This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the protest which split an already split Christianity. Let’s instead think of what we have in common, says Watt, both in faith and duty. Read Part I
Last time I said obedience to superiors is half of the recipe for salvation. Mercy to subordinates is the other half of the salvation recipe. And surely each of those three Good Samaritans fulfilled this as well. The leper showed mercy to all those who would be rightly fearful of his presence. How? By submitting to the authority of the priests, who declared him free of corruption, and whom the people could trust in their determination of an actual healing. And the woman at the well showed mercy to all her neighbors by proclaiming that the Messiah was a Jew (thus saving all who would listen and believe). And the Good Samaritan, of course, who showed mercy to the particular victim of the thieves who left him for dead. Each showed obedience to the Priests of the God of Jerusalem, and each showed mercy to their neighbors.
So what does this have to do with us? And what about the siege of Jerusalem? Where am I going here? Let’s look at the siege first, and ask ourselves a simple question. How did Jerusalem fall? Did the Romans breach the walls and then kill (or exile) all the inhabitants? That’s the usual story, right? But that’s not what Josephus relates. And who should know better than a Jewish eyewitness? A member of the priesthood, no less. And a man who was a General in The War of the Jews against Rome.
And what does he tell us? Simply this: the Jews of Jerusalem were divided into three factions. The Zealots, who held the lower level of the city. The Sicarii (the assassins) who held the middle level. And finally, the Temple Guards, under the High Priests, who held the high Temple Mount. And each of these three groups was determined to rule the city, come Hell or high water. And each group was determined to do it even if it meant they had to kill every other Jew in sight. And eat them. Yes, seriously. Cannibalism was the diet of the day. It was a siege, remember? And it wasn’t the bigshots that were on the menu. It was the little guys. The simple people, trapped by the insane hatred of these three groups. Hatred for the Romans, hatred for the other two groups, and hatred of the little man. At least they were consistent, eh?
But wait, you say. Why should we listen to Josephus? After all, he was outside the walls, right? Well, yes, of course. And why was he outside the walls? Because he had been captured. And how was he captured? Because he surrendered. Well now, what kind of a Jew is that? Better to commit suicide at Masada, right? Sure, if that’s your idea of survival. No, Josephus knew when he was beaten. And better than that, he knew what lay ahead for his people if they continued to hold out in the siege of Yodfat. That was the site of the greatest of all the predictable Jewish slaughters before the fall of Jerusalem and Masada.
Yes, Josephus the General had done all that he could. He had confounded the Roman Legions many times as the wiliest of the Jewish Generals. I love how he lowered the giant pillow of chaff before the gates of Yodfat to absorb the blows of the battering ram! And his psychological warfare (the wringing out of the wet garments over the walls, seeming to tell the Romans that the defenders had plenty of water) was so counter-intuitively brilliant! But in the end, he knew it was hopeless, and so he counseled surrender. To live to fight another day. But his Komrades in arms would have none of that. Suicide was better, they said. Even if it was gravely sinful. And so they did it, by lottery. All except the last two. One of whom was Josephus. Talk about playing the lottery.
And so the Romans had finally captured their greatest nemesis in the War of The Jews. Which is how, after Yodfat, he came to be at the walls of Jerusalem. Outside the walls. Watching the slaughter inside. A slaughter of Jews by other Jews. And all the Romans had to do was to sit and watch. Oh sure, there were the usual sorties of defenders out through the gates, and the mad dash back in retreat. But it was not going to be a major confrontation of the opposing hosts on the plains before the city that would decide the fate of the Jews. No, that would be decided inside the walls. And it wouldn’t be pretty.
The Romans settled in for the show. Siege-works all around. Popcorn and drinks as the Romans sat back in their chariots and watched this epic theatre unfold at the big Drive-In Theatre in Judea. They weren’t going to spend a lot of their own lives trying to breach those walls. Why should they, when they could starve them out? And besides, all the other Jewish strongholds had fallen, even those under the command of Josephus. So relax, men, rest up. Dig in and watch the show. And if you catch anyone trying to escape, crucify them. And be sure and check their entrails for any gold they may have swallowed. Be prudent.
