Text: Luke 22 and 23
I don’t usually write out my homilies. Today, I did. Well, some of it.
We have read these long passages from the Gospel of Luke that seek to give an orderly account of what happened at the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. What becomes clear is that, while the account is orderly, the event itself is a disastrous moral failure. The Savior is put to death because of the religious and political leaders’ cowardice and distortion of the facts and their incitement of the mob. If you have confidence and a group of uncritical supporters you can say or do just about anything and it’ll seem true and right.
Pilate: (23:1-25) What an intensely odd story– the capitulation of Pilate to the desires of the mob. Why? To prevent further trouble? To keep the peace? To throw the mob a bone, hoping they’d quiet down? Pilate is at the center of this drama. He is tasked with leadership– maintaining justice, peace, and fairness– so, he is the linchpin. He is the grownup. And yet he gives in, abandons his responsibilities and his courage. He feels the anger of the religious leaders and their backers. The defenders of Jesus are nowhere to be found– they are Judean, for the most part–, and Pilate’s conscience is solitary and attacked on all sides. And then there’s Herod– his immature, mocking, bullying approach to Jesus helps to undermine justice as well. He shows contempt for the truth and contempt for the good and a preference for a good joke over good judgment.
And through it all, there is Jesus. The one who is the Way and the Truth and the Life reveals in his presence the brokenness and corruption, the murder and violence in the political and religious system. But it will not be this way forever.
The Women of Jerusalem: (23:26-31) Later, as he approaches his crucifixion, Jesus finds compassionate faces in the women of Jerusalem. It is terrifying to imagine the bloodied and humiliated Jesus, his heart still overflowing with compassionate love, saying to the women who wish to comfort him, “What has happened to me looks like the worst thing, but your fate will be worse. I did not wish for my death, but you will wish for yours. I came to restore the earth from its brokenness, but you will pray that the earth would devour you. My mother will be revered for all ages, while you and yours will feel cursed by the burden of your days.” There is, in other words, absolutely no guarantee– and this is clear to anyone who studies history– that everything will work out just great. Everything comes to an end, frequently by violence and frequently by rot. Jerusalem, the very City of God, is in no way immune to to destruction and collapse. Keep that in mind.
The Crucifixion: (23:32-49) And notice, too, the familiar dynamics of power evident in Jesus’ crucifixion. Those in power lack all awareness of their own culpability and cruelty. They deflect the blame for Jesus’ suffering by means of mockery– the fact that the Christ is vulnerable to their own evil and violence is twisted to confirm their legitimacy. How can that be? The travesty of Jesus’ execution should make us look at ourselves, our own bullying and toleration of bullying, our worship of power even when put to evil ends. But it will not be this way forever.
But yet– too late to stop things, but not too late to bear witness– some characters in the story begin to grasp what is going on. One of the two thieves sees the truth. The centurion sees that he is party to a crime. Even the multitudes, at best silent and probably complicit, go away beating their breasts. Where does this sign of repentance ultimately lead them?
It seems that, in this moment in our common life, we are called to do several things:
- When you see government and religious leaders teaming up to bully and to marginalize and to further hurt the poor, the alien, and disenfranchised, know with confidence that it is not from God. But take heart– it will not be this way forever.
- When you see the truth despised and hidden under a veneer of power and respectability, know that this also is not from God. But take heart– it will not be this way forever.
- When you feel your own soul inclined toward hatred because of prejudice– even prejudice toward those in power– know that this is not from God. But take heart– it will not be this way forever.
During this Holy Week, we want to position ourselves close to Jesus, close to the truth, close to love. Keep your eyes clear, attend to the signs around you, and pray for the wisdom to know the truth and the courage and love to follow it for Jesus’ sake. Soon the glory of the Lord will be revealed, God’s Kingdom will show forth in time, and it will no longer be this way.