The Gospel of Luke, as elaborated by Rowan Williams in Christ on Trial, is written for those who are not Jews for the purpose of elucidating the boundary-less inclusivity of the Gospel. The main characters of the story therefore are outsiders such as shepherds and tax collectors. Through the narrative of Luke Jesus is continually coming into contact with these “insignificant” characters of society thereby relocating where the “center” of society is perceived to be located. By associating ourselves with the marginalized of society we join and become the unheard people of society. This of course has no “useful” outcome, but that is exactly the point. We correctly associate ourselves with the marginalized of civilization not because they are superior or morally pure, this would only flip right side up the upside down politics of Jesus, but because they represent that which we do not have control over.
Rather than placing ourselves in liminal places, it is our constant temptation and anxiety to situate ourselves with the “insiders” of society and suspend the enactment of reconciliation. To be silent and listen to others on the hand is to allow God to make the kind of connections we cannot make on our own. Listening to the stories of others is often an unsettling encounter since it is our desire to have others see things the same way we do. By allowing strangers to remain “strange” and different is to learn from the stranger, unsettling our sense of control. Conversation beyond proselytizing is the opportunity given to us to listen to others and enlarge our world. This of course begs the question of whether or not we are in a place, literally, where we can listen to the outsider.
The startling presence of the powerless reminds us that we do not live in a world that is nicely organized and categorized. Jesus is radical for us because he doesn’t compete in a competitive market, but becomes the outsider himself. As Christians, we not only seek solidarity with the excluded of society, but also recognize the poverty and helplessness in ourselves that we fear and hide from others. To adhere to Jesus’ advice that we should become like children therefore might mean our need to recognize our own helplessness and lack of control.
Rowan Williams’ Christ on Trial is an illuminating commentary on the trial of Christ represented in each gospel. A trial, in general use, is the method we use to investigate truth and trustworthiness. Job, for instance, put God on trial begging the question why he suffered so, but was answered by God that there is no common language shared between Creator and created. Instead God has demonstrated his faithfulness over time and does not need to use words to defend himself when silence is a more appropriate form of speech. The trial of Jesus before Pilate unfolds the same way.
A commonality through each gospel is Christ’s reticence on trial. Williams interprets this silence as a withholding from competing on the same level as his accusers who are powerfully in control. It is not until the world has decided his fate by sentencing him to death that Jesus identifies himself as God. Stirpped of all traces of power, Jesus cannot be mistakenly identified with power. Jesus overturns our expectations by identifying himself as God when is a prisoner awaiting death. Therefore we are forced to withdraw our projected standards and aspirations upon him. Jesus does not guarantee rescue, success, assurance, or results. Even in our faithfulness, we often make choices that make no difference in the world and have no effective outcome. The very things we wish to associate with God, such as security and success, are the very things that Jesus overturns.
Matthew is particularly interesting in its relation to the authorities of the faith; the priests. Jesus holds the High Priest accountable to the history of Wisdom he inherited and is asked to judge for himself it if is God who stands before him on trial. The priest, in condemning Jesus, embraces power and excludes wisdom. The trial of Christ therefore is not a pronouncement of suffering and destruction on those who crucify Christ, but on the clergy who are the guardians of the faith. Often we work against God when we assume that we are working for him. The bottom line is that we can never gain mastery over God’s Wisdom. Oftentimes it is the guardians of faith who are at fault of closing themselves off from truth that comes from improbable sources. (We could insert here, and Williams does so, the genealogy of Jesus at the opening of the text that includes insignificant and strange persons).