Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, April 2, 2023

YEAR A 2023 palm sunday

Palm/Passion Sunday, 2023
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 27:11-54
Psalm 31:9-16

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We must be careful who we blame for the death of Jesus.  Over the course of the next few weeks, we will hear over and over about this monolithic group called “The Jews.”  And we will hear lots of narratives that set them up as the fall guys, while inexplicably letting the actual Roman executioners off the hook.  And given that the early Christians and Jews were sort of “fighting over the same turf,” the depiction of the Jews in the gospels is a little suspect, to say the least.  As Fr. Tom Ferguson notes, “Understanding the Pharisees, solely through New Testament sources would be like trying to understand the British, solely through pamphlets issued by the Sons of Liberty.”  Consider the source, as they say.

We must be careful who we blame for the death of Jesus.  Some things to consider as we ponder this question.  Crucifixion was a Roman punishment, not a Jewish one.  And, why does Pontius Pilate come off as looking so innocent in Matthew’s gospel?  He has absolute life-and-death power over everyone in his region, and he just backs down, washes his hands, and shrugs like, “Yeah, you guys do whatever.”  And notice how Matthew says, “All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified’!”  All of them?  Really?  And he writes, “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’!”  So, the guilt passes from Rome, to Pilate, to all the Jews, and to their children?!?

You see how that goes?  It’s no longer the brutal Roman Empire that kills Jesus.  No, it’s the children of the Jews.  That’s whose fault this is.  As I said before, consider the source.  Notice how Matthew adds that Pilate “realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.”  Really?  Where’d that come from?  If we don’t take a step back from Matthew and his motives, we can end up in very dangerous territory.  And.  We.  Have!

The much-beloved Ambrose, Bishop of Milan argued in 388 that a synagogue burned by anti-Jewish rioters should not be rebuilt, and was thankful that “there might not be a place where Christ was denied.”

In the early days of the Reformation, Martin Luther was quite friendly to the Jews, since he assumed the gospel would be irresistible to them.  Before long, when he realized they weren’t converting en masse, he started writing the most horrible, vile, anti-semitic things.  Just terrible.  And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which German leader was a big fan of Martin Luther’s writings against the Jews.

We must be careful who we blame for the death of Jesus.  Blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus gets us discrimination, “othering,” antisemitism, Charlottesville, and the holocaust.  Just last month, here in Ohio, there was an actual Nazi rally in Wadsworth.  Not to mention the pro-Nazi homeschool curriculum being run out of Upper Sandusky, with over 2,500 subscribers.  It’s not getting better.  It’s getting worse.

So who is to blame for the death of Jesus?  With an injustice this blatant, we want someone to blame.  We need someone to blame.  Someone to scapegoat.  To distance ourselves from the horror that was done on our behalf.    And based on what the gospels tell us, if Pilate is innocent, well, who’s left?  Bad things have to be somebody’s fault.  And speaking of bad things . . .

By now we’re all aware of last week’s school shooting in Nashville.  On the 86th day of this year, we had our 130th mass shooting.  That’s one and a half mass shootings every day . . . so far this year.  After the unspeakable tragedy in Uvalde last year, I confessed to you that I was on the verge of losing my faith.   Because of the heart-breaking despair, and knowing that nobody is going to do a damn thing to change any of this.  We’re all just trapped in a blood-soaked version of the movie “Groundhog Day.”  And every day’s the same.

After every horrible mass shooting, we hear the same things from the same people.  In one ear, we hear “thoughts and prayers,” and in the other ear, we hear “ban assault weapons now.”  And nothing changes, no matter who gets killed.  No one talks about the dead kids or the grieving parents.  It’s all just talking points to win elections and raise more money.

Except sometimes there’s an extra talking point.  A new angle to exploit.  And in Nashville it was a trans person who pulled the trigger.  And right on cue, some people are taking this as an opportunity to further malign trans people, who are already in real danger and under real assault.  Last week’s firebombing of a church in Chesterland, Ohio for hosting a drag brunch shows just how much danger.

And you can see how blaming Nashville on the trans community is similar to what happens to the Jews in our gospel reading.  The problem isn’t Roman oppression and brutality; it’s the Jews. The problem isn’t the absurd amount of guns; it’s the trans people.  The problem is the other.  This GROUP of people is the problem.  If they didn’t exist, none of this would have happened.

The death of Jesus isn’t political; but it is.  The death of school kids in Nashville isn’t political; but it is.  Because once again, we’re not talking about the dead.  We’re busy blaming someone else for the death.  If it’s someone else’s fault, then maybe it’s not my fault.  If this group did it, then maybe I’m off the hook, personally.  How much am I passing that on to others to absolve myself?  How much am I saying nothing can be done because it’s not my immediate problem?  Who killed Jesus?  Who killed those kids?  Who killed anyone since the beginning of time?  If every person is made in the image of God, who is killing God?  On some very important level, it was I, Lord.  I crucified thee.

We must be careful who we blame for the death of Jesus. 

Who was the guilty?  Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee.

Until we can own up to our part in the death of Jesus, and the ongoing deaths of children gunned down in their classrooms, until we can see that blaming some group of already-oppressed people is not the answer, then nothing is going to change.  Every person is made in the image of God; we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, because Christ is in all persons.  We are still killing Jesus and we are still blaming it on the outcasts.  We are killing and ostracizing beloved children of God.  Same as it ever was.

And what is God’s response?  God sees the worst in us.  And God has experienced—firsthand—the worst in us.  No group, no person, no imagined “whatever” is worse than us.  And despite all that . . . maybe because of all that . . . God does not give up on us.  As we journey through Holy Week together, we will hear again the story of how we—all of us—put Jesus in the grave.  Lifeless and dead.  End of story.

But it is not the end of the story.  Not for Jesus, and not for us.  Things can get better.  Thing must get better.  And, with God’s help, things will get better.


No comments:

Post a Comment