Good Friday: The Politics of Love

This is a hard day. 
It it tempting to move through it quickly. We already know the story. And it happened long ago - once for all, right?

But God has something to say to us here, not just about then but also about now.  And so today we must look again.

These are the details: Jesus has been arrested by a cohort of both imperial soldiers and Temple security police. The religious leadership questions him about his friends and his teachings.  They take his answers to be smart remarks. He has not bowed to their authority.  They want him silenced. 

So a brutal power show begins. A guard hits him in the face.  Peter, himself afraid of the authorities, denies him.  Jesus is taken by the Temple guard to Pilate, the local Roman governor. Pilate and his soldiers dress Jesus in a crown of thorns and a purple robe to mock him.  And then they beat him up, and they bring him out and show him to the people to humiliate him.  

And the religious leaders and the police and soldiers see how he is humiliated and see his face all black and blue and they despise him.  They shout out their demand that Jesus be crucified.  And the people also clamor for his death.  They hate what they see, this man who seems weak and powerless against them all.

All this scares Pilate. The people are showing their strength as a mob.  They are not docile or obedient after Pilate and his soldiers have flexed their muscles by exhibiting the humiliation of a bloody and bruised man.  This “moderate” show of violence should have done the trick.  A reminder that the imperial government has the power, and this is what they can do with it.

But the people are agitated, perhaps by the smell of blood, the smell of fear, perhaps most of all the public display of something shameful.  It is going to take more than this.  

Pilate is nervous. He goes back to Jesus and demands to know where he is from.  Jesus, who has just been beaten up by this man’s soldiers stands silently in the face of this demand. An incredulous Pilate says to him, “Don’t you know that I’ve got all the power here?  What are you thinking that you refuse to answer my question?”

So Jesus does answer Pilate  by stating that God is the one who has the power. Which puts Pilate between a rock and a hard place.  Jesus has made what sounds like a subtle threat to him on the one side, and the people are overtly threatening him on the other. 

Then the people play their trump card.  They shout that they will expose Pilate to the Emperor, the most powerful of the powers that be, at least in Pilate’s mind, if he does not do away with Jesus.

So Pilate stages an even more elaborate show.  He brings Jesus back out — Jesus with the bloody face and the pretend king outfit.  “Shall I crucify your king?” he shouts sarcastically.  He goads them, he pumps them up.  Pilate shows the people - this is what else we can do:  not only can we beat you up, but we can kill you.

And the religious leaders answer, Jesus is not our king.  The Emperor is the power WE respect.

Ah yes, this is the correct answer.  This is what Pilate needs to hear.  The religious leaders respect his power, and the people support his power to put troublemakers to death.  This is the answer all his sickening, posturing show was meant to bring about.

And so he handed Jesus over to be crucified, Pilate and the leaders together, with the people jumping in to have their say. They all share in the power that the use of violence seems to give.

And everybody else stands there and watches.

And at the end of the day, when the Sabbath is about to begin, the soldiers go with clubs and break the legs of the men still alive on their crosses so that they will die more quickly.  Since Jesus is already dead, they cut him open with a spear.  

Because this is a weekday activity, this beating and mocking and killing.  Not something we want to see on the Sabbath, especially around a big religious holiday. We all need to get home to our religious observances. Or, you know, brunch.

This is the world of Pilate.  Appealing to our basest emotions.  Urging us to be afraid so that we will allow someone to have power over us. Wanting us act from our fears, to despise the one who is weak, to blame the victim, to shut down the one who goes against the grain, and to fight our uneasy sense of vulnerability by supporting the one who claims the most power, using violence - physical, verbal, emotional, social - if necessary.  
Or approving the use of violence by those who run the show.  Or at least accepting that violence is just something out there that we can’t do anything about.

This story may have taken place 2000 years ago, but it also describes our world, where we live with worries about vulnerability brought home again with every act of terror and every story about public violence, where fear and hate still hold sway and where someone who does not play the game by the rules of those who claim power will suffer the consequences.

We despise weakness and look down on vulnerability and cheer on the powerful even if - or perhaps because - they spew vitriol and disdain for pretty much everyone besides themselves, who revel in - indeed are proud of - humiliating others because deep down inside we are afraid.

We are all caught up in this in one way or another.  Some of us are implicated as perpetrators.  Some of us have been victims, and we may hear this story and feel our own humiliation and pain.  Some of us are just standing by in our own bewildered grief trying to hold onto some kind of hope.  

On this day, we look on Jesus bearing the brunt of the world’s anger and frustration and its fear; we see Jesus betrayed by a man whose feet he washed, and deserted by those with whom he ate his last meal.

And yet, amazingly enough - and here is the good news -this is the world that God wants to save.  Our world that worships power and justifies violence, that thinks the work of the world is for business days and that religious matters are only for talking about on religious days.

This is the world to which God sent angels over and over to tell God’s people to fear not!  Don’t be afraid! Because fear is what gets us every time; it’s what makes us think in terms of us and them, winners and losers, powerful and powerless.

And it seems to me, as we look on this heartbreaking convergence of hate and fear, violence and brokenness— this is the way Jesus draws us all to himself: gathering us all together the way a crash, a spectacular smash up, so powerfully draws the gaze and attention of us all - perpetrator, victim, and by-stander alike to say “Look. This is what the world does.But this is not what I intend for you.”

And so we are called to stand together today, as painful as it is, and look upon this wreckage and finally, finally see the web in which we are all caught up and realize that the world’s ways are not God’s ways.

Today, we have seen again the world’s ways. But on the third day, we will see God’s.


Perpetua said…
Wonderful, Penny. Thank you so much for this.
Ray Barnes said…
I echo that Penny. It is so very true that fear is the motivating force behind almost every act of cruelty violence or prejudice.
If only we had the courage to stand against what we know is wrong, but sadly, cowardice is part of the human condition.
That should not stop us trying:-)
Thanks, Perpetua! You'll get to Easter before me - blessings for this time in between though.
Exactly, Ray. To me that's the good news - we are loved even though / while we are human and under the influence of the lack of courage.
Peggy said…
Thank you for this
Thomas D said…
A beautiful meditation. It seems malapert to isolate one part, one sentence, as my favourite, but I am drawn to the words, "And yet, amazingly enough [...] this is the world that God wants to save."

I should stay with your words awhile. They are potent and pure and true.
You're welcome, Peggy. Thanks for stopping by!
Thanks, Thomas - I'm glad this has given you something to think about.