Refusing to believe

In a previous post, we looked at the sophomoric and blasphemous jeering of the crowds, who mocked the so-called Son of God because he didn’t seem to be able to rescue himself from the cross.  But they weren’t alone in their derision of Jesus.  The leaders of institutional Judaism joined in the harassment:

In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!  He’s the king of Israel!  Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  He trusts in God.  Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  (Matt 27:41-43, NIV)

The passage drips with irony.  To get what they wanted, the Jewish leaders had to pressure Pilate into accepting that Jesus was a king, and thus a possible threat to the empire.  But when Pilate therefore had “king of the Jews” written on the sign that hung above Jesus’ head, they objected strenuously, albeit to no avail (John 19:21-22).  Having lost that argument, the leaders now turn the words into an occasion for ridicule.  I imagine them pointing to the sign and laughing to one another, “Hah!  Some king!”

What they say about Jesus is sobering.  Listen to their language again, this time shorn of the sarcasm: “He saved others…He’s the king of Israel…He trusts in God…He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”  Every single statement is true, but none of it compels belief; what should be professions of faith become ironic expressions of faithlessness.

“Let him come down from the cross,” they mock, “and by gosh and by golly, we’ll believe!”  Really?  I’m reminded of an earlier scene in Matthew, in which Jesus condemns the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their lack of repentance, despite the many miracles he had done in and around their cities (Matt 11:20-24).  Or one might think of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which ends with these words from Abraham: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).  Indeed, throughout the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus do miracles in his power and his name, and are persecuted instead of praised.

If God would ___, then I would believe.  Fill in the blank.  Those words can be said by someone who refuses to believe, no matter what God does.  It’s actually possible to see Jesus do miracles of healing, raise people from the dead, and come back from the grave himself–and explain it all away.

Perhaps Lent would be a good time to reconsider what conditions we put on faith, perhaps even without realizing it, and to what miracles we’ve been blind in the process.