Pastor's column: Asking yourself 'Why did they do that?'

Saturday, October 18, 2008

How many times have you asked yourself the following question: Why did they do that?

Recent examples abound. The insurance giant AIG is given an $85 billion taxpayer-funded loan by the federal government to remain afloat. The company, after receiving this bailout, goes ahead with a lavish, weeklong junket for top earners at a cost exceeding $400,000. AIG then gets a second loan for $37 billion, also from the federal government. (In the interests of full disclosure, a cousin of mine is a vice president of AIG.) This sort of corporate welfare causes me, and maybe you, to ask: Why did they do that?

There is a television infomercial now running touting something called "The Perfect Pushup." For two payments of $29.95 each, you can buy equipment that fits in your suitcase (presumably for the business traveler) that will help you do push-ups wherever you are. Hey, I've got an idea: Put your hands on the floor, straighten out your body and lift yourself up and down about 30 times. That's a push-up, and it won't cost a dime. Someone will buy this contraption, no doubt, leading to the question: Why did he do that?

This month, an offensive lineman for Mesa State College in Colorado, an NCAA Division II school two-thirds the size of Southeast Missouri State University, made national news. It seems this young man, a senior, injured his right pinkie finger during a practice. The pinkie got badly mangled in a jersey during a play. The orthopedic surgeon told the 21-year-old that after an operation, he wouldn't be able to play for the remainder of the season, his last. So he had the surgeon amputate the finger and he continued to play. For the rest of his life, when he goes to shake hands in a business setting, he'll notice the awkwardness of the other person who has just realized something is missing. He'll have a harder time using a computer keyboard. He'll never be able to hold a golf club correctly again. You can think of a dozen other incapacities resulting from his decision. OK, he took one for the team, but really: Why did he do that?

The Bible also has its stories that occasion the same question. Moses goes up onto Mount Sinai to receive the law from God. He's gone awhile. The people get restless. Maybe he's dead up there; perhaps he wandered off and can't find his way back. The crowd pressures Aaron, who has some skill in metalworking, into fashioning an idol that the people can worship. Aaron agrees and creates a calf of gold. Why did he -- why did they -- do that?

It'll make your head hurt trying to answer what is always a pertinent question. Human beings are not machines; we are prone to reckless decisions and actions. It was just that sort of thinking that landed a wandering carpenter from Galilee on a Jerusalem cross. The religious leaders, spurred on by jealousy, wanted him dead. The Roman procurator, desperate to maintain the Pax Romana during the busy festival of Passover, went along and sentenced Jesus to crucifixion. Erratic thinking led to an impulsive decision and an innocent man (whom I claim as the incarnate God) suffered an agonizing death. Here's an important difference from the examples cited earlier: We know why they did it. Each of us claiming the name "Christian" is a grateful beneficiary of that poor decision arrived at by a usually lamentable motivation: expedience.

As odd as it seems to write this, I'm glad Pontius Pilate didn't think that decision through very well.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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