A.D. The Bible Continues, Episode 11

ad1 I cannot help thinking back to last week, when Pilate told Claudia he was trying to work out how to make Johanna’s death count. He meant, of course, in sending a message – and he did that this week, by showing Claudia her place; but the great irony of it is, her death counted far more than he thought, because it is the breaking point for Cornelius. I wondered, as we progressed from week to week with no indication of weakness in the Roman centurion, how we would reach that point of conversion and it turns out, it’s the simple words of Johanna that does it: “I forgive you.” One gets the sense that Cornelius has been yearning for that for a long time; again and again this season he has abdicated responsibility for his actions under the excuse that he is merely “following orders.” But brutality leaves scars, no matter how justified, and he may be able to wave off Claudia’s accusations, but he can’t deny the power of being forgiven, when the one he is wronging is staring him in the face, offering it. In a sense, this scene encompasses the entire power and message of Christ, because only one who is wrong, and knows it, and suffers from the guilt and shame of it, knows the true power that lies in being forgiven by the person you have wronged. The forgiveness of others is meaningless; and you may or may not be able to forgive yourself, but true forgiveness from the source of the one who has every right to hate you is transformative. ad3 Forgiveness has transformed all of them thus far, even Peter, whose early confession was that he merely wanted to say how sorry he was for denying Jesus thrice before “the end.” Jesus returned, Peter was forgiven, and he is a different man now – as Cornelius will become a different man next week. Though how he can justify continuing to work for Pilate, I have no idea. The beautiful element of Joanna’s awful death is that Pilate, in his own evil, is still an instrument used by God to deliver a profound message; the idea that death, for the Kingdom, is not meaningless. Johanna’s death is contrasted with Tabitha’s resurrection for a reason, to remind us that God’s methods are not always our own, but that He can use them to great effect. Tabitha’s resurrection touches everyone who knows her; Johanna’s death touched Cornelius and Claudia. I cried over Tabitha’s resurrection. That was powerful, made all the more so because not much was said… it was just Peter, and Tabitha, and the Holy Spirit in that room. Phillip and the Ethiopian are powerful as well, if only because again, they are playing heavily on God’s sense of “timing” in how they write this series. It is no coincidence that Caiaphas gave the Ethiopian that particular scroll, so that he would be reading it at that particular time. Caiaphas can haggle with James all he likes, but he cannot prevent the spread of the truth throughout Judea and beyond. James has only been in two episodes so far but I like their depiction of him; he gets it, but not entirely; he still believes there is some value in the Temple and that it can be converted over into a celebration of Christ. Sorry, James, you cannot reform from the inside out; you have to overthrow everything and begin anew. ad2 Claudia is becoming bolder in her actions and requests, which makes me concerned for her safety. The Greek Orthodox Church canonizes her as a saint, and one legend has it that she became a believer and left her husband. It will be interesting to see if they go that route with her, but regardless, she is taking big chances. And much as I hate violence, in a sense I am glad they are depicting it, because it’s a powerful reminder of the period in which the early church spread. Rome was the most ruthless, brutal dictatorship on earth at the time, having conquered most of the known world, and it did not do so through kindness. As with any godless culture, there was an incredible lack of concern for life in general in Roman society. The Romans flocked to the Gladiator games, where hundreds of thousands of people and exotic animals died for their entertainment. They butchered their way through history and ultimately folded because their bloated system driven to excess collapsed on itself and brought about its own downfall. You can see a similar state of violence in both the zealots and the Temple, in a sense; those who disagree must be killed. To protect the Temple, the disciples of Jesus must die. To protect the Temple, the Romans must die. It’s a festering pit of violence, which makes the peaceful Messiah all the more shocking. The Jews wanted a mortal savior, a warrior that would rise up like David or Sampson and save them from the clutches of their enemies; what they received instead was a Christ whose purpose was to liberate them not from earthly shackles but spiritual ones. He was not what they expected, nor what they wanted, so they killed him… but unlike the hundreds of other men who claimed to be the Messiah, he actually fulfilled the prophecy in its entirety and rose again. ad4 You can tell how great the presence of the Lord is in a society by how much it values life, human and otherwise, and throughout history these periods of valuing life have been few and far between. That is one reason Jesus was radical; because into that den of bigotry and hatred and death, He brought love and forgiveness and resurrected life. His followers went on to have a philosophy of, you cannot take my life, but I lay it down before you, that radically transformed the world. And this incredible faith, submission, and forgiveness is notably absent in the modern church. Instead, we bicker between denominations and dither on how much sin we can get away with before we cross an invisible line. Your average person professing to be a Christian differs very little from the heathen on the street, either in philosophy or behavior, and in some cases, is meaner, more judgmental, and less concerned with preserving life than the heathen. If our hearts do not continually cry out in anguish for the loss of life, if we are not different from the rest of the world, if we do not strive to put our own tendencies aside and trust, as the early believers did, that both our lives and death can serve a greater purpose, can we even call ourselves Christians?

