It reads a little bit like a crime procedural, or one of those television investigative reports. Mark walks us through the events leading up to the climactic end.
Jesus enters Jerusalem, is hailed as “Blessed One.” Attention is lavished upon him by the crowds. Young women anoint his feet with oil. It’s a glorious start to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Sure, there is opposition by the leaders. His message, while welcomed by the masses, offends the rich, the powerful, those in control. They plot to remove him from the picture, carefully.
There is also discord among his own inner circle. A traitor in the midst of the disciples, willing to sell him out, or perhaps Judas is eager to trigger the kind of confrontation which he assumes will lead to Jesus’ ascendance to the throne by open revolt.
In any case, the mood changes. Unjust charges are trumped up against Jesus, there are midnight intrigues, and a shoddy trial is hastily done. There is a violent encounter with the guards. Reluctantly, the officials in power wash their hands of the whole affair and the man hailed as “Blessed” with palm branches is marched through the streets again, this time to be unceremoniously crucified with other criminals. His innocence is apparent, even to the Roman Soldier standing guard, who pronounces him “Son of God” at the end.
It is enough to fill an hour on any news outlet special report, make it to “Dateline” or “20/20.”
And, like a crime procedural we find ourselves going over the details of the story every Passion Sunday, and every Good Friday, believing that somehow if we just begin to comprehend what it is that happened, if we can dissect the events and the motivations of those involved, that we will somehow make sense of this thing called “The Passion.”
I don’t think it works that way.
I think if you approach the events of the death of Jesus, what we refer to as “The Passion” as a riddle to be solved or a puzzle to be worked out, you will miss the point of it completely.
This is not, in the end, about what happened to Jesus.
This is not about what his own followers did or didn’t do, to stand with him, betray him, abandon him, or witness the event.
This is not about the quest for political power. It is not about holding on to it, or fear of losing it, or the maneuvers to keep it.
It is not about the struggle between Pilate and Herod, or the machinations of the Chief Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees.
It’s not even really about Jesus; and that may seem a little strange, except tucked into this story is that little episode about Barabbas.
It seems that revolutionaries, Galilean prophets, purveyors of revolt or apocalyptic hopes were about a dime a dozen in those days. Any other name would have done if all this was about was Rome making an example of an insurrectionist. Any other prophet speaking against the Temple and its abuses would have suited just fine if this was just about a moment in history.
No, what this is about is God, and us.
This story plays itself out like a procedural, with all this detail, so that we have ample opportunity to think about where we would have sat in it as it unfolded.
Who do I identify with?
Who makes me squirm?
In whom do I recognize myself, my own actions, my own words, and my own frustrations?
This story is not about figuring out what happened to Jesus, or why.
This story is about recognizing how easily it happens again, and again. We humans are not quite done crucifying yet.
Oh, the bloody process used by the Romans, we don’t do that anymore. We have refined our methods now.
Now we pass laws that crucify. We make a public examples of the things of which we disapprove.
Now we put in place policies that crucify. We tell ourselves that these things will make us safe, or that this will protect us, or that this will lead to an economic boom that raises all ships, or provides more jobs, or makes for safer streets.
Yes, we can assure peaceful neighborhoods with just the right application of fences, barriers, law enforcement, allowing “good people” to carry guns for protection and maybe add more layers of surveillance.
We are troubled sometimes by who gets the short end of these policies, but not so troubled that we would consider other courses of action.
“This must be done.” we reluctantly sigh to ourselves, or as a society, and so we find ourselves right there with Pilate, or with Caiaphas, or with the Sanhedrin, reluctantly letting injustice have its way for the sake of the “greater good.”
No, this story is not about what happened to Jesus exactly. It is about what happens to us, still. How we get swept up with the events that overtake us, or how we cower when we should have stood tall, or how we denied that we even knew someone when our words of solidarity might have really counted.
This story is about us, and as I said, it’s about God.
It is about a God who seems peculiarly absent through it all, so much so that even Jesus will cry out from the cross the words of Psalm 22, either in prayer or in utter abandonment, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
It is about God, and how hard it is to find God in the events of life that sweep us up and drive us to action or distraction, or despair.
It is about God and what we see God do, for us.
God will die.
God will die on a cross, and will do so willingly, if that is what it will take before we are finally willing to consider other alternatives to the plans that we make for this world, and for ourselves.