Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez: Homily For Red Mass 2008

Never grow tired of doing what is right (2 Thes 3:13).

Jesus Stands Trial before Pilate (Jn 18:28 - 19:11)

Jesus was taken from trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin to trial before the Roman governor, Pilate, in Pilate's palace.

Pilate knew what was going on; he knew that the religious leaders hated Jesus, and he did not want to act as their executioner. They could not sentence him to death themselves - permission had to come from a Roman leader. But Pilate initially refused to sentence Jesus without sufficient evidence.

Pilate made several attempts to deal with Jesus:

He tried to put the responsibility on someone else;

He tried to find a way of escape so that he could release Jesus;

He tried to compromise by having Jesus flogged rather than handing him over to die.

If Pilate were asking the question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” in his role as the Roman governor, he would have been inquiring whether Jesus was setting up a rebel government. But the Jews were using the word king to mean their religious ruler, the Messiah. Israel was a captive nation under the authority of the Roman empire. A rival king might have threatened Rome; a Messiah could have been a purely religious leader.

Pilate asked Jesus a straight forward question, and Jesus answered clearly. Jesus is a king, but one whose kingdom is not of this world. There seems to have been no question in Pilate's mind that Jesus spoke the truth and was innocent of any crime. It also seems apparent that while recognizing the truth, Pilate chose to reject it.

It is a tragedy when we fail to recognize the truth. It is a greater tragedy when we recognize the truth but fail to heed it.

Pilate was cynical; he thought that all truth was relative. To many government officials, truth was whatever the majority of people agreed with or whatever helped to advance their own personal power and political goals.

When there is no basis for truth, there is no basis for moral right or wrong. JUSTICE becomes whatever works or whatever helps those in power.

In Jesus and his Word we have a standard for truth and for our moral behaviour.

The truth finally came out - the religious leaders had not brought Jesus to Pilate because he was causing rebellion against Rome, but because they thought he had broken their religious laws. Blasphemy, one of the most serious crimes in Jewish law, deserved the death penalty. Accusing Jesus of blasphemy would give credibility to their cause in the eyes of the Jews; accusing Jesus of treason would give credibility to their cause in the eyes of the Romans. They didn't care which accusation Pilate listened to, as long as he would cooperate with them in killing Jesus.

Throughout the trial we see that Jesus was in control, not Pilate or the religious leaders. Pilate vacillated, the Jewish leaders reacted out of hatred and anger, but Jesus remained composed. He knew the truth, he knew God's plan, and he knew the reason for his trial. Despite the pressure and persecution, Jesus remained unmoved. It was really Pilate and the religious leaders who were on trial not Jesus.

When we are questioned or ridiculed because of our faith, let us remember that while we may be on trial before our accusers, they are on trial before God.

When Jesus said that the man who delivered him to Pilate was guiltier than Pilate, he was not excusing Pilate for reacting to the political pressure placed on him. Pilate was responsible for his decision about Jesus. Caiaphas, the High Priest, and the other religious leaders were guilty of a greater sin because they premeditated Jesus' murder.

When we face a tough decision we can take the easy way out, or we can stand for what is right regardless of the cost:

“If we know the good we ought to do and don't do it, we sin” (James 4: 17).

“My brothers never grow tired of doing what is right” (2 Thes 3: 13).

Jesus, the Righteous Judge (Isaiah 11: 1 - 5)

The kingdom of Judah had become corrupt and was surrounded by hostile, foreign powers. The nation desperately needed a revival of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. They needed to turn from selfishness and show justice to the poor and the oppressed.

The righteousness that God values is more than refraining from sin. It is actively turning toward others and offering them the help they need.

The Messiah will judge with righteousness and justice. Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise that a descendant of David would rule forever (2 Samuel 7: 16).

How we long for fair treatment from others, but do we give it? We hate those who base their judgements on appearance, false evidence, or hearsay, but are we quick to judge others using those standards?

Only Christ can be the perfectly fair judge. Only as he governs our hearts can we learn to be fair in our treatment of others as we expect others to be toward us.

The Social Doctrine of the Church

The longing for justice has been a central element in the Christian tradition from earliest biblical times to the present.

Without work for justice, declared the 1971 Synod of Catholic bishops, we do not have true Gospel living.

The opening lines of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) of the Second Vatican Council stated this dimension of the Christian calling most vividly:

“The joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the women and men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way oppressed, these are the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

The Need to Become Involved in Social Action

Pope Paul VI, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the first Social Encyclical, Rerum Novarum, called for the involvement of the lay faithful in social action. He said:

“Let each one examine himself to see what he has done until now, and what he ought to do.

It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustices, and utter prophetic denunciations; these words will lack real weight unless they are accompanied, for each individual, by a livelier awareness of personal responsibility and by effective action.

It is too easy to throw back on others responsibility for injustices, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally and how personal conversion is needed first” (Octogesima Advenians, Pope Paul VI, May 14, 1971, n. 48).

The call for each baptized person is succinctly expressed by the prophet Micah:

“You have already been told what is right and what Yahweh wants of you. Only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8)

All the more for one who is catholic by baptism and lawyer by profession, the vocation and mission are inseparable. While worshiping in the church one has also to witness to Christ, the Righteous Judge in the “court.”

Let us, “ never grow tired of doing what is right” (2Thes 3:13).

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