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Sunday Night Live Sermons

COMMITTED TO EXPEDIENCY

Who He Really Is

John 11:45-57
20th June 2004

One of the highest words of praise we can say about a person, particularly a person in a position of responsibility in public life is: “that is a person of principle.” Principle — particularly moral principle — can never be a weathervane, spinning around this way and that with the shifting winds of expediency. Moral principle is a compass forever fixed and forever true — and that is as important in business as it is in the classroom. (Edward R. Lyman)

In business, the current emphasis on values statements and character education will hopefully mean a more ethical treatment of employees rather than what has happened by the dehumanizing trends due to reengineering, downsizing and corporate mergers. Could anyone not be pleased with the idea that through corporate decision people would be encouraged to act in an ethical and honorable manner? The aim of values statements is to direct employees toward ethical corporate practice. This compass must never be recalibrated to synchronize with the shifting winds of expediency. The moral base of values and character within an organization is prior to and stands in judgment of later circumstances that cry for expedient, not necessarily principled, action. Expediency can be defined as “the consideration of what is selfishly beneficial, to the neglect of what is just or right; personal advantage and self-interest come first.” Expediency shifts the focus from doing what is right to gaining a more profitable outcome. Expediency is concerned only with the accomplishing a desired goal. Expediency challenges honorable action because of its perceived need for acts of self-preservation or self-gratification.

In corporate settings, expediency often manifests itself in desperate acts of corporate self-preservation that deceitfully cover desperate acts of individual self-preservation. An example of expedient action can be seen in the young woman who accepts a young man’s invitation to go on a date but then calls it off because she gets a better offer.

Or the bank that preaches trust and openness to their employees, then later notifies them that a third of them will be re-trenched the following week. Or the law firm that boasts family-values but does not allow an employee to go home to check on a sick child. Or the factory whose manager constantly proclaims “the customer is always right,” but pushes the employees to deliver cheaper than ordered goods.

The long-term effect of choosing expediency over honor can be poisonous to the corporate culture. The unbalanced short-term solution can substantively and quickly destabilize employee morale and motivation. Some company’s stated values clash every week with demands for expedient action. Company’ values are being challenged by standard operating procedures, competitors and customers. Managing the conflict between honor and expediency requires wisdom and thick skin. Three principles give insight. It is always wrong to use a dishonorable means to accomplish worthy ends. Leaders must live out true values; Leaders must support the stated values of the corporation. Self-preservation and profit making must be excluded from decision making. What we want in our political leaders is principle, honour and ethical action.

Yet whenever they seek to act in such a way, they polarise the community and create immense reaction. If I were to say that John Howard and George W Bush were men of principle, half the countries they represent would agree enthusiastically, but the other half would be vehement opposed to the suggestion. They would claim such leaders were people of expediency, doing whatever they had to do to retain power and personal popularity. We need principled leaders, but we are cynically suspicious of whatever they do. We believe they are in just for the power, the glory and the money. If they are leaders who espouse Christian values, they will be disparaged all the more.

Nancy Gibbs writes in this week’s edition of TIME magazine: “It’s only natural that a country founded by pilgrims would never let its politics wander far from its faith. As voters weigh the faith-based presidency of George W. Bush, they should note that his is hardly the first of its kind.” Americans want a believing President but they will attack him all the more because of his faith. President Theodore Roosevelt, at the turn of this century was a man who stood strongly on principle. In 1899 he declared “no man is justified doing evil on the grounds of expediency.” Expediency is proposing a course of action as being the most profitable in the circumstances regardless of whether it is right. Such expediency nailed Jesus to the Cross. Each time Jesus came close to Jerusalem, He was coming closer to His death.

It was now expedient, better, more profitable in the circumstances, necessary if things were to stay the way they were, essential if the status quo was to be preserved, for Jesus to be completely removed. Caiaphas was the arch political leader, a High Priest, but empowered by the Romans as one upon whom they could rely. For years he held the political reigns under the Romans. He was not chosen for his spiritual qualities as a Priest, but for his political capacity to compromise and to please the Romans.

