Wolves or Lambs?
Jesus Christ dealing with Law and Criminal Justice matters
As a Priest and particularly as Chaplain of Prison (since the year 2000) sent by the Church of Naples – Italy – to Poggioreale Jail, with the mission to evangelize people convicted in Maximum Security Area ( in this area are confined people who are supposed to be members of Organized Crime) my first duty is to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ! My first concern, evangelic concern, is to discover, through the meditation of the Holy Bible, especially the New Testament, “the feelings Jesus Christ had” regarding the Law and Criminal Justice matters. (I am not a theologian nor a Biblical scholar, I am just a simple priest and what I am saying in this article is just a pastoral meditation. I will be grateful to anyone who will give me any suggestion to get a deeper understanding about these issues. My goal in writing this article is to stimulate a debate around these matters so important for the whole Society.)
Jesus dealing with Justice matters
Regarding the Law we have, first of all, to clarify that the Law in question is the Moses’ Law. The core of the Law were the ten Commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. Along the centuries there was an implementation of the Law with all the explanations and additions given by those who were in charge of the people of Israel. The first five books of the Bible were called Torah (= The Law!) The Israelite Government was basically a Theocratic Government: the Sanhedrin made up by the Priesthood class, the Pharisees party and the eldest of the people.
The Sanhedrin had the task to run the Justice and help people to live according to the Law of Moses. We have even to say that the thought of Jesus about the Roman Law revolutionized the pattern in which the Hebrews had imprisoned the Law of God. In fact when the Pharisees, in order to find some accusations against Jesus, asked if it was correct to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, Jesus answered with that famous expression: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God”. We can find in these words the real core of the future concept of a correct Laity of the State. Strangely enough Jesus Christ has been the first and most convinced defender of the correct Laity of the State. Nevertheless you can never, always according to the words of Jesus, split totally the created reality from the Divine one. ( these ideas are very well explained in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes of the second Vatican Council. )
In dealing with the Law of Moses Jesus made two operations :
1st) He removed all the additions brought, along the centuries, by man’s traditions in order to take the Law right back to its “original configuration”, in other words: taking the Law back to the pure Will of God: “You have heard that people were told in the past…But now I tell you…” (Mt. 5, 21ss).
2nd) We could say about the whole Law what Jesus told about one of the most important laws, the law of the Sabbath: “The Sabbath was made for the good of man; man was not made for the Sabbath…” (Mc 2, 27). In other words, Jesus wanted to say that in God’s mind the Law must serve men.
(Let me tell you something about what we have been saying above: How important it would be that even in our time those who define themselves as disciples of Christ, according to the role they play in society, would make themselves heard, in the respect of course of the laws of democracy, and would act even at political level to give their contribution so that Governmental laws were always more and more made after God’s Law. Not man’s traditions or fashions tell us the truth but it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who tells us the will of God which saves us! Another word about democracy: Democracy means government of people who through their elected deputies exert the power. Now, in a real democracy, it is always the majority who win, not the minority as in the dictatorial regimes. This doesn’t mean, of course, discrimination for the minorities, which is a very sensitive issue today, but it would be unacceptable in a real democracy any dictatorship of whatever minorities or lobby of power.)
But this correction of the Law was not the most important revelation Jesus made. There was another and more important one…
Everybody is a sinner in front of God!
The People of Israel were convinced that there were persons who were able to put into practice the Law of Moses so that they were just in front of God and had to stay away from those who refused to live according to that Law. Thus a very simple system had been created . On one side those who were able to live according to the law: the Just and Pious! On the other side those who used to live far away from the Law: the Sinners! But Jesus revealed that things were a little bit more complicated than they seemed to be. Paradoxically enough those who will accuse Jesus and will have Him crucified will be those, among the people, who are considered the more just and pious…That’s why Jesus put all his effort in making people understand that nobody is just in front of God, nobody is able to put into practice the Law: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw the first stone…” (Jn 8,7)
The Apostle Paul will put it very simple: “For no one is put right in God’s sight by doing what the Law requires, what the law does is to make man know that he has sinned” (Rom 3, 20). In this way the Apostle wanted to state that not only the pagans were the outlaws but the Hebrews too. In other words, God wants to let us understand that the whole humanity is unjust in front of Him.
