There is much in the long Passion reading we’ve heard read to reflect on and I hesitate to say anything more than Samuel Crossman wrote in our last hymn so I will be much briefer than normal this morning.
Matthew differs slightly in his account of the death of Jesus from the other Gospel writers by including that curious passage where Pilate’s wife warns her husband to have nothing to do with Jesus’ death as she sees he is innocent. Pilate, the weak judge, gives into the crowd but he should have known better.
The executioner realises the victim is innocent; that is striking. I wonder why he didn’t do anything about it.
Jesus is innocent – a truth that the Roman and religious authorities would rather not have proclaimed but it’s there all along. Jesus deals with Pilate with what my mother would call dumb insolence. He hardly speaks to him, refuses to reason or plea for his life and treats Pilate as a contemptible oppressive foreign overlord.
At the point of death the Centurion declares that Jesus is divine – adding to the horror of the injustice.
Jesus has done nothing wrong. Unlike the Romans he hasn’t oppressed; unlike the religious leaders he hasn’t lied; unlike the bandits he hasn’t used violence to resist the Empire.
But despite this innocence there is something troubling about Jesus: people, particularly those in power, need to resist him. In Nazareth, at the start of his ministry, he preached, from Isaiah, about God’s love for the outcast and they tried to hurl him over a cliff. In St Mark every time Jesus heals or exorcises someone he has to muzzle the evil forces that seek to speak against him.
From the start Jesus had to deal with strong, even deathly, opposition to his work. Jesus proclaimed the Spirit of God who would release the captives yet he is unjustly imprisoned and killed.
The evangelists want us to see this injustice when we look at the Cross – as Bonhoeffer said “God himself can be pushed out of the world on the Cross.”
Holy Week teaches us that it is part of the human condition to resist the love, mercy and truth of God. Human nature likes to silence the honest voice so we continue in our illusion that the world can’t be changed. We condemn the innocent agitator as dangerous and, like the religious authorities, pursue expediency.
We should pray for the grace to speak the truth and not resist the voice of the prophet who speaks God’s truth into our world.
Unlike the congregation of Nazareth Synagogue, we should be wiling to listen to the startling and alarming truths of God.
Unlike Pilate, we should have the courage of our convictions.
Unlike the religious authorities, we should look for what is true not what is expedient.
Unlike the Centurion we should let the truth we know effect how we live.
So this week pray for all who are innocent yet unjustly treated and condemned; pray for all who speak God’s truth but who are silenced; pray for all who are tortured and executed; and pray for the coming of the Kingdom when these things will be but sad memories of a distant past.