So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. (Luke 20.20)
They were on to him; he was being watched; his group was being infiltrated. It isn’t just we who have invented a spy and surveillance culture, its not just the invention of John le Carre and his ilk, the stuff of James Bond and Spooks. The decision had been made that he had to be arrested, that for the sake of the nation, for their own sakes, this troublemaker had to be stopped. But they weren’t an uncivilised mob – yet – they needed evidence, they had laws and it was important that they kept to the law. So they sent in the spies, pretending to be honest, pretending to be sincere, but listening for the word with which they could bring him down.
It’s the serpent and dove business again. Jesus must have been aware that this was going on, he must have known what tricks they were playing. But he doesn’t stop doing what he has to do. In St John’s Gospel Jesus says
“My father is still working and I also am working.” (John 5.17)
The gospels, not least St Matthew’s Gospel, are full of the teaching that Jesus was giving in these days, parables, warnings. His words were clear and they were strong. He wasn’t pulling his punches at all, even though there were those in the crowd listening to him who were noting what he said and would be only too willing to repeat his words and twist his words as required.
You can’t live looking over your shoulder – that’s the way to a form of paranoia. Should I only say from the pulpit what people want to hear or things that won’t rock the boat? It is something I often think about. I have burnt my fingers before and by saying things which others have objected to I have damaged the ministry of the Cathedral and of others in the diocese. And it isn’t just good enough to say, ‘Well, that is what I believe in’ or to use God as the excuse – ‘It was God who told me to say this’. But we have to speak truth to power, that is the calling of the church and the prophetic ministry in which all Christians share. And it is not just the power ‘out there’ to which we speak truth; the church also needs to hear truth and that is often spoken from beyond the high walls of the ecclesiastical culture. Our enemies will be listening to catch us out but if we don’t speak the truth how are we being faithful to our calling?
Reinhold Neibuhr is, by repute, President Obama’s favourite theologain. His ‘Prayer of Serenity’ is one we mght offer in the face of the dilemmas that sometimes beset us.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.