He literally washed his hands of the whole affair. He could have listened to his conscience which clearly told him that Jesus of Nazareth was an innocent man. He could have listened to his wife who told him that she had a dream about Jesus and to be wary of the scheming of the Jewish High Priest and his cronies. But Pontius Pilate didn’t have the courage it takes to be a Christian, or even a moral person. He washed his hands of the whole affair, and will forever be remembered as the politician who gave in to public opinion, and let the Lord of Life be crucified.
Nor did Judas Iscariot have the courage it takes to be a Christian. There was considerable financial gain for him to give up Christ to the Jewish authorities. There was a position of esteem among the Jewish leaders there for his taking. To stay with Christ would mean to join him in suffering. No, Judas didn’t have the courage it takes to be a Christian.
Peter, appointed by Our Lord to lead his disciples and his Church, well he seemed to be the greatest coward of them all. When he was put on the spot, Peter denied Christ, not just once, but three times. But Peter didn’t give up, he struggled against his cowardice and fear and he accepted all that the following of Our Lord demanded. Tradition tells us that when Saint Peter himself was about to be crucified he objected that he wasn’t worthy to die the same way as the Lord, and so he was crucified upside down. It took a while for Peter to muster up the courage he needed, but at the end of the day, when it really counted, he was able to follow Christ.
Once again, we begin Holy Week with a call to courage. We live in a country where many have lost the courage that is necessary to follow Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I heard on the news, only this morning, that in a recent BBC poll, only a quarter of Christians in this country, believe in Our Lord’s Resurrection or life after death. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we only need to look around at the faces of people we know to see that some of them are just going through the motions of being a Christian. Where are these people when they are called upon to stand up for Christ and to be counted?
It takes tremendous courage to be the only people in the neighbourhood who treasure a moral lifestyle. It takes tremendous courage to be the only parents who are determined to protect their children from that which can destroy them, even though other parents let their children watch unsuitable films, play violent video games, and basically close their eyes to their experiments with all that is dangerous and unhealthy. It takes tremendous courage to be the only one at work who isn’t a flirt, who doesn’t degrade his or her spouse with colleagues, who doesn’t stab colleagues in the back in order to advance, who is willing to take only what an honest day’s work provides. It takes a tremendous amount of courage not to get involved in a relationship that could never be moral.
As Catholics in this country today we are not being called, at least not at the present time, to accept martyrdom for the Lord. But we are being called upon to give witness to him. And you may know that the word martyr means witness. We are all called to be martyrs. We are all called, in one way or another, to carry the Cross and to shed our blood for Christ.
No matter how we look at it, it does takes a tremendous amount of courage to follow Christ; and yet standing with him at the foot of the Cross, giving witness to his presence in our lives, the presence that gives meaning to our whole existence, giving witness to Christ is the easiest thing we could ever do. It is easy because it is the natural action of the committed Christian.
And this really is the yardstick by which we can measure our commitment, and our love, and our loyalty, and our devotion, and our fidelity to Christ and his Church. All we have to do is to reflect upon the choices we make in life. Are my choices compatible with what being a Catholic is all about? Do I live a moral, upright life? Do I actually witness to Christ in the choices and decisions I make?
Let us begin this Holy Week at the foot of the Cross, on our knees where we belong, praying for the courage to be Christians.