While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests* had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So, they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:11-15
Part of the gospel for today seems to be another one of those tales that echo down through the ages as a model of what not to do. Granted, looking back at it from our point of view, it seems almost contemporary. The story is familiar; only the cast has changed.
The chief priests and the Pharisees convinced Pilate to put guards on the tomb of a man considered to be a revolutionary and who had been crucified in the most public and shameful way. A respected man had given his own unused tomb to hold the body, and then a big stone was rolled across the front. Now who was going to break into a tomb and steal a body? Evidently enough powerful people thought it was not only possible but probable as well. After all, whoever heard of someone rising from the dead and disappearing? It was just too hard to understand and believe. The guards seem to have been witnesses to the appearance of Jesus, the “dead criminal,” over whose tomb the guards were expected to stand watch, after his resurrection and his meeting with two Marys. Upon their return to their barracks, some dared to go to their employers and report what they had seen.
Anxious to keep the true story a secret, the priests and the Pharisees together decided that the men who were guarding the tomb should say nothing, but if they were pinned down, they were to say that Jesus’s followers had broken into the tomb and stolen the body while the guards were asleep. That’s when some money changed hands, just to ensure the guards had enough motivation to do as they were told
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a similar situation in our contemporary society. In fact, if I look hard enough, I can undoubtedly find lots of examples of payoffs covering things that the higher-ups do not want known. It’s almost a way of life. Today, however, it seems to be a way of life in certain quarters, not just in the gangland societies, where if you slip some dollars under the table, it will get somebody’s legs broken, a family member of an important person kidnapped, or just about anything else. It seems that money makes the world go around. The “haves” are always happy to have a group beholden to them and upon whom they can call to do certain little jobs for pay that will keep the higher-up’s hands clean, at least until somebody figures out who is behind whatever the action was.
Money, or the love of it, is said to be the root of all evil. Scruples can be overcome if the amount of money offered is sufficient to make the scruples of even an honest person totter a bit, or even fall completely. Gangland bosses know that, politicians know it, captains of industry and chieftains of commerce know it, the government knows it, even the church knows it. In short, it far from an uncommon thing to pick up a newspaper or turn on a news broadcast and not hear something that someone has done for which they were paid to deny that it ever happened. It’s almost become a farce, and it runs through all levels of society, although the poor are usually the ones that are set up to take the fall while the rich go on about their merry business with the most innocent faces in the world. Somehow, I think things like that would probably make Jesus cry – or at least face-palm.
Jesus understood money. He spoke of it from time to time and always in the sense that money is not something that should be the be-all and end-all of things. Wealth is to be shared, not hoarded and not paid out to accomplish something criminal or even slightly criminal. Proof of that was in Jesus’s own disciples; Judas betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. Now whether it was something that Judas had to do or whether it was offered to him and made into such a good offer he couldn’t refuse, Jesus himself betrayed because someone paid money to get rid of a pesky problem and to make sure that the originators of the plot looked as innocent as newborn babes.
I think I’m going to have to look at the news a bit more critically and to see where the money trail goes. I may not be able to find out much, but I think if I see where that money trail is leading, I’m going to find that it’s not leading to God’s kingdom on earth but rather to the enrichment of those who are already rich and the increased marginalization of the poor who, we are told, are always with us. I think I have to choose whether to follow Jesus or follow the money. The truth is that Jesus was a poor man, killed by the rich, and by people who bought off others to betray and to lie. I don’t think I’m going to have to look very far to find who the Judas is and where the tomb guards are operating in the world I live in.
Look for yourself. Remember that the kingdom of God may require money, but not at the price of someone’s life, freedom, or beliefs. It’s time to get serious about this kingdom business and doing things the way God wants us to, not with the ways of the world. It’s time to watch the money and see where it goes—and where it should go.
Image: Judas sells Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Painter: Lippo Memmi (ca 1291-1356). Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and semi-retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.