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Eyes on Jesus: Murderous Eyes

March 25, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this evening comes our gospel text, where Mark records, “And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.’”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

“If looks could kill.” I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before, but … have you ever lived it? Looking upon the seething rage in the face of another. A look that is so full of anger and even hate that you’d be surprised if there weren’t murderous intent behind it? Maybe you’ve seen that look in the mirror – which, frankly, can be more unsettling and frightening than seeing it in the face of another. In the ancient world and still today in some cultures, the “evil eye” is a glance that is thought to cause harm to the recipient. You can imagine this being what one would have seen in the eyes of the chief priests and scribes, the Sadducees and Pharisees, as they plotted Jesus’s death in tonight’s Passion reading. They were filled with hatred and murder as they gazed upon Jesus being greeted with praise in Jerusalem during Holy Week, and before that, when face-to-face with Jesus, they heard Him speak woes and reproaches to them. Make no mistake – if they’d had the ability to shoot fiery arrows from their eyes at the young rabbi, they would have done so.

Why the vehemence? A quick glance at Matthew’s gospel account may give us a clue. According to Matthew, during Passion Week, Jesus took the religious leaders to task for their hypocrisy: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus, you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.”

He wanted them to recognize their rank hypocrisy and repent, and sometimes mockery is the best way to drill a point home for hardened hearts. Thus, Jesus’s words, “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.” He’s mocking the religious leaders to bring them face-to-face with the murder that lay hidden under pious pretenses of honoring the murdered prophets and the platitudes of “We wouldn’t have done what our fathers did!” – as if anyone believes that.

After all, “There is nothing new under the sun,” as the preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes. Murderous thoughts and looks are as old as the fall into sin. Cain’s downcast eyes became murderous toward his brother. The cause of murder is always the agency of man, but the original source is the devil, who, Jesus says, was a liar and murderer from the beginning. St. John says that the murderer Cain was of the evil one. In addressing the Jews who wanted to kill Him, Jesus identifies Satan as the father of all who hate God’s Son.

But aren’t John and Jesus just wailing on Cain and the presently-plotting murderous Jewish authorities? Surely, He’s not talking to us, right? Listen to His Word: St. John writes, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” And a bit later, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Follow the logic. If I claim to love God while hating my brother, I am both a murderer and a liar and cannot love God, and if I don’t love Him, then I must hate Him. Looks like we’re in the same boat as Cain and the Sanhedrin. Consider the words of confession found in the Good Friday hymn, “Upon the Cross Extended”:

I caused Thy grief and sighing
By evils multiplying
As countless as the sands.
I caused the woes unnumbered
With which Thy soul is cumbered,
Thy sorrows raised by wicked hands.

Don’t lie to yourself. You have said in your heart, “I have reasons for hating my parents. I can make excuses for wishing that my brother were dead. I have good cause for casting an evil eye upon my neighbor.” That makes you a murderer in God’s sight and places you under His wrath. The Jews filled up the measure of their fathers in tonight’s Passion reading, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we must see ourselves right along with them.

What an absolute marvel, then, that the Father would allow His Son to be murdered at the hands of sinful men, just to save a bunch of rotten, rebellious sinners with eyes filled with rage against God and man. “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.” The wrath of God is not a murderous glance from the Father, but a look of righteous judgment upon the guilt of sin. We all deserve His just wrath, but instead of giving us what we deserved, God put it on Jesus, and Jesus willingly took it, for us men and for our salvation.

From the cross, Jesus looked upon the masses of humanity and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Original sin, which produces deception, hatred, murder, and every other sin, is so deep a corruption that we cannot recognize the depravity of what we think, say, and do unless it is revealed by God’s Word. But once our murderous eyes have looked in horror on what we have really done—nailing the innocent Son of God to the tree with our sins—then we are also ready for the joyful Good News of the forgiveness of all of our sins for the sake of Christ’s voluntary sacrifice at the hands of murderers, the death by which He has extinguished the wrath of God toward us. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Rejoicing is the theme of Laetare, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. So, rejoice in Christ, who has turned your murderous eyes away from sin, guilt, and despair and lifted them up to look upon Himself as your Savior. Amen.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.