Whenever I peel a ripe banana I am amazed at the seamless transition between the flesh of the fruit and the skin and yet it peels so effortlessly. How does it become like that? There are other fruit, of course, where the flesh and the skin are distinct, but more difficult to separate the two.
Whenever I think about the human body I am amazed that from two distinct cells, when they unite, become a living thing and as the cells divide they begin to take on their own function. How do all these cells, dividing from the same single cell, become a kidney cell, a brain cell, a muscle cell? And when, if some parts of the human body are damaged, it can heal itself.
When I look into the sky at night I am amazed by the concept of infinity, by the thought that the universe is expanding at an ever increasing speed – from what, into what? Nothingness? And in all this an ever-increasing realisation that the chances of another planet having the necessary characteristics to sustain a level of life equal to humanity is improbable. The chances that we should even exist are so small that we ought to consider ourselves unique.
These are just a few of the things that I find amazing and led me, from my science background, to believe that God exists. Jesus, by his life, teaching, healing and miracles, repeatedly caused amazement in those who witnessed these things to encourage them to respond to God in a new way. Pontius Pilate was no exception.
‘But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed (thaumazein).’ (Mark 15:5) Matthew puts it this way, ‘But [Jesus] gave no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly (lian) amazed (thaumazein).’ Matthew 27:14
Amazed, elsewhere in the New Testament carries a sense of doubt, astonishment, surprised by the charm and grace of Jesus, or surprised by the wisdom of Jesus’ answers. But here Pilate seems to be amazed that Jesus does not defend himself against the charges that have been brought against him. I find myself wondering what Pilate may have been thinking after his amazed response to Jesus’ silence. Or, to put it another way, asking, ‘What is motivating Jesus to not defend himself?’ Clearly he expected him to. Did he think that he was wise not to say anything? Did he think that he had some sort of plan taking place? Did he think he was being graceful, or forgiving, or compassionate to his accusers? We don’t know, but Pilate seems not to be convinced that Jesus had any case to answer – the charges against him were spurious and malicious; based on the jealousy of the Jewish religious hierarchy.
We do have the sense that Pilate was either a coward or stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was his responsibility to keep the peace in the place of his assigned protectorate. So, he handed the decision on to the crowd, according to a custom that Mark records. The crowd call for the release of Barabbas and Pilate acquiesces.
There is something in this idea of amazement that expresses an internal conflict, a moment of mental crisis. What is seen or experienced does not match up with our expectations of what will happen, or should happen.
The interesting thing about this kind of conflict, or crisis, is that it causes us to rethink, to re-evaluate, what we originally thought or believed. Or we can just bury our head in the sand and do the same thing we have always done; believed the same thing we have always believed.
As disciples of Jesus, these moments of conflict or crisis of thinking are the beginning of the process of repentance, of coming to believe in something new, or believe in something in a different way. We have been calling, in our discipleship process, this moment of crisis of thought, Kairos, the God moment. Kairos is the moment in our life experience where God breaks in and reveals something new about himself, about our self, or about the world in which we live. Repentance is the process where we open ourselves to the possibility that there is a different way of believing. Conflict and crisis, therefore, has the potential to bring about something new if we allow ourselves to respond creatively.
There was no conflict for Jesus in these things that were taking place. He expected them. So there was no need to change what he did. Jesus’ silence was intentional. He was not going to defend himself because they were correct. The only question he answered was, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Of course he had a completely different understanding of what being the King of the Jews was all about and what the kingdom was. Jesus had set his face to the inevitable suffering that would come. And he did so with true human expression, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I can’t think of a better description of the real pain he was experiencing. Jesus’ response in the light of what took place, according to Philippians, led to him glorifying God and him being highly exalted by God.
We don’t expect suffering and we don’t wish for suffering, unless we have a substantial mental disorder. Jesus didn’t want to suffer, but I think he knew that was going to be the inevitable outcome of his continued proclamation of the kingdom of God and challenge of the religious hierarchy of his day. Jesus was a conflict for them and, instead of looking for a creative response to the challenge he presented, they chose to remove the source of their conflict. They lobbied to have him crucified. With our 20/20 hindsight this did not get rid of the problem; Jesus was raised from the dead to have a greater impact on the world than he did while he was alive. It does not help us to deny the conflict – it only means we are postponing the inevitable.
When those who complain that there can be no God in the face of suffering that takes place in the world, they are making a statement that the conflict that causes suffering does not exist. Suffering in the world is conflict and crisis at its greatest, but the problem is not that it proves God does not exist, it shows that in our sinfulness humans are unable to act creatively in the face of it; or to avoid it.
We are amazed by the level of suffering in the world, but, like Pilate, we do not do anything differently and so suffering continues. As Irish Statesman, Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [sic] to do nothing.’ Our being amazed should lead us to consider how we need to act in new and creative ways in the world in which we live and by the nature of the God in whom we believe to bring an end to conflict.