(Let me tell you another thing: When the time comes that the society as a whole will be aware of its joint liability regards the making of crime phenomenon a great leap forward will be made! According to the Eurispes report 2007 about Italy, criminality is considered the most dangerous threat: 1 Italian out of 5 has been victimized in the year 2006. But I wonder: What does God think about the massacre of children carried out every day through abortion? How parents, doctors and medical staff will be considered by God? And how God will call those who commit acts of paedophiles or those who make use of children for trafficking drugs or kill children in order to get human organs to sell to rich western people? And what God will think about those who allow the broadcasting of every kind of garbage programmes, from pornographic to violent ones, in order to increase their business without caring of the consequences upon children and teenagers? And how God will consider those who are destroying the planet to increase their profits paving the way for incredible disasters that will affect the next generations? I believe that humanity as a whole ought to make a deep exam of conscience and ask itself which way it is walking to. I don’t think I am exaggerating in saying that the whole mankind is outlaw in front of God and needs salvation, forgiveness and justice from Him.)
The attitudes of Jesus dealing with the “humanity outlaw”
Let’s go on now in our meditation and let us think a little bit about Jesus’ attitudes towards humanity that is outlaw. In doing this we will make use of the metaphor of the Lamb, used by Jesus Himself.
I am sending you out as lambs among wolves
It is true that Jesus sends his disciples as lambs among wolves, but we need to focus a little bit upon the true meaning Jesus wanted to give to word lamb as well as the word wolf. A very popular saying goes this way: “Don’t make yourself lamb because the wolf will eat you”. The purpose of this saying is clear: You must avoid to assume remissive attitudes in order not to be crashed by violent people. Thus the question is getting more and more urgent: Is Jesus asking us to be weak? Is Jesus asking us to give up in front of evil? Is He inviting us to remain silent in front of the injustice? Is, perhaps, “weakness” an attitude of the Christian way of life? No way!
Nothing more false!
To understand how far from the truth are those who would think about the Christian way of life as a mind-your-business”; “what’s-the-use”; or “why should-I-care”; or a “let-it-go-for-everything-pass-away”; or a “better-one-hundred-years-as-a-sheep-than-one-day-as-a-lion” life style, let’s focus on that special Lamb called Jesus Christ , the Son of God! Even Isaiah had foretold that Jesus would have been the Lamb par excellence “He was like a lamb led to the slaughter-house” (Is 53,7). John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, confirmed that when pointing him out to his disciples Philip and Andrew (by the way: they will be Jesus’ first disciples), He addressed him this way: “Look there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world…” (Jn 1, 29).
A Lamb extraordinarily… strong!
If we give a closer look at this special Lamb we will be surprised indeed by what this Lamb is able to do…:
- As you know, Jesus was born in a manger and since this very moment he surprises us revealing such a dignity and greatness, “so unusual for a lamb”: The whole universe takes the ground for this great event. The angels of God announcing his coming will watch over Him for all his earthly life; before Him the wise men coming from east will go down on their knees (Lk 2,1 ss; Mt 2,1 ss).
- Since the beginning of his mission a very original, supernatural, amazing power, “so unusual for a lamb” shows up in Him : the blind sees, the crippled walks, the dead is coming back to life! (Mt 11,1-6).
- He is able to stand up to every peer pressure even that of his own relatives, showing up an incredible freedom of thought and action , “so unusual for a lamb”, (Mc 3, 21 ss).
- Jesus exerts such a fascination upon people, “so unusual for a lamb”, to such a point that people would follow Him forgetting everybody and everything (Gv 12,19).
- You must not forget that even in the most dangerous situations Jesus reveals such a courage, not to say a real and mysterious power, “so unusual for a lamb” (Lk 4, 28-30; Lc 13, 31-33; Jh 10, 39; Jh 18,1ss).
- Jesus never backs off, showing an incredible indignation, when the time comes to defend God’s honour in front of those who had the task to lead the people of Israel (the Lamb used even to get angry when the right times came), “so unusual for a lamb” (Mt 21, 12-17)
Somebody could ask us that even if Jesus, this special lamb, had such a power and such a strong personality.. in the end He will be eaten by the wolves. The destiny of Jesus will be the same of every lamb: to be eaten by the wolves.
