On Tuesday evening, I prayed with our icon of the crucifixion. As I meditated while gazing at the cross, I found myself asking how had everything gone so wrong. There before me was God incarnate hanging lifeless on a cross. As Pilate mockingly asked the crowd last Sunday, I too asked, why? What crime has he committed? None, is the answer, but for some reason there was enough testimony created to justify putting Jesus to death.
As I sat with the crucifixion, I wondered what today’s media would have reported about his crucifixion. Would there have been an air of disbelief over an innocent man being executed? Or, would Jesus have been tried in the court of public opinion until it was proven his death was warranted. I can hear the news stories now. The stories would begin with his innocence and how unfairly he was treated. But then . . . breaking news would come in telling us how really Jesus isn’t so innocent after all. It would be a simple story, perhaps an interview with one of the temple merchants who witnessed Jesus turning over the money changer’s tables. This, they would claim made it clear that Jesus had an anger management problem and had he not been dealt with now, surely he would done physical harm to someone down the road. Then there would be the second story. The story about Jesus inciting a riot earlier in the week and how Jesus was a treasonous soul because he told the crowds there was a kingdom greater than Rome, and a King greater than the emperor.
Yes, by the time Jesus was nailed to the cross, the press would have spun the story so tightly no one today, just like the crowds on Maundy Thursday night, would have been able to see who Jesus really is.
So how has it gone so wrong? I asked again. This time, I realized I was not asking about the crucifixion itself, but the state of the Christianity today? Listening to the media, following the political battles and all that is being said and done in the name of Christ, I have become saddened that the Body of Christ, the Church, has become, not just a house divided, but a body torn apart. All in the name of protecting an unclear image of God.
I find it sad, we haven’t learned anything from John’s story of the crucifixion. The whole reason the Pharisees and the Sadducees worked so hard to condemn Jesus is because they were scared. They were afraid his ministry would upset the delicate balance of tolerance between the practice of Judaism and the laws of the Roman Emperor. They were afraid, if Jesus’ following had gained momentum, their power over the people would be lost. They were afraid, any sign of insurrection would cost them the Temple. ( From their perspective, Jesus had to go because what they had was too precious to loose.) It didn’t matter that God would somehow be lost in the middle of their attempts to save what they thought was their God.
Peter also tried to defend his God. At least when he drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant, he actually was defending the right God. But Jesus didn’t want to be defended. Instead he quickly rebuked Peter by stating “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” Then healed the servant’s ear.
It seems in the midst of the crucifixion, the one person who should have been defending and protecting God was Jesus. But Jesus, never seemed interested in defending Jesus. Yes, he was willing to answer Pilot’s questions, he was willing to proclaim the Kingdom and his divine authority. It appears throughout his capture and trial, Jesus was less interested in defending himself or protecting God, but more interested in being the incarnation even as he faced execution.
For some reason, as a nation, we have become more concerned with defending God than we are with being God. As a community of faith we are called to be the Body of Christ, to live, not preach the Gospel. And every time we choose to defend or protect God, instead being the Body of Christ, Jesus gets lost in the equation. I find it difficult to understand how we can say we believe in a God who ate with prostitutes and tax collectors and yet we are unwilling to respect the dignity of others because it offends one’s relationship with Christ. I find it hard to believe that some believe their faith is so delicate that it cannot survive people who love differently than they do, worship differently than they do, believe differently than they do. Because every time we fall into the trap of needing to defend or protect our faith, we become like the Pharisees, the Sadducees and everyone else in the crowd who joined in the condemning of Jesus.
This evening as we move into the final hours of waiting for the resurrection, I ask you to remember. Christ does not need to be protected. Christ does not need us to defend him. For doing these things we only condemn him in the end. What Christ needs from us is to be the Body of Christ to the world, by loving our neighbor as ourselves and by respecting the dignity of every human being.