“On Easter Morning, I, an agnostic at best, was reviewing the New Testament reports of Easter by Matthew and John, and was surprised to find compelling lessons for modern America…”
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What Easter Can Teach Us about Today
By Kary Love
On Easter Morning, I, an agnostic at best, was reviewing the New Testament reports of Easter by Matthew and John, and was surprised to find compelling lessons for modern America.
First, it appears the oligarchs (the Sandhedrin) who controlled much of the wealth of Jerusalem wanted to get rid of the troublemaker who was preaching to the people that real heroes are those who care for the poor, visit the imprisoned and love their enemy—not soldiers who obey orders and invade homes of others and even kill. The oligarchs of the day realized such teachings as Jesus engaged in did not bode well for their continuance in power as their power was ultimately reliant on the soldiers.
Second, the oligarchs needed government assistance with the troublemaker. The Sanhedrin had to deal with the politicians of the day, the Roman Empire in the person of Pontius Pilate, if they were going to “legally” kill the troublemaker. So, the oligarchs and the politicians got together. As usual when this happens, the one percent plus government power, things do not go well for the people not in the one percent nor in government.
Pilate had the power to kill Jesus “legally” though the Sandhedrin did not (technically the Sanhedrin only passed on “religious” issues, the Roman occupying government had jurisdiction over crimes against the State). Thus, though the Sandhedrin “convicted” Jesus of falsely claiming to be the Messiah, a violation of Jewish religious law, they could not impose the death penalty. For that, a government based conviction for a serious crime was needed.
Initially Pilate resisted the Sandhedrin’s request he affirm their finding against the false Messiah. Not an offense against Rome, Pilate properly concluded. But the Sandhedrin told Pilate Jesus also taught “treason” by preaching that the Emperor of Rome did not rule over the teachings of God, so Jesus was promoting “rebellion” by claiming to be “King of the Jews.” It was upon this accusation that Pilate was able to “convict” Jesus. One might characterize Jesus’s crime against Rome as treason, which carried the death penalty under Roman law.
But Pilate opined that Jesus appeared to be a man of peace, not actually a man preaching violent revolution, and thought a lesser punishment better “fit the crime.” The Sandhedrin were able to convince Pilate Jesus was dangerous enough to the “powers that be” (in Jerusalem, the Sandhedrin and their Roman “masters”) that Pilate went along with the death penalty, though Pilate took care to “wash his hands” of his complicity in the obvious miscarriage of justice.
Then begins the real lesson for today. The condition moderns recognize as the “banality of evil” took over. Soldiers, Roman Legionnaires, were given the order to carry out the crucifixion. Just another day at the office for those bully-boys! Soldiers were not members of the one percent, nor had they much political power (by then the Roman Republic with any concern for its lower classes was long dead and the Empire, run on the principle “might makes right” predominated.)
Rome had a long history of screwing its veteran legionaries on their retirement from the fighting, so one would think they would know better than to have “faith” in leaders who lied to them repeatedly. (Come to think of it, here is another lesson for us “moderns.”) One would think some of the Roman Soldiers would have questioned their orders, and considered whether Jesus’s worldview was actually better for them and their families than that of the oligarchs and Emperors. But they did not.
Rather, “just following orders,” the soldiers turned on Jesus (and his two thief compatriots) with a lust for torture and pain reminiscent of modern soldiers in occupied countries. And, these Romans were not bad apples among mostly “good” Soldiers, not one dissented or refused his orders, they all performed as trained. Here is where the lesson for today is exposed.
First the soldiers “scourged” Jesus. [That is they whipped him.]
Then the soldiers … took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. [To mock his claims to be a “King” the threatened “treason.”]
And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. [Then the Cyrene took up the cross Jesus was too exhausted to carry.]
And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
And they crucified him, and “gambled for his clothes.” (Matthew 27:26-35)
This is what governments and the one percent do—they protect themselves from the 99 percent they supposedly represent. They do it by torture, and jail and fear. But they cannot do it without soldiers to carry out their orders. And so, to me, the Easter Message is clear. The one percent and the government go hand in hand, and so long as the people provide the fodder and do not dissent, soldiers will carry out their orders and the true prophets of the people will be silenced, justice will miscarry, and the curse of the sword will spread.
Actually, god himself supposedly told the people this long before the first Easter. The background is that the Jewish people wanted a king—they were rejecting god’s plan of governance under the “Judges” and god tried to warn them of their error and told the prophet Samuel to dissuade them. Samuel failing to do so, the Lord told Samuel to give them what they wanted. God also told Samuel to warn the people that their decision to submit themselves to an earthly ruler would have evil consequences:
Samuel delivered the message of the LORD in full to those who were asking him for a king. He told them, “The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves” [1 Sam 8:4-7; 10-22].
And so we have a modern Easter story, in the day of the Nuclear King. I hope we can learn from it better than did those to whom Samuel fruitlessly spoke. Happy Easter.
Kary Love is a Michigan attorney who has defended nuclear resisters, including some desperado nuns, in court for decades and will on occasion use blunt force satire or actual legal arguments to make a point.
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