So this question needs to receive a right answer: Why this Champion of humanity, Son of God at the same time, called Jesus Christ with such a power let himself, be eaten by the wolves?
Sent by Jesus as lambs among wolves
Time has come to give a closer look at wolves…. Jesus is not naïve, He knows how dangerous are the wolves . His “Passion”, the baptism he had to receive which made him feel distressed until it would be over… gave no chance to misunderstand the real share of violence that can blow out in the heart of wolves and the consequences on the community. That is why He advised his disciples in the so-called apostolic speech : “So be cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves. Be prepared for people to hand you over to Sanhedrims and scourge you in their synagogues… You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake... If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next….” (Mt 10,16-24) “…and the time will come when anyone who kills you will think that by doing this he is serving God…” (Jn 16, 2)
(Let me tell you another thing as Chaplain of Prison: without doubt in this world prisons will always exist, but society should send behind bars only people who are really dangerous for themselves and/or for the community. Prison should be the “extreme ratio” used for stopping those who have made a criminal choice and must be arrested! Even though as Christians we can never give up believing in their rehabilitation.)
Nevertheless, even if Jesus knew everything and had a real supernatural power that could have prevented him from suffering..., Jesus let himself be “eaten” by wolves. Why? The answer given by Jesus upsets us : The Lamb of God loves the wolf and wants to save him at any cost! To paraphrase (with all respect for the Word of God) the apostle Saint John chapter 3 of his Gospel, we could have Jesus say: “God so loved the wolves to give His only Lamb so that those who “eat” him may not die but have eternal life!) (Jn chapter 3).
A wolf extraordinarily… weak!
Who is the wolf according to Jesus? The answer is: For Jesus the wolf is a sick person! When Pharisees amazed used to ask Jesus why He used to go along with sinners, used to visit their houses and eat with them and even allow a prostitute to touch him, wash his feet, and let her dry them with her hair… Jesus answered: The sick people need to see the doctor not the healthy ones.
The wolf is sick!
The supernatural knowledge Jesus had, as Son of God, allowed Him to see the invisible reality hidden in the wolves heart. And there He discovered the illness which is at the very root of every evil: Sin! The wolf, because of sin, doesn’t perceive the lovely presence of God in his heart whispering to him: you are my precious son. (see the parable of the prodigal son (see Lk c. 15)
( Allow me to say one last word regarding criminal justice: Punishment should be more and more a way back to conversion and rehabilitation, it would mean to conquer again one’s own dignity lost because of crime in order to go back to society and live as a good citizen- the prodigal son decided to go back to his Father’s house. This way back implies sufferings: changing one’s own life style is never an easy task.)
This lack of perception of God’s presence causes a horrible devastation in wolves lives and it is the direct cause of an invincible insecurity, an existential frailty and a complete lack of the real meaning of life. Nothing and nobody can fill this inner vacuum that turns men into wolves.
The wolf is frail!
So you get to understand that behind the external cruelty appearances ( let’s think for a while of the horrible crimes of daily life) is hidden the frailty of a human being who doesn’t succeed in finding a strong rock that can support his life. Panic, fear, causes violence ( against oneself or others). The formula is: The more scared you are the more violent you become! In fact, violence far from being a sign of strength is indeed the opposite: a sign of weakness and unconscious cry for help!
If the Wolf wants to be saved, he must “eat” the Lamb!
Paradoxically enough, the only way out for the wolf is exactly this: to eat the Lamb of God. The wolf must humiliate himself in front of the Lamb, go down on his knees, bowing down to Him while saying: “O Lord I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” The second option and the only one left is: eternal failure! In fact, only in Jesus Christ man can experience the presence of God, only receiving the gift of Faith, Hope and Love from Him, man can defeat sin, receive a new life free from insecurity, frailty, weakness. Only receiving from Jesus the Holy Spirit that in the deepest of the heart of man crys out “Abba Father”, the wolf can be born again. Paradoxically enough, (the Gospel is full of paradox), the victory of the Lamb shows itself just when the wolf eats Him. Because it is not the Lamb who is assimilated by the wolf, but just the opposite! The wolf turns into a lamb, the looser turns into a winner, the son of darkness turns into a son of light…
It is impossible not to give glory to God, isn’t it?
Father Bruno Oliviero