The siege lasted 4 years, from 66 to 70 AD. But a funny thing happened at half-time in this game of all games. And that funny thing was this—the Emperor died. And Vespasian, the Roman General of Augustus’ Second Legion surrounding Jerusalem, was named the new Emperor. So he had to leave for Rome. And he left the Legions in the charge of his son, Titus. And Titus, being a man of goodwill towards other men, then did an astounding thing. He appealed to the rationality of the Jews. As if such a thing existed. And Josephus recorded his words.
Now, in the interest of brevity (which I rarely invoke), here is what he said, before the Walls of Jerusalem (and I’m going to paraphrase again here):
‘Hey, you idiots! Anybody in there? Pick up the phone! Let’s talk about this. Nobody needs to die here. Let’s think about this, OK? Look at what you have. The Temple of Jerusalem! The most beautiful work in the world. Why are you endangering it? Does not the Emperor send chests of gold to your priests each year, asking that your High Priest offer daily sacrifices on behalf of the Emperor and his Empire? Who else in the Empire is accorded this honor, this recognition of your exalted place in the minds of the gods? Have we not exempted you from the tax? Have we not given you the highest place in the Empire, next to the Emperor? What the Hell else do you want? Look, all of this started simply because we wanted to hang that silly Roman Eagle over the doors of your magnificent Temple back before that Nazarene stirred up all that trouble a few decades ago. And you guys have been a pain in the neck ever since.
So look, I’ve got an offer for you. Let’s see if we can find a way to end this sensibly. Here’s three choices, take your pick. If you want, let’s move the battle someplace else. Let’s go head to head, anywhere but here. But let’s not destroy that magnificent Temple! Pick the spot. Anywhere in the Empire! Anywhere but here! Or else, let’s just do this man to man. Send out your best guy. One on one, I’ll fight him. Winner take all, OK? C’mon, you guys believe that David vs. Goliath story, right? Well, send him out! Or hey, let’s just take a breath and think about the long term. Think about the children. Why not just stop this rebellion, and we’ll pack it up and go back to Rome. All will be forgiven. Just burn a little incense for my dad, OK? Forget about that eagle thing. Just a little incense, OK? Hey, we do the same for you when we send our gold to your Priests, right? Can’t we all just get along?’
And what was the reply of the Jews to this impassioned plea of Titus? Simply this: Go to Hell! Quite the negotiating position, eh? And so, as halftime of the siege ended (and after Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, escaped by pretending to be dead, thus ending the Torah and beginning the Talmud), the rest is history. His Story. And we’re gonna get to see it again. Up close and real. And ugly.
Huh? What am I saying here? Don’t you get it? Don’t you see it? Are you that blind? Can’t you see that things are repeating themselves? What? Why would God repeat Himself? Well, that’s simple. It’s so you won’t have a single excuse left at the end. Your end. He repeats Himself in each age so that the lesson will be given afresh to each generation. So that none can claim that they didn’t know. So that none can claim that their ignorance was invincible. Which, of course, would excuse them. My dad always used to say, when I would proffer my explanation as to why I had failed to do the right thing, ‘That’s not a reason, that’s an excuse’. In other words, I was claiming ignorance. But he knew better. So did I. And then he would lower the boom. Bam.
I know, you think I’ve gone over the edge. Total madness. Maybe I have. But maybe not. Maybe you’re the one claiming ignorance, when there is no excuse for it. Not in this age of total information. Not in the age of the Internet. You’re not some Pygmy in the bush. You have the means of knowing the truth. And the truth shall set you free. Free to suffer. And there’s the whole problem, isn’t it? Take up your Cross. Or be known as a coward.
Yes, I said coward. That’s the name we give to those who will not help their fellow believer. Those who think that their objections to the excesses of the superiors blesses their withdrawal from the arena. The arena of suffering. Huh? What am I talking about here? Simply this, and I’ve said it before: salvation comes from two things. The first is mercy to your subordinates. And every Good Samaritan is willing to admit that. Sure and begorrah! They see the man, any man, lying beside the road, suffering from his wounds. And they are oh-so-willing to help. That’s good, my brother Samaritan. But what happens when you meet that Priest who passed that man by? Do you give him any respect? Do you accede to his position? Even as he passes you by?
