There are so many strands to the events which led up to the crucifixion of Jesus, all containing characters who clearly thought they were in the right, that history would justify them, and that everyone else’s views were irrelevant and misguided. None of the characters involved in these events were truly evil; yet we see in their reactions and their motives, signs of the darkness which attacked Jesus during his temptations. Their shared and very human error, reflecting the challenge of Satan, was that Jesus should be the sort of person they wanted him to be, rather than be faithful to what he knew to be his true identity. But Jesus’ death fuses all those people and their beliefs and opinions together, so that they eventually find that they have taken part in a much larger and earth-shattering event. If they are honest with themselves they will discover how totally wrong they have been in their attitudes and actions. The first of these groups is that of the religious leaders who were in complete opposition to Jesus and his teaching. They perceived themselves as being God’s protagonists against all who would distort the truth as they saw it, especially those who set themselves up as false prophets against the accepted tenets of Jewish faith and practices. They had seen, as they thought, that others had been taken in by
Jesus, but they certainly had not. Their duty was to protect the purity of the faith, and to encourage those who had been led astray, to return to the true faith. Yet what they had done had been to fall into the trap of being unwilling to see that God could be anything other than their own image of him, a failing which is tantamount to idolatry. As a result, when Jesus showed them aspects of God that they were unwilling to consider, they rejected him as being an off-shoot of the power of evil. And it looked like they had begun to succeed in their efforts to be rid of him. So many of those who had trouped into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, within a few days were baying for his blood. However, this sense of success for the religious authorities was short-lived; it would not be long before what they had thought of as their faithfulness and righteousness would be shown to be totally in error. The next group of people was the Roman authorities, and their representative in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate. His view of himself was that he was a powerful, resourceful and respected Roman governor, maintaining the rule of the empire in this troublesome outpost which was prone to uprisings. This is just one more which he will quell, as usual, and this man Jesus will disappear from the annals of history. Unfortunately for Pilate, in his lust for power and political supremacy, a temptation which Jesus had clearly rejected at the beginning of his ministry, the Roman governor found he had got it all wrong, and what he would be remembered for is that he is the one who condemned Jesus to death.
And then there are two individuals closely associated with Jesus, who also had major parts to play in the hours which led up to the crucifixion. First comes Judas. What was going on in his mind as he made the decision to go to the authorities and tell them where Jesus could be found so that he could be arrested secretly and under cover of darkness, avoiding any possible attempts at rescue by his supporters? Did Judas begin to believe that Jesus himself had misinterpreted his role, and that he needed to be prevented from not only going off the rails completely, but also from endangering the rest of the disciples? Did he believe that he, Judas, had an important part to play, because the authorities could not carry out their plans without his help? Unfortunately for him, it becomes clear that those authorities were probably perfectly capable of doing what they wished without him, but were only too glad to let him take the blame. In the end, Judas realises to his horror where it is all going to end up, and his shameful part in the process. In his desire to dictate to Jesus what his identity really was, he had, like the religious authorities, been unable to see the spiritual truth which he had lived with for 3 years. And then there’s Peter, who had made it clear not so long before that he wanted Jesus to show the rest of the world what he, Peter, had recognised. That Jesus is the longed-for Messiah, which to everyone at the time would have meant that he had come to throw out the hated Romans. Peter knows that Jesus has talked about dying, but surely he can be dissuaded from that dreadful fate? Eventually, when he has seen how misguided his thinking has been, which led to his desertion and betrayal, Peter of all of these characters not only gets the chance to recognise his appalling error and the dire consequences of misinterpreting the truth about Jesus, but also to be forgiven and then take that newly discerned good news out to the world which was waiting to hear it. At the cross, the stories of all these people collide, and are revealed for what they are in the light of God’s love for the world. It is easy for us to fall into the trap of scoffing at their short-sightedness and self-centred-ness that prevents them from seeing where they are in error. The process of reflection we have travelled through in Lent will probably have revealed to us how similar we are to those first century people, with temptations to see God as we want to see him, and we cannot be sure that we would not have reacted similarly to them. Even now, our own lives are seen in the light of that central truth, and how we respond to it.
Rev’d Christine Barrow