poor
- Accepting as normative dishonesty, crudeness, and corruption by elected officials
- Using legislation to enforce discrimination against people of a different race, ethinicity, sexual identity, religion, or economic status
- Acquiescing to governmental policies that clearly fail to “defend the orphans, widows, and sojourners”
Jesus confronted the collusive forces of religion and empire with a different motivation than self-protective privilege and personal gain. His vision stretched beyond the confines of institutional religion and national dominance.
Jesus’ eyes were firmly fixed on God’s reign of boundless compassion, relentless justice, uncompromising integrity, and resolute hope.
With humble courage,steadfast devotion, impeccable integrity, and self-emptying love Jesus counters the corrosive powers conspiring against him.
It cost him his life! But we know the rest of the story!