Our reflections throughout Holy Week have been premised on the belief that if Jesus were the preacher this week, he would not focus on what happened to him 2000 years ago. Rather, Jesus would focus on how he continues to be crucified today in the bodies of those who he names as his incarnation, “the least of these”. The bodies of the vulnerable poor. Therefore, our focus throughout the week was on the systems of religion, economics and politics that continue to collude in ways that exclude and exploit. Ways that blame the victims of society’s injustice for society’s problems which ultimately scapegoats and crucifies.
Jesus doesn’t call us to be his historians. He calls us to be his disciples. Discipleship happens in the now. History is important in how it can help us to see and understand the present, but it comes with the temptation to live in the past which means that we could end up worshipping yesterday’s Messiah and this can blind us from seeing that we are crucifying today’s Messiah. Together with this is the temptation to believe that just because we know the story of old means that we now know better. But as we have seen this week in our reflections, we do not know better now. The exact same abuses of religious, economic and political power exist today as they did 2000 years ago. Justice continues to be betrayed and the results are as deadly.
The other premise for our reflections this past week was that Jesus was crucified by “1000 cuts”. Each cut a tiny compromise of the truth, neither deadly nor very noticeable in themselves but cumulatively they constructed a cross. The cross was made from a million splinters of self-interest legally laminated together by fear, greed and prejudice. As it was then, so it is today. Yes, the cross was legal, of this the State’s lawyers were sure. We should know better than most that legal does not mean just.
William Sloane Coffin once said: “On Good Friday we crucified Jesus, the best among us, because we had crucified the best within us, and did not want to be reminded of it…”
Now there were many reasons why Jesus was crucified – not least because he threatened the status quo of the Empire elites, but I invite us to reflect on this insight from Sloane Coffin today.
Isn’t it true that when we are reminded of something within us that we have ourselves forsaken or betrayed, we are prone to respond with defensive denial and sometimes even vicious anger? When we betray something we hold dear within us there is a strong temptation to begin to see the world, others and ourselves in a way that justifies our self-betrayal as it becomes too painful for us to face and acknowledge. One way to stop the pain is to get rid of that which is reminding us of our self-betrayal. To shatter the mirror that reflects the reminder.
Jesus reminded the religious class what true religion is meant to be about – justice rather than ritual, and mercy rather than sacrifice – loving God by loving our neighbour. This way had long been forsaken, but not quite forgotten – so to eradicate evidence of their self-betrayal they called for his blood. Likewise, Jesus reminded those in power that they were to use their power to pastor the nation with care. The leaders had not forgotten they were called to be shepherds, but they had long since given up caring for anyone other than themselves. They took offense at Jesus and seized the opportunity to have Jesus permanently removed. Jesus reminded the ordinary people that they were born free and equal to all and therefore to pick up their mats and emancipate themselves from internalised slavery. The people wanted him to do to their enemies as their enemies had done to them. When Jesus refused, they cried “crucify” and voted for Barabbas instead.
May we see and acknowledge what we have betrayed in ourselves. And may we behold our self-betrayal with compassion rather than condemnation, with the hope that when it is revealed to us by others, we will not call for their condemnation. Perhaps this may avert another crucifixion.