Not the Best Time
This Sunday we have one of those readings with a long list of names, nearly impossible for Americans to pronounce. And, for once, it does not come from the Old Testament!
In the Gospel lesson from Luke (click here to read it), we hear of the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist and Luke sets the context for us: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…”
Typically, we just gloss over the names but Luke put them here for a reason. First, this dates the events being recounted and reminds that we are being told of real events the took place at a certain time and place. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius” dates the beginning of John’s work to 28 or 29 A.D. Typically, this would be all that was needed as Tiberius was the Roman Emperor, and the dates of his rule would be widely known to Luke’s audience. However, Luke continues on with additional information that indicates an agenda beyond simply establishing a date.
Each of the people referenced helps to set the social and cultural context for John’s ministry, and Jesus’ ministry to follow. During his reign, Tiberius was apparently rather paranoid, and was known to push many trials for treason and sedition. He saw people plotting against him at every turn, especially subject people like the Jews. This included those who served him, like Pontius Pilate and Herod, both of whom played important roles in the narrative of Jesus. (Note: this was Herod Antipas – there were three different Herods; this is the same Herod who was in power three years later and confronted Jesus before his crucifixion.) With a paranoid emperor, Pilate and Herod were both under great pressure to quash any hint of sedition or unrest. Pilate in particular was ruthless in this regard with many arrests and summary executions, and seemed to have a particular disdain for the Jewish leaders.
In this context, High Priests like Caiaphas and Annas also felt great pressure to keep trouble makers within the Jewish community in check so that the Romans did not come down on them. For more on Caiaphas in particular, read John 11:45-53.
So John, and Jesus, came onto the scene at a time when there was great tension between the Romans rulers and the Jewish people, and both had great fear of anything that might rock the boat. John and Jesus were both rather serious “boat rockers,” so it should not be surprising that both ended up in the cross-hairs of both the Jews and the Romans.
What does this tell us about the Christian life today? I think this reminds us that we do not wait for the ideal circumstances before we do Jesus’ work. There is no perfect time. There are always problems and obstacles. But we step out, even when it is risky. That’s what John did. That’s what Jesus did. And if we are to be Jesus followers, that’s what we do as well.
We are not promised safety. We are not promised security. We are promised Jesus, and eternity with Him. That is to be enough for us.
Are you prepared to be a follower of Jesus even when it is risky? Even when the times and the outcome are uncertain?
The column appeared in the December 9, 2018 issue of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.