John 19: 4 – 16
“Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”
For those of us who have grown up in the Christian tradition, the crucifixion of Jesus holds power, mystery, sorrow, and hope. For many of us who have done some deconstructing of our theology, the cross may indeed bring more questions than answers.
What we see in our passage is that the domination system of empire and power cannot be absent from our reflections on this pivotal moment in the Christian story. It is the religious leaders, the ones who were deeply committed to uphold the tenants of their faith, who manipulate and capitulate to the power of empire ( that oppressed controlled them) to get rid of the rabbi from Nazareth who was upsetting the apple cart. The rabbi who elevated people who believed the wrong things (think the Samaritan woman at the well), who had low social standing (think of the blind beggars), who had questionable moral reputations (think of the woman caught in adultery). The rabbi who subverted all the power systems that kept their religion functioning – using ritual cleansing jars to flood a wedding party with wine, submitting Sabbath rules to the needs of human beings, disregarding purity regulations when touching lepers, and restoring abundant life to the sick and suffering without regard for their religious adherence or level of righteousness.
The death of Jesus, precipitated by his resistance to kiss up to religious or political power systems, most certainly reveals the depths to which God willingly identifies with the weak, the oppressed, and the powerless. The life and ministry of Jesus stand in stark contrast to keeping a religion pure, correct, and orderly. The death of Jesus is the ultimate solidarity with those dominated by systems that fail to embody justice for all.
This is the love of God.
To choose those suffering, to lift up those oppressed, to resist systems of domination …. to the point of death. This is the love of God.
And this love unleashes a power that continues the work of upending injustice, exposing the lie of redemptive violence, and energizes the work of making things right.
The cross says, “For God so loved the world …..”
What emotions have typically dominated your Good Friday reflections?
In what ways will you carry on the resistance and healing work of Jesus?
We don’t fully understand all that you accomplished through the cross. Different parts of the church believe in different theories, present different roles for the Father, Son and Spirit, and offer different applications for those who seek to follow in the way of Jesus. Help us to see, above all else, the extravagant love your willingness to identify with us in our deepest darkness demonstrates. Accept our gratitude. And equip us to carry on subverting power and fighting injustice. Amen.
A note on the artwork that accompanies this post:The sign above the crucified one’s head is a hurtful slur that should not be used to label someone. I first saw this piece back in the early 2000’s. It was circulated by Exodus leaders with a sense of horror that gay activists were blasphemously appropriating the Christian story. What they failed to see is how deeply faithful this piece is – it is an act of faith that says, “Jesus identified with me!” When I look at this piece, I see Jesus, the Incarnate One, who fully and completely identifies with us in our deepest darkness – taking on our pain, shame, and rejection.