My Palm Sunday sermon is now on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.
They are powerful and influential people. They maintain that power and influence even though nobody really knows who they are. They say it is going to rain, and so we throw an umbrella in the car. They say that eggs are bad for us, so we quit eating them. Two years later, they say that eggs are good for us, and so we start buying them again. More recently, they’ve had the most exciting news yet, they now say that a glass of red wine is as good for our hearts as an hour at the gym. They aren’t always right, and yet, whoever they might be, when they speak, people listen.
Jesus knew this reality all too well, for they had accused him of all sorts of things. They said he was a blasphemer, placing himself on par with the Lord God. They claimed that he was leading an insurrection against Rome. They told Pilate that he alleged to be the King of the Jews. When Pilate couldn’t find any reason to execute him, they fought back. They cried out for Jesus to be crucified while Barabbas, a murder, was set free. They dragged him through the streets of Jerusalem. They cheered as he was nailed to a cross. They derided him as he hung there and died. Yet in the midst of all of that, even as he was suffering through extreme pain and suffocating agony, Jesus still had compassion on them. “Father forgive them,” Jesus said surveying the angry mob that was gathered around him, “For they know not what they do.”
They are powerful and influential people, and as the story of Jesus’ crucifixion played out, they wielded every bit of power and influence they could, but Jesus had mercy upon them. As this Holy Week unfolds before us, it would be easy to condemn them for what they did. The Gospel stories were written in a time when the struggle between the Jewish community and the fledgling church were bitter and raw, and because of that they are full of anti-Semitic rhetoric meant to make sure that we know what they did. The hard truth is that from time to time, all of us are a part of them. We are they, even though we really don’t want to be.
They dehumanized Jesus by turning him into a laughing stock. They blindfolded him, beat him, and laughed as they asked, “Prophesy! Who struck you?” They cloaked him in a purple robe and crowned him with a crown of thorns, mocking him and shouting “Hail, King of the Jews!” They stripped him naked and hanged him high on a cross for all the world to see. The ridiculed him, asking where his Father was to save him; scoffing at how he had saved many others, but he couldn’t manage to save himself.
As much as we’d like to believe we wouldn’t have taken part in that sort of dehumanizing behavior, we continue to do so in ways that are both intentional and unintentional. Every time we look with disdain upon the mother using a WIC check to buy milk for her children, we are they. Every time we clutch our purse a little tighter when a black man walks by, we are they. Every time we feel that twinge of anxiety when an Arab looking couple gets on our airplane, we are they. Every time we share a politically incendiary, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, or anti-Muslim thought on Facebook, by email, or even over drinks with friends, we are they. Every time we fail to see Christ in the other, we are they. Yet even as we engage in these dehumanizing activities, Jesus looks at the angry mob around him and has compassion on us saying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
They are powerful and influential people, but the love of God is stronger still. The compassion of Jesus from the cross is more powerful and more influential than any angry mob, any dehumanizing behavior, and group of they or we. As we walk the Way of the Cross this week, I pray that you might take the time to meditate on two truths. First, because we are they who mock, ridicule, and dehumanize the Son of God, we are in desperate need of a savior. And second, through his compassionate word of forgiveness from the cross, Jesus is precisely that savior that we so desperately need. By taking the time to contemplate these realities, the Way of the Cross can become for each of us the way of life and peace. We are they: powerful and full of influence; but the compassion of God is stronger, the forgiveness of God is stronger, the love of God is stronger than the worst parts of us. Amen.