Huh? What position? The position of being over you! So then, Jeroboam, you don’t believe that there are other God-ordained positions in life? You don’t believe that there are Kings ordained of God? And subjects who are subject to him? Of course you do, that’s your entire position! Well, if you believe that, Jeroboam, then why don’t you believe there are those ordained of God to be Priests? And wouldn’t a Priest be over other men? Including the King? Huh? Make up your mind! Do you believe in Scripture or not? Quit waffling here. It’s one or the other. Either all men are priests, prophet, and king (in which case, what’s the point of your kingship?) or you believe there are different stations in life for each of us. The first and the last. Is there a difference between those two words?
So when we are told by that man that we should ‘do as they say, but not as they do‘, who is He referring to, and why? And did He follow His own advice? To His own detriment? Well? I’m waiting. Yes, yes, I know, I’m an idiot. It’s true, I admit it. But I’m still waiting. On you.
And what am I waiting on? I’m waiting for you to come inside the walls. Waiting for you to come and join me inside the walls. Waiting for you to come and exercise that fabulous faith you keep claiming to have. You know, that famous ‘faith alone’ stuff. That faith (alone) you say will save you, but evidently no one else. That faith that needs not what James, that cousin of Jesus, said when he declared that ‘faith without works is dead‘. And is that the faith The Good Samaritan showed? Or did he also show a good work that would lead him to suffer the condemnation of his fellow Samaritans when it became known (as all things do) that he had helped a Jew? A Jew! The unforgivable sin in Samaria! Crucify him!
Think about it, my Cousin. If you have no real ultimate universal superior (and the Samaritans did not, from a religious standpoint), then where is your opportunity to suffer? Who is it that can command you to go to the edge of your faith and to accept the nearly unacceptable? Notice, I did not say that you must cross the bounds of faith. I simply said the edge. Will you accept that man over there as your brother in the faith? As your High Priest? Will you show him any human respect? Even priestly respect? Yes, even that guy named Frank that has convinced himself that our sins need not be forgiven, because they are not really sins! They are just the circumstances of our lives that we have found ourselves in. But instead, the newest High Priest, who should be the judge of these matters, asks ‘Who am I to judge’? Never mind the fact that we have chosen our own circumstances. Like multiple marriages. And live-ins. Like the Samaritan woman at the well.
Well then, how did she escape this dilemma? She had no Pope who seems to be willing to gloss over these multiple failures in moral life. In fact, as a Samaritan, she had disavowed the concept of a Pope, or High Priest, as it was known then. But when she was confronted with the true High Priest, she proclaimed His authenticity. In other words, she submitted to His authority. She submitted to Jerusalem, and disavowed Samaria. She became obedient. And was saved. But there was a price she would pay. She would become an outcast amongst her kin. That’s a high price to pay for a woman, my friend. The price of the Great Pearl.
So what am I saying here? Nothing actually. Rather, I’m asking. I’m asking if you will please help me. Will you suffer with me? Will you suffer with those of us who are under the lash of the High Priest? We’re laying by the side of the road. We’ve been mugged by the followers of the Emperor. That’s what robbers are, you know. And their friends, The Jews. And their High Priest. And we’ve been passed by, by our fellow Jews. Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, lepers and even the Priests. Catholics all. And we’re not long for this world if we don’t get some help. And isn’t this the last thing He prayed for, (John 17:20) before his passion on the cross?
So here’s my final question for the day, my Samaritan Cousin: will you come inside the walls, and help us? Inside the walls of Holy Rome, where the new Jews, and the new High Priest live? Those same people who have no use for the little ones. Will you come inside the walls, where there is no one to defend the little man, the besieged faithful? Little ones, like me. Come inside the walls, to comfort us little guys who are trapped in the burning city, trapped by our own leaders. Come inside the walls, to help us suffer the commands of the people who are more concerned with their own power base than they are with the fate of we men of little stature. To help us as we suffer together under The Big People, who have lost their desire (if they ever had it) to be true to their faith? Big people, who also think faith without works is fine. They’ve passed us by. And no one can help us but you, my Samaritan friend.
Will you help us? Will you show us your faith, by your good work? Will you visit the sick and the imprisoned? Will you be one with us? By your willingness to suffer, alongside of us, the unjust commands of our mutual superiors? Will you offer your obedience as He did? Will you take up this cross? Will you suffer with us? Will you do this good work of salvation, for both you and me? Will you help us become one again? You and I, together? Will you be my brother, and not just my cousin? Because if you will, then you have to come inside. Because the real fight is inside the walls.