Strong, Ordered Faith

When the going gets tough, do we scatter like sheep without a shepherd?

Jesus said, “All of you will have your faith shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be dispersed.'” Then Peter said, “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.” And “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.”

Don’t we all say these things? We are all so sure of ourselves and the strength of our faith when it’s easy, But are we “the rock” when the storm winds blow? Are we strong when it’s hard to be strong? When the going got tough, Peter got going—he fled Gethsemane with the rest of the Apostles. The shepherd was struck, and the sheep indeed dispersed.

“The Apostles fleeing Gethsemane has the distinction of being the first and only unanimous collegial act in Church history.”

The apostles fled Gethsemane at the first sign of trouble. They’d spent three years at risk while following and ministering with Jesus, but this moment at Gethsemane was the first time that the threat was real rather than hypothetical.  Men were arresting their master, not just threatening him.

The Apostles fleeing Gethsemane has the distinction of being the first and only unanimous collegial act in Church history. We have never seen such total unanimity at any council of the Church. The first bishops—the Apostles—were in full agreement only at Gethsemane when they fled in fear as one body. Some might argue their spiritual descendants in the Church are doing the same today. Even Peter, who was so confident and sure of his faith, ran away after having told Christ he would never deny him and that his faith would never be shaken.

Our faith tends to change character under challenge. It was true for the Apostles, and it’s true for us today.

We come next to Judas Iscariot. My first reflection for Holy Week was about the nature of his betrayal of Jesus. In this second reflection, I want to focus on the transaction between Judas and the Jewish chief priests.

Judas asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” He was offered 30 pieces of silver. We may regard that sum as substantial, given that the elders were eager to finally crush the people’s faith in Jesus by “striking the shepherd” and given the value of such an arrest to them  But in Hebrew culture in Old Testament times, 30 pieces of silver was not a lot of money.

Thirty pieces of silver was precisely the amount required for a person to pay a master if his slave was gored by a bull (See Exodus 21:32). In Zechariah 11:13, we are told, “The Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’ — the handsome price at which they valued me  So, I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.” Such a sum was so low-regarded that it was merely thrown away to a potter. The Gospel alludes to this when it describes how the chief priests used the money discarded by Judas to buy the potter’s field to bury dead travelers.

Thirty pieces of silver was a cheap price, yet it was enough to buy Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

If it adds insult to injury to learn that Judas’ betrayal was bought for a low price, consider that we engage in that same foolish transaction every day. The transaction between Judas and the chief priests mirrors the transactions between us and the ancient enemy of the Human race, the Devil.

Every temptation comes with a promise of reward. The reward is always some kind of pleasure, gratification, or even a material reward. We say “Yes” to the tempter for the promise of these rewards, But the real reward never matches the promise.  “Silver” does not amount to wealth but to an empty field for dead strangers; a field of blood.  Satan is a liar!  He can never offer us what is truly good, but he promises it to us anyway.  What motivates our “yes’ to sin is the belief that we will receive no less than what we are promised.  But it’s a lie, and we are all fooled. Whatever tempts us to sin, whatever the reward, we never receive what is promised.  And even what we do receive disappoints us and harms us.

“The truth is that without total reliance on God, and total trust in his providence, none of us can be faithful”

So in these narratives surrounding Peter, Judas, and the rest of the Apostles, we see examples of faulty faith and disordered faith and are forced to reflect on the condition of our own faith as believers in Christ.

Peter’s faith was faulty, but it was also disordered in a way. It was weak, but it was also a faith ordered partly toward himself; a confidence in his capacity to be faithful to the Lord he loved. The truth is that without total reliance on God, and total trust in his providence, none of us can be faithful to God in times of trial or temptation. Since we are inundated by trials and challenges in the world as it is today, we must be diligent in our trust and reliance on Him while having a total lack of confidence in ourselves.

Judas’ faith was disordered. His faith was not in Jesus but in “mammon”; in the capacity of the world’s lures and pleasures, such as wealth, to give him fulfillment and security. Where faith is a composite of belief and trust, his belief was in the world’s pleasures, and his trust was in the father of lies, manifested in the Jewish elders, to provide him with those pleasures. Why would a rational man trust a liar? Very simply because we want to believe in the things that command our attention, even when they’re wrong. We want to believe that worldly pleasure will bring us happiness, and so we trust the lies that we tell ourselves—prompted by the Devil—in order to justify the means by which we attain them. 

Where is our faith? Do we see ourselves in the Apostles’ failure? In Peter’s  In Judas’  Think carefully  Do we make God compete with other priorities in ordinary life? Do we skip mass unjust reasons (vacationing, work, etc.)  Do we lie or cheat for personal gain, even if we think we’re doing it for good reasons? Do we fail to pray as often as we should because we think our time is better spent doing something else? Do we subject ourselves to occasions of sin and temptation? Do we flee “Gethsemane” and abandon Jesus when conditions are hard or the atmosphere too turbulent? We should all challenge ourselves to think very hard and honestly about where our faith really is and go through our own “crucifixions” by persevering through the arduous work of making our faith better, purer, and stronger.  The world needs saints!

Don’t trust a liar. Don’t transact business with a thief and a con artist. Don’t trust a fool (ourselves), and always stay focused on Jesus. Hold on to his hand firmly through frequent prayer, reading scripture, and above all, the mass and the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession. Do that, and you will not lose in the moment of truth.

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