The noted author John Hersey once wrote a best-seller entitled “Too Far to Walk.” It is a commentary on attitudes in our time. The title is drawn from an incident where a laid-back young man skips one of his college classes. When his friends ask why he missed class, he answers simply, “Aw, I got up this morning, and I decided it was just too far to walk!” That is the not-very-pretty picture of apathy.
One of the silent tragedies of our time is found in the fact that so many people today give in to apathy.
Terrified by the risks, the demands, the pressures, the hard decisions of life, they quietly give up, pull back into their shells and become eager to be apathetic.
“Eager to be apathetic”? Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? But that is exactly where so many people are these days.
This is not new, however. Look at the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. He too was eager to be apathetic.
Telescope in with me on that dramatic scene where Jesus stands on trial before Pilate. What a contrast. How different these two men are!
Look at Pilate here. He does not want to deal with this. He does not want to get involved. He is confused, upset, weak. He can't make up his mind.
In a dither, he runs from one group to the other, asking questions here and there.
He tries to “pass the buck.” He knows that Jesus is innocent, but Pilate does not have the strength of character to stand firm for what is right.
This is the picture of a man who is “running scared,” a man who is self-absorbed. Outwardly, he has it all – power, wealth, position, fame; but inwardly, where it really counts, he is scared to death.
He wants an “out,” and he desperately wants this problem to go away and leave him alone in his safe, selfish, apathetic world.
Finally, Pilate tries to straddle the fence. Like a nervous politician, he gives the people what they want.
He turns Jesus over to them for execution, but then, just in case someone else may see it differently, he symbolically washes his hands of the situation and tries to act as if he is not really involved.
Let me ask you something. Honestly now, does any of that sound at all familiar? Can you see yourself there in any way?
Does life ever cause you to run scared? Do life's problems ever make you want to run and hide? Are you ever eager to be apathetic?
I suppose, in all honesty, that at times we all are, But please don't forget the rest of the story.
In a backdoor way, we learn from the example of Pontius Pilate how dangerous apathy can be.
Our apathy can cause people to get hurt, can cause people to feel pain. Our apathy can cause people to be crucified!
With that in mind, let's look a little closer at Pontius Pilate in the hope that we can see how costly apathy can be, and in the hope that we can learn how to “avoid it like the plague.”
Consider with me three things that jump out at us from the life of Pontius Pilate.
Pilate was eager to “wash his hands.” This trial of Jesus incident, in which Pilate symbolically washed his hands, was pretty much a reflection of the kind of man Pilate had become.
Whenever and wherever he could, he washed his hands of responsibility.
And when things went wrong, he was quick to fix the blame on someone else.
Pilate was, in a name coined by Charles Dickens, “the Artful Dodger”! He was apathetic and indifferent and totally self-centered.
He didn't like to be bothered too much, especially with the problems of others. He liked to “lay back” and “play it cool.”
We are certainly not at our best when we try to avoid responsibility. We depreciate ourselves when we say, “There's not much I can do, anyway.”
Remember the great prayer of Saint Francis, which begins this way: Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy ...
It's hard to do those things when you're washing your hands; it's impossible to do those things when you are eagerly avoiding responsibility.
You can't be apathetic and bring love and pardon and faith and hope and light and joy.
We need to be using our hands to bring healing, and not washing them to avoid responsibility.
That's the first thing we see here: Pilate was eager to wash his hands.
Pilate was also eager to be a spectator rather than a participant.
How we need to learn how to participate again! We are living in a world of “armchair quarterbacks” who like to observe and criticize but never want to get on the playing field.
“You see to it,” said Pontius Pilate, “You do it, and I will watch you carry it out. I'll be a spectator. I'll stand back and watch and let others deal with the tough tasks – not me.”
Are you familiar with the play and movie entitled “Sunrise at Campobello”? It was the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's struggle in overcoming the results of polio.
Dore Schary, who was head of a motion picture studio and who wrote Sunrise at Campobello, said, “One thing marked Franklin Roosevelt; he never wanted to be a spectator. Even when he could not walk, he yearned to be where the action was.”
Dore Schary went on to say of Roosevelt, “You may fault his policies or find flaws in his personal life, but you cannot fault this: He did not sit around wringing his hands or giving excuses why he could not act; he acted!”
But Pilate was eager to be a spectator rather than a participant.
Finally, Pilate was eager to look over his shoulder. Pilate was always wondering how Rome would view his performance, how Rome would feel about his decisions.
This is, of course, a sign of insecurity. This is, of course, the mark of a person who does not know his own mind, who is scared, and who does not have a very high regard for himself or for what he is able to do.
Let me ask you something. Are you like that? Do you spend a lot of time looking over your shoulder, wondering, “What will others think?”
People who constantly look over their shoulders give a lot of their energy to “blending in with the crowd.”
They haven't thought through their own convictions. They just go along with the crowd.
They just read the latest poll and go with the majority. They just adopt the latest fad.
Do you remember the story about the first-graders who found a rabbit on the school playground?
They adopted the bunny as their class mascot. But they had a problem: they couldn't decide if their new pet was a “boy rabbit” or a “girl rabbit.” So they took a vote!
The majority voted that it was a “boy rabbit,” and they named him Ralph.
However, a few weeks later, Ralph gave birth to seven baby bunnies – which only goes to show that there are some things we don't vote on!
Peter Marshall said it powerfully when he prayed, “Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for – because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.”
Pontius Pilate couldn't take a stand that day because he was too busy looking over his shoulder.
God does not insist that we be heroes, but God does insist that we be human and humane, that we do what we can to make life better for everybody, and that we stop “passing the buck” and “washing our hands.”
Jesus once said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” What I think he meant could be simply put, “Many show up for the game, but few really play!”
Pilate needed that word, didn't he? And so do we.
What it all means is simply this: the only thing more costly than caring is not caring!
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken's First Baptist Church.
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