Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

Mark 15
22 Then they brought Jesus[d] to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.[e] 29 Those who passed by derided[f] him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah,[g] the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

It’s one of those jokes that never gets old:

“Sire, the peasants are revolting!”
“You got that right.”

And while Mel Brooks may have been the first to capture the joke on film, he’s certainly not the first to enjoy this little bit of wordplay.

If we were able to travel back in time and have a quick chat with any one of several Roman governors of Judea, the conclusion might well be that the peasants are revolting.

Three times in less than a century the Jewish population revolted on a scale that can be described as war, and three times they suffered defeat at the hands of the Romans. Some are famous even now: the siege of Masada, their dramatic alternative to surrender, and—of course—the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

All of these events, in the years after 66, beg the question ‘why no revolt during or after the events we mark today?’ How could we go from feeding the masses, famous miracles, a triumphant entry, and the execution of the one regarded by many as the Messiah, and no popular uprising?

The answer it seems, lies in neo-fascist Europe. Social scientists have been puzzling for some time over the rise of far-right parties in Europe led by woman. Author Naomi Wolf took up this question recently and concludes that everyone—women and men—share a desire to never occupy the bottom rung of society.

She looks at recent studies of German women in the Second World War, who led the effort to ‘colonize’ eastern Europe, bringing the values of the Third Reich to those deemed inferior. The assumption here is that women—who were at the bottom of German society before the war—grabbed the opportunity to step up a rung during the war.

Called ‘last-place aversion,’ this desire to get ahead of someone or anyone for the sake of our fragile sense of self, seems to explain everything from schoolyard bullies to colonialism to the overt racism of those far-right parties. People near the bottom are likely to pick some other group to shun, simply for the sake of avoiding last place. Think rural francophones, already feeling left behind, all bent out of shape about the Muslims they will never meet, and you begin to see how last-place aversion works.

So let’s go back to first century Judea, and the night of Jesus’ arrest. Suddenly it’s decision time: follow the man from Galilee or take the safe route and acquiesce to the Roman overlords? It doesn’t seem like much of a choice, figuring the power of Rome, until you consider those various revolts, both big and small.

No, something else is operating here, and the answer seems to lie in those who followed Jesus. It was Dom Crossan who described them as a ‘kingdom of nuisances and nobodies’: the fishermen, freed slaves, ex-lepers, prostitutes, tax-collectors, drunkards, and other ne’er-do-wells who found new life in Jesus. When crunch time came, and it was time to pick sides, last-place aversion kicked in and Jesus and his crew got thrown under the bus.

Thrown under the bus, kicked to the curb, nailed to a tree: it’s all the same, it would seem, until it isn’t. On the surface this might look like some itinerant preacher followed by a bunch of hippies in a VW bus, but this was God being kicked to the curb, thrown under the bus, nailed to a tree. And this is the only way any of this makes sense. Stay with me.

All of life is suffering and loss. Even the happiest life ends in suffering and loss. And we humans are appropriately mad about it. ‘Why God,’ we might ask, ‘would you give us love and beauty and and the joy of each new day and then tack on a mortality clause?’ It just seems cruel.

So we grab our chance. God-with-us appears in our midst, and at first we are transfixed, and who wouldn’t be, it’s God in our midst! But then we remember our anger, and we have some second thoughts. Next we look at the company God keeps, and we have more second thoughts. Then add a dash of Roman hegemony, and a pinch of fear, and it seems obvious that we ought to kill God.

But what happens next is the true surprize in the story, perhaps even more surprizing than an empty tomb. It is God on the cross, kicked to the curb, under the bus, saying ‘forgive them, they just don’t understand what they’re doing.’


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