Saturday, April 3, 2010

Thoughts delivered on Good Friday, April 2nd, 2010


This, and every Good Friday, I have to phrase the question: Why was Jesus killed?

That is not a rhetorical question. Neither is it a theological question. I’m trying to avoid those today. There are so many theological questions, just as there are too many theological answers.. Some make sense, some are incomprehensible. Others are bizarre.

The old song asks: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Well, the answer is “no.” We were not there. We rely on the accounts of others who were there, and who passed their story on in faith that others might know, and believe. But even their accounts, which are remarkably consistent, do not tell us why.

Rather than ask a theologian, perhaps we should ask a lawyer to make sense of all of this. But that might prove expensive.

The legal aspects of the death of Jesus are fascinating, but we have to be careful in misusing the New Testament accounts and pretending that we can make a case for or against him.

What do we know about the legal process against Jesus? The charges against him were blasphemy and treason. In other words activities against both Temple and State.

If we accept the gospel accounts, despite some of their inconsistencies, there are immediate legal problems here. Jesus was arrested at night (which was against the Law of Moses) without a formal charge and tried, again illegally, at night. Then Caiaphas the High Priest acted unlawfully by assuming the role of prosecutor. It was extraordinarily irregular, even corrupt. . Clearly both Temple and State wanted to deal with this one swiftly, and so expediency was the name of the game that night.

But Caiaphas liked that word, for at another time he had said:

… that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.

And all the while, behind the scenes, Annas, the wealthy aristocrat and plutocrat – manipulating, controlling, negotiating, scheming.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate there was no mention of the charge of blasphemy because the Romans simply didn’t care about Jewish religious law. The charge was therefore treason – that of undermining or overthrowing the State. In this case it was made by the Roman authorities because Jesus had allowed his followers to refer to him as their king.

Pontius Pilate was only interested in keeping the peace. He was a military man, a high ranking career officer. He saw no real threat in Jesus, and so his primary feelings were ones of irritation. He would have been delighted to have found an excuse not to deal with Jesus, and he thought he had found one when he learned that Jesus was a Galilean – therefore Herod’s responsibility.

How convenient! Herod was in town for the Passover. But the excuse didn’t work. Herod passed the buck back to Pilate.

So Pilate indeed had to make the decision. He didn’t have to sit on the Judgment Seat. He knew what his priorities were. Law and order, and getting the taxes paid and the Temple clergy back in line. They should stick to matters religious, and get their people off the streets. And so Pontius Pilate disdainfully agreed to put Jesus to death. And yet, in all his political callousness, did he not wonder…? Perhaps he did.

So why did Jesus die? Jesus died for the sake of peace and quiet, good government, due process and religion. From the moment he entered Jerusalem his fate was sealed. It was the perfect no-win scenario.

He died because of the unimaginable blending of the cynicism of the diplomat, the self-serving Temple clergy and the crowd that hypocritically shouted, “We have no king but Caesar.”

He died because the most powerful and highly-developed political authority of the time, and the most powerful religious authority of the time – suddenly found common cause. Both needed to get rid of a troublemaker.

And so Jesus died at the hands of the only legitimate sentencing authority of the day. Rome, and the Pax Romana.

On Good Friday we kneel at the foot of the instrument of his death, the Cross.

We have to look at the Cross, but it’s hard. Harder still because it won’t go away, won’t leave us alone. And the more we look the more we are troubled by what we see.

We want to understand the Cross but we can’t. We need to explain it, but again we fail.

And then we look again, and we see Jesus hanging there. We are still unable to give an answer, but we realize that in the middle of human weakness and selfishness, surrounded by Machiavellian politics, colored by fear, paranoia and hysteria - we are being touched by the love of God.

Something happened that first Good Friday that men and women have pondered down the ages. Something that changed individual lives for ever.. Something that changed the way we look at life and the way we live it. Something that radically altered our view of God, and our understanding of God’s will and purpose for us.

The questions that surround the Cross won’t go away, but neither does the power of the Cross.

People the world over, and throughout history look to this mysterious power to find their direction, their inspiration, their faith, even giving them their hope of heaven when all around them is sheer hell.

This Good Friday, it’s time to look on the Cross once again.

1 comment:

Saintly Ramblings said...

Good one. Those 3 years in Salisbury weren't wasted! I might pinch this next year.