6 Replies to “A.D. The Bible Continues, Episode 11”

  1. So did Claudia think that Cornelius was inviting her to run away with him and when she realized that he was only inviting her to worship Jesus with the rest of the Nazarenes and his family it angered her and so went running back to Pilot?

    1. Yes to the first (that she thought he was inviting her to run away with him) and no to the second.

      Claudia displays a habitual fear of change, in her refusal to abandon everything she knows. The thought that she could use Cornelius, whom I think the series has implied she has loved for quite some time, as an anchor made her willing to consider abandoning Pilate and her former lifestyle… but once she realized that her perception of him was false, that he did not love her, that no love awaited her in this high-risk environment, her fear took over and so she chose the hell she knows over the uncertainty ahead of her. She thought that as long as she had love, some kind of affection, and the man she wanted, that she could do that — but no, he would be her friend only, and in that sense, she would be … alone. Throwing away what she has for nothing, because she doesn’t know Jesus, or much about him, other than that His followers are persecuted. She went back to Pilate not out of anger, but resignation — the belief that this is her life, and it is all she will ever have. It’s really quite tragic, in that light. She lacks the courage to leave him on her own.

  2. I really appreciated how Peter admitted that before his fellow believers that he could not deny his Lord again. When you’ve done something like that, denied Christ to others, I imagine it haunts you, just as it haunted Peter. He knows he’s loved and forgiven, but I’m sure there will always be that niggle that says “I denied Him and He knew I would and He loved me anyway.”

    As for Cornelius, we had the same thought, in almost the same words. I knew he needed to break. I wasn’t sure how it would happen and I really wasn’t anticipating that scene at all. But it’s remarkable how profoundly life-altering forgiveness can be on that level. Being a man who doesn’t always like his job anyway, Johanna’s forgiveness broke him. It was horrible and beautiful all at the same time.

    And yes, I cried over Tabitha’s resurrection too. Faith truly came alive in that moment for me, on more levels than I can even verbalize.

    Do we really only have 1 episode left?

    1. I think it’s interesting that Peter’s mind immediately leapt to betraying Christ again; he knows Caiaphas well enough to suspect that a condition of returning to the Temple will be to not speak of Christ as “the Messiah” (as James found out and calmly rebuffed when Caiaphas suggested it).

      Sins … haunt us all, I think, and they seemed to be using that as a theme this week — with Peter holding onto the past, both in his remembrance of his betrayal of Jesus and in his resentment against Caiaphas as “the man who put Jesus to death.” Peter struggles to forgive; Paul called him on that before, in being shocked that forgiveness wasn’t automatic, since with salvation all previous sins are forever atoned for. Peter struggles to overcome the past … and Cornelius finally reaches the breaking point. And what is the thing that does it? Forgiveness of sin. There it is again. Beautifully done.

      Here is the truth of Cornelius, and of everyone else upon this earth — Claudia has been moralizing at him for weeks, to no effect. It took not moralizing or lecturing or calling him a monster to break him, but the total realization that he is deeply in the wrong — and the person he wronged forgiving him for it. This happened with Peter and also Paul. And it happens to us. We can be moralized at, lectured, called out on our sin, but it will have no effect until our heart is willing to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Just as we cannot argue or shame other people into repentance, we cannot be argued or shamed into it — we must come to that shame and need for forgiveness on our own.

      I’m not happy Joanna died, but I’m glad her death was not meaningless. And I think it made Tabitha’s resurrection all the more profound, because it got across profoundly that the culture is one of death, but Christianity is one of LIFE. Pilate takes away, Christ restores.

      Yes, tragically… one episode left. Looks like a doozy, too. Are the Christians kneeling before the Roman soldiers? Is Pilate strangling Claudia? Why are the tongues of fire back?! Please tell me it won’t end in some awful place!!

    1. I miss having him around too, but it’s probably a good thing he’s not in Jerusalem right now. “Why are you defending this pile of worthless stones called the temple?!” Yeah… that would cause no problems at all. None. 😉

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