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Published:August 29th, 2011 10:27 EST
Cowards in the Gospels: John the Baptist Was Not One of Them!

Cowards in the Gospels: John the Baptist Was Not One of Them!

By Ignatius Fernandez

"Courage is grace under pressure." Ernest Hemingway.

In the Gospels we meet the bold and the frightened. We shall examine a few cases which should serve as lessons.

John the Baptist stands tall as a beacon of courage. He was unafraid of consequences - prison and death - and fearlessly faulted King Herod for his debauchery and begged him to repent and change. He had the courage to be different from common folk - speaking forthrightly and living honestly. Because his conviction ran deep, his courage rose to sustain it and his personality showed no strain. Jesus highly praised his awe-inspiring conduct and King Herod secretly admired his goodness.

In sharp contrast, we meet four characters on the pages of what is a sad story of human cowardice and ingratitude - King Herod, Pilate, Peter and Judas.

King Herod knew he was doing wrong by keeping his brother`s wife, Herodias, as his mistress, but refused to give up sin. He is seen as a fawning, servile, people-pleaser who was ensnared by many passions and unwilling to overcome the temptation of lust. When Herodias` daughter danced seductively at the palace, the King promised her any gift she would ask. Prompted by her mother, who detested the taunting of John the Baptist, she asked for his head. The King shrank in horror, but as one who thrived on public applause, he decided to please the girl and his guests. Little did he realize that man`s loudest praise is nothing but the dying echo from a falling wall. In a drunken gaze, he lifted his chalice, poisoned with pleasure, to his quivering lips, and ordered the beheading of his prisoner. Had he known that living for God`s approval was better than living for man`s applause, he might have acted differently. Now, with the deed done, his king`s robes became the foul clock of cowardice as he found himself a fugitive, running away from ghosts he could not put to rest.

Pilate, the Roman Governor, displayed anything but commonsense when he condemned Jesus to be crucified. His resolve to be a just Governor creaked on the hinges of loyalty he owed the Roman Emperor. The doors gave way and he was exposed as a moral eunuch. How often have we not been told that people in power do not make decisions because they are cheap, or easy or popular; but because they are right? Pilate refused to bust the dam of injustice to let justice flow free. Instead, he reinforced it when he exercised power without the weight of courage - he sought to please the Emperor and put an innocent man to death.

Peter pretended that he was capable of brave deeds. He promised according to his hopes, but performed according to his fears, as the jagged edges of terror cut through his armor of friendship, to bare a frail heart which denied his friend and Master. They say that you can measure the size of a man by what makes him afraid. For all his big talk, suddenly Peter appeared very small. But the good thing was that he was reduced to a sobbing wreck; he found grace under pressure; he found repentance. His faith in Jesus was confirmed and his hope was fortified. He had learned a bitter lesson. Through faith which sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable and receives the impossible, Peter received forgiveness from the Lord.

 Judas met his destiny on the road he took to avoid it. Handcuffed to ambition, he traveled down a road with no road signs. Desperate to reach the destination that his ambitions pointed to, he wanted to make the journey fast on the fuel that Jesus provided - enormous goodwill among the people. When he found that his Master did not seek power or position, although it was there for the asking, he found his plans thwarted. Betrayal was the only way he could get even with his Master who did not crave for success. But after his heinous crime he found that the only things we really lose are those we try to keep. With blood on his hands, he was laid low with grief; not the grief that gives way to grace, but despair. Had he true faith, he would have known that God not only can forgive, but will forgive a repentant soul. Viewing the tangled wreckage of his manipulative ways, he lost hope and did not seek forgiveness, unlike Peter who was humble in begging pardon. He did not use the rope to climb out of the ditch of hopelessness he was in, but hanged himself with it. A sad finish to what was once a promising start!

 In the four characters we meet in the Gospels we find a common trait - they yielded to pressure and were consumed by fear. They did not find the grace to be courageous. Herod was afraid of losing the goodwill of people and his mistress. Pilate was afraid of displeasing the Emperor. Peter was afraid of suffering torture and pain. Judas was afraid of demolishing the castles that he had built for himself. In each case, fear displaced courage. They were cowards of different molds.

When we hurry to put them down as spineless cowards, we should rush to examine our own attitudes. Are we willing to stand up for what we believe? Will pressure make us compromise? Will fear of consequences force us to give up our ideals? Are we cowards in disguise? Who do we resemble the most - Herod, Pilate, Peter or Judas?