By Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson
April 22, 2011
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 | Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9 | John 18:1-19:42
Our Lenten journey concludes with the greatest narrative ever written: the Passion according to John. The story cannot simply be read; it cries out to be entered. Each verse calls readers more deeply into the drama. No matter how many times we’ve heard it, it is always new, as God’s Word is always new, pouring its living water upon parched, world-weary disciples. Are we ready this year, this day, this very hour, to take up the invitation to enter the Passion?
The Judeans and the Empire appear to be having their day of victory. As Jesus is arrested by an absurdly large contingent of Temple police and Roman soldiers, the disciples scatter, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus is herded, like countless truth-tellers over the centuries, into the backrooms of power to be questioned, beaten, mocked and prepared for execution. Pilate, the imperial representative, supremely confident in the power of Empire to defeat any royal wannabe, hauls Jesus into the palace to mock him and also to mock the Judeans’ captivity to Roman rule. The Judeans are willing to put up with Pilate’s pranks so long as the scapegoat is dispatched.
And, of course, there is an entirely different way to understand what unfolds before us. It is in fact the Empire and the Judeans who are on trial in the court of God’s Messiah. Far from being afraid of the threat of crucifixion, not the slightest bit cowed by mocking and beating, Jesus, the Light of the World, stands in silent judgment of all that dwells in darkness and sin. Before the scene is completed, it is Pilate whose fear is revealed, and the Judeans whose loyalty to Empire rather than to God is “confessed.”
And what about ourselves, Jesus’ often weak and confused disciples? Will we, like Peter, deny our discipleship in the face of questioning? Will we scatter and hide like most of them? Will we praise Jesus in his death without real expectation of Easter, like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea? Or perhaps, like the Beloved Disciple and the women, we will dare to vigil at the Cross, not seeing death, but rather the coming to birth of God’s re-created people, born of the blood and water shed at Golgotha.
As Lent comes to an end, let us dare to enter this story once again. Let us not be afraid to know ourselves and one another as God knows us–weak, often afraid, yet seeking God’s presence, yearning ever more deeply to do God’s will in the world. And let us wait in expectancy of the empty tomb, God’s refusal to allow evil the last word.
This reflection is from Transforming Encounter, Radical Discipleship: A Lenten Journey by Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson. Wes is the author or co-author of numerous books on the Bible, including his most recent “Come Out My People!” God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond. Sue is a spiritual guide of individuals and groups, retreat leader and psychologist.