The circumstances of my life, the world around me, my own body, these are the inescapable influences upon my intellect.
Our intellect (reason) always precedes our will and our will always seeks the good. That is, it always seeks what the intellect tells it is good. A baby perceives hunger or discomfort in its body, or warmth or love from the world outside and sees it as good. The will moves it to act and seek to acquire the good.
I am writing this during Holy Week and the focus of scripture, as well as our own attention, is Your passion. I am reflecting on the cast of characters surrounding You. I see a cross-section of the world’s responses to You. I see in these people, and, by extension, in myself, the great danger of errant reasoning bringing us to choices wrongly perceived as good. We do not have to look very hard to see bits and pieces of ourselves in Peter, Judas, Pilate, Herod, the Jewish elders, the thieves, Simon of Cyrene, the weeping women, Caiaphas, Joseph of Arimethia, Barabas or Mary. These characters embody a variety of human responses to You. There is much frailty, much wayward reasoning, and great errors of choice rained upon You. But Your response is great love, tolerance, and forgiveness from the ridiculousness of our ways.
In Peter is played out our own hypocrisy, our disability to carry out what we so often say we believe - an exterior heat stoked by an interior luke-warmness. Just as I am, so Peter was not far removed from Judas. Judas accepted You, believed in You right up until the end, but ultimately reasoned that You could not be the One who fit his image of the Messiah. He is the prototype of our own shaping and molding of God into our own image and likeness.
Pilate is no less tragic – a man without the strength of his convictions; one whose ambitions and security in the world outweighed his own conscience; one like us who rationalized his own good and willed it but who had enough doubt to wash his hands and proclaim his lack of guilt. We, as well, have a hard time with blame and yet are so blameworthy.
Herod, so much like us, was only interested in what You could do for him. If You could do Your “tricks” for him, You were of use to him. What You had to say meant nothing; only what You could show him.
The Jewish elders were the stiff-necked, self-righteous purveyors of their own truth. They were threatened by anything that might expand the bounds of their narrow-minded scrutiny. Doesn’t that sound like us?
Scripture says just enough about these individuals, if we are paying attention, to see bits and pieces of ourselves. They become the archetypes of feeble humanity. What makes them so, and what makes us so is the ominous threat of faulty reasoning influenced by the world around us and our own bodies which present bad choices as good. How we know what is truly good can be derived from Your indifference to the influences of the world around You, and from a selflessness that precluded desires for bodily comfort and security.