Stress testing has been in the news quite a lot lately, and it got me to thinking of the stress on the apostles of Jesus in the lead-up to the first Easter. As the group's banker, Judas Iscariot was being tested by the local civil and religious authorities to accept a bailout of 30 pieces of silver. All he had to do in return was to deliver his leader and friend, Jesus of Nazareth, into the hands of the law.
Imagine the negotiations:
Judas: "I can't do it. You are just going to kill him."
Negotiator: "Don't be ridiculous. We just want to ask him a few questions."
Judas: "You will still kill him, no matter what he answers."
Negotiator: "We are civilsed people. He will get a fair trial."
Judas: "He was always good to me. I don't know why I'm even discussing this."
Negotiator: "Because your conscience is getting at you. Because he is questioning everything we believe in. He is flouting the law of the Sabbath. He is mixing with all kind of desirables. He needs to be taken out."
Judas: "He has healed the sick, cured the lame, given sight to the blind..."
Negotiator: "He has pulled the wool over a lot of eyes, you mean."
Judas: "How can you expect me to betray my leader, my friend?"
Negotiator: "Because of your faith. Because it is the right thing to do. And there is a little nest-egg in it for you."
Judas: "I'm not doing it for the money. I don't want the money."
Negotiator: "Of course you don't. The reward is there. I can't keep it. Look on it as redundancy money."
We know Judas failed the stress test, as did Peter when he denied Jesus three times. All of the other apostles did, too, except John, who had enough courage to follow him to the foot of the cross, with his mother, Mary, and some of her friends.
We sometimes think that things are bad for followers of Jesus in this day and age, but that cross on Calvary Hill must have been a particularly lonely place, with just a handful of friends and followers left from the crowds that had rushed from place to place to see and hear him, not to speak of those who had spread coats and palms on the road as he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
I think it would amaze Jesus that anyone would pass the stress tests of life or religion.
He is aware of our humanity more than anything else. It is what he likes best about us. It is why he decided to join us. He wanted to taste that freedom, that take it or leave it feeling, to show that 'take it' was the best choice, doing good the best option.
We would stumble and fail, grumble and gripe. We would mess up our stress tests but on balance stay on the right road. And even if we didn't he would still love us as he continued to love Peter, Andrew, Thomas, Judas and the rest of them.
The biggest Easter stress test was probably in the garden of Gethsemene in which Jesus sweated blood in fear and trembling as he thought of his impending death and the manner of it.
Like the rest of us he wanted to go for the easy option, to 'let this chalice (of pain and suffering) pass', His prayer was not answered in the way he wanted.
In his loneliness and desolation he questioned God: 'Why have you forsaken me?' It was as if God himself had failed his stress test.
But even then it was to God he surrendered himself: 'Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.'
The next stress test was on the rock at the entrance to his tomb. More about that later.