A remarkable miracle had occurred in nearby Bethany. Friends of the Pharisees had run the 3 kilometers along the road from Bethany, past the Jericho Road turn-off, down the side of the Mount of Olives, over the Brook Kidron and up through the walls at the Damascus Gate to the High Priest’s house where they breathlessly told of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The Sanhedrin heard for themselves that a local, Lazarus, who had died a week earlier and had been in the tomb for four days, had come out of the tomb when commanded by this Jesus of Nazareth, who then told the people standing by to unwrap the tight embalming cloths which were stopping the man from moving and choking his voice. The whole experience was mind boggling. No one there doubted it and most said that this Jesus of Nazareth must be the Messiah. They said: “What shall we do? Look at all the miracles this man is performing!” Even His enemies believed! The eye witnesses were unnerved but Caiaphas certainty was not! He knew just exactly what would happen if the Romans heard that a Messiah was being proclaimed by the people. The Romans would crush everybody including themselves.

These leaders trembled: “If we let Him go on in this way, everyone will believe in Him and the Roman authorities will take action and destroy our Temple and our nation?” John 11:47-48 They said they were concerned for “our Temple and our nation?” but it was their own future that concerned them. Because of fear of Caesar, these Pharisees despised God and crucified His Son — and this in the name of preserving the Temple and their nation! Their expediency appeased man but offended God.

His people might quiver but Caiaphas knew exactly what had to be done. Caiaphas had no doubts about his course of action, no uncertainty, no scruples. If they wanted their position and power to continue under Rome, then they would have to get rid of Jesus. It was not a question of justice but of survival. It was not a matter of wonder that the dead should be raised, but a matter of urgency to restore the system where the dead stay buried! Caiaphas sneered: “What fools you are! Don’t you realise that it is better for you to have one man die for the people instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” He put it so bluntly. The others merely questioned: “If we let Him go on in this way…” but Caiaphas shamelessly states as necessity: “it is better for you to have one man die for the people”. Bold, brazen, blatant. Caiaphas is the archetype of the political leader who will hang on to power by allowing corruption, by organizing the gerrymander, by calling for long enquiries to avoid making correct decisions, What matters is continuation in office not what is just, and right and true. What is central is pleasing man not God. Such expediency wins temporary success and long term condemnation!

Caiaphas did not realise what he was saying! He was, as John put it, “prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people, and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of God.” John 11:49-52 Political expediency not justice condemned Jesus to death, yet through His death and resurrection believers everywhere would find life.

In declaring that Jesus would die on behalf of the nation, Caiaphas was unknowingly going to the heart of the Gospel. He never understood the good news in his words when he sneered from the foot of His Cross: “He saved others, He cannot save Himself.” Caiaphas was right more than he realized when he said: “it is better for you to have one man die for the people”. Correct! It was better that Jesus should die on behalf of every one of us. It was better that one man, the man of God’s own choosing should lay down His life that “we may not die but have eternal life.”3:16

Jesus was to die for the nation according to Caiaphas, but Jesus died for all the nations. Caiaphas was to sacrifice Jesus for the benefit of the nation, but that is just what God had intended: that Jesus be sacrificed not for this one only but for all the nations. What do we learn from the hard expediency of Caiaphas?

  1. Caiaphas represents the evil in human nature that defies logic and reason in order to retain prejudice. You can argue with prejudiced people, present logical reasons, and even examples of someone raised from the dead but your very conviction confirms them in their prejudice. Jesus still threatens prejudice.
  2. Caiaphas shows how people act unjustly to stay in power. You trust others to act honorably, but the power-hungry look you in the eye and speak peace while they are planning war. Expediency sells out justice! They buy short term power at the expense of long term principle. Jesus threatens those who want to retain power.
  3. Caiaphas wants what profits most, not what is right. What is morally wrong can never be ultimately right. Sin deceives. Jesus still threatens evil hearted men who want to retain their profit.
  4. Caiaphas thought his schemes would bring about his purposes, but God was working to fulfil His will even through the injustice and moral corruption of sinful people. God was working His purposes out even through those who crucified Jesus. Jesus still threatens evil hearted men who want to retain their purposes.

Jesus threatens today because He represents the poor, the refugee, the Aborigine, the oppressed, the vulnerable where political expediency would get rid of them. Jesus is with the poor and vulnerable, ever the scapegoat for the sins of the world and in hurting them. Do you fall for the subtle temptation of retaining your own prejudice, power, profit, and purpose even though people are sacrificed in the process? Do you choose what is profitable rather than what is right? Do you sacrifice principle for expediency? Jesus still threatens cause He stands for truth, justice, principle, righteousness, and so should we! Are you committed to expediency or committed to Christ?

REFERENCES

  • References: The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, June 16, 1999.

 

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