Status and the Status Quo
By Audrey Stallsmith
Although we tend to idealize “the greatest generation,” Bill O’Reilly’s recent book on Patton points out that there were many mistakes made both during and after World War II. Because the U. S. and British governments needed Stalin’s help to win the war, for example, they apparently ignored the fact that the Soviet leader was as much a psychopath as Hitler.
People such as Patton, who pointed out the hypocrisy in this, were given short shrift because the other Allies couldn’t afford to offend the Soviet leader. Of course, part of Patton’s motivation may have been that he simply loved to fight and needed another battle front to make him happy. But he was right. For at least ten years after Hitler’s prison camps had ceased to exist, those in the Soviet Gulag carried on.
According to O’Reilly’s book, some people seem to think Patton was killed to keep him quiet. Although that sounded a little farfetched to me, he certainly was squelched.
Nobody wanted another war at that point, and the only way to avoid one was for the other world leaders to avert their gazes from what Stalin was doing. Apparently they hadn’t learned much from what their previous ignoring of Hitler had brought upon the world. To preserve the status quo in the rest of the world, they were willing to sacrifice Poland and East Germany.
After I watched the first episode of the A. D. television show the other night, it occurred to me that such a “peace at all costs” mentality probably was responsible for Caiaphas’s persecution of Christ too, and for Pilate’s acceding to it. Both men would have considered themselves to be the pragmatic, reasonable characters in that story. As the high priest put it to his fellow priests and Pharisees, “Let this one man die for the people--why should the whole nation perish?” (John 11:49-50, LB)
Caiaphas probably was more afraid of Christ overthrowing the church government than the Roman one. So great was the new "Prophet’s" popularity and so great his obvious contempt for the religious hierarchy, he might attempt to dispense with centuries of Jewish tradition. That wasn’t enough to get Christ executed, though. So Caiaphas had to lie to Pilate and insinuate that the Prophet meant to overthrow the civil government too.
Pilate didn’t believe the high priest, but the Roman governor knew that it wasn’t always truth--but perception--which prevails. If Rome got the idea he wasn’t doing his job, the truth wouldn’t save him.
Since Pilate had a history of brutally suppressing insurrection, he too probably thought it preferable that one innocent man die than that the threat of a Jewish revolt bring down the wrath of Rome on his head--and, incidentally, on the heads of the entire Jewish population. Even he had qualms about this particular man, though. Pilate couldn’t understand Christ and, for that reason, obviously found him unnerving.
We can comprehend the concerns of both Caiaphas and Pilate, if we consider what happened only 30-some years after Christ’s death. In 70 A.D. the Jews finally did revolt, and Rome almost wiped Jerusalem off the map. With the destruction of the temple, centuries of Jewish tradition did, indeed, come to an end.
So what Caiaphas and Pilate had feared eventually happened, though after their administrations. Both could have argued that they simply were trying to keep a lid on things, to preserve the status quo, as so many Christians are attempting to do today. If that requires us to violate our moral convictions, however, it obviously is time for the status quo to go.
Those who believe that America’s pride and high standing in the world must be preserved at all costs, for example, sometimes sound disturbingly like Hitler, who believed the same thing about Germany’s. As fond as we may be of American democracy, we must remember that it is only temporary. The eternal government, to which we owe our greatest allegiance, is a monarchy. Whenever we feel threatened by challenges to church tradition, we also need to recall that it isn’t church tradition which saves us, but that King whom I just mentioned.
Once a person succumbs to his fears, to the extent that Pilate and Caiaphas both did, he loses credibility. Not only with those around him but with himself. Neither man appears to have held on to power for long. In fact, both seem to have been replaced about three years after Christ’s death.
They couldn't have foretold that they both would be remembered solely for the bad choices they made on one hurried spring Friday. We almost can hear them plaintively asking, “But how were we to know that one man--and a Galilean carpenter, at that--was going to be so important?”
To God, one man is always as important as a multitude. As Hitler and Stalin both proved, what you will do to one, you will do to millions.