This Is Good Friday
Gathered with friends, his night is interrupted as loud footsteps come closer. He is in the place where he's spent time meeting with his disciples. But tonight this place will cease to be peaceful, he can feel it. Guards approach fully armored, fully alert, fully prepared to take him into custody. This is not an investigation or inquisition. Tonight, under the cover of darkness, he will be arrested. He sounds a little incredulous when they arrive, "Have you come out, as against a robber with swords and clubs?" (Luke 22:52). He is not surprised by their presence, but by the apparent assumption that he is dangerous. He is placed under arrest.
Once arrested his trial begins immediately. Standing before the high priest, he is peppered with questions. The witnesses cant get their story straight. The evidence is leading no where. The high priest gets frustrated that Jesus isnt incriminating himself. He asks about Jesus's doctrine, his disciples. Jesus responds, "I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said." (John 18:20-21). Please allow me to paraphrase. "Y'all came and arrested me, bound me up and brought me to this illegal trial. I have been upfront, speaking in front of crowds, answering calls questions all along. There is no secret plot. I have been open. And now you want me to incriminate myself for you? This is a trial! Ask your witnesses? They are all here. Ask them what I said! Make your case."
This is not the response they were looking for. An officer who stood nearby, reached back and swung at Jesus, hitting him with the palm of his hand. Then he preceded to scold Jesus for being disrespectful (though it was he who was breaking the law by inflicting a punishment before the trial was over). After being hit, Jesus turns to the officer, protesting being hit, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike me?" (John 18:23). The trial goes on and on as false witnesses try to get their stories to match.
Finally they come close. "He said he is going to tear down the temple and then rebuild it," (Matt 26:51) which is not quite what Jesus said. But its close enough to qualify as the necessary indictment... except Jesus still wont respond. The high priest is having none of it. Putting Jesus under oath and demanding that Jesus incriminate himself, Jesus is asked, "Are you the Christ, the Son of God?" Matthew records Jesus saying, "It is as you said." Mark records Jesus response as, "I am." In either case, it is all that is needed to move forward... to the death penalty.
And the physical abuse begins. While in custody, Jesus is spat upon. Blindfolded and punched. The officers turn it into a game of mockery. Punch. "Tell us who hit you!" Punch "Come on, prophesy!" Punch. Punch. Punch. (Mark 14:65)
When morning comes, Jesus is taken before Pilate. Pilate is unconvinced by the proclamations that Jesus is disturbing the peace among other charges. He ultimately determines that Jesus is not a criminal, but sees an opportunity to hand off the case to someone else- Herod, who jurisdiction is Galilee.
Herod is thrilled to see Jesus for a chance to witness one of the miracles Jesus has been known to perform. Jesus is rather magical he hears, and he cant wait to be entertained. But after being arrested, submitted to trial, beaten, examined by Pilate and now Herod, all that stands before the political leader is a bruised man. There is no fairy dust, no magic, no miracles. Jesus does not even speak.
Fed up or perhaps bored and disappointed, Herod allows his officers the chance to mock Jesus as well. They place a rich garment on him, no doubt teasing him about being a king or leader. Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate.
Pilate must now take the decision-making weight. He tries multiple ways of wiggling out of the decision, even symbolically washing his hands of the matter. The shouts from the crowd. The silence of Jesus. The increased political risk. Jesus will be crucified.
But first he will be scourged. Jesus is stripped of his clothing. His arms are tied to a post in the ground. The entire back of his body is completely exposed- shoulders, back, buttocks, legs- already covered in bruises. Two soldiers stand on either side of his body, leather whips in hand. With a snap, they crack across Jesus back. Bits of iron and bone dig into the flesh before being snapped back to the control of the guards. They alternate. Snap. Rip. Snap. Rip. Snap. Rip. Jesus back begins to look like red ribbon as tissue and muscle are torn apart.
When finished with the beating, the mockery has only just begun. Across his tender wounds they clothe him in purple. Smashing a crown made of thorns into his head, they then beat on it. (Matthew 27:27-30) Blood surely runs into his eyes. He is given a wooden staff and then a wooden cross.
The cross. A punishment of pain and public humiliation. A punishment reserved for lowly criminals or those who committed a crime against the state. The cross.
Jesus carries his cross through the crowd with the help of Simon of Cyrene. Slowly they plod toward Golgotha, place of the skull. There Jesus submits to crucifixion. The mocking continues. The women lament. His garments are taken and divided like some sort of prize or memento. After hours of torture, Jesus dies.
And it seems all that his followers had hoped for was gone. All that was given to the ministry evaporated with his final breath. There was no miraculous recovery. Things did not turn out to be "okay". Things got strange, but things did not get better. The world was dark. Jesus was gone.
This suffering matters. The bruises. The abuse. The illegal trial. The violent arrest. The accusations and false witnesses matter. The torn flesh, the crown of thorns, the blood spilled before he got to the cross all matter.
Jesus knows suffering.
Jesus didnt opt out. Jesus didnt save himself; Jesus chose to save us instead- not symbolically, not abstractly, not intangibly- but through waves of torture at the hands of both the religious and the state. Jesus knows the pain that both can inflict- the religious and the state. Jesus knows.
There is no hope on this night. The politics of violence and control seem to have won.
The politics of violence and control seem to have won.
This is Good Friday.