The hour is coming and now is when those who preach the gospel must state their case in the clearest possible terms, not only for the edification of Christ’s body but in firm opposition to those, many of whom presume to speak in the name of the Church, who pervert the gospel and hijack its language, symbols, and history to advance a narrow vision of apocalypse and disaster. The central Christian claim is that Jesus Christ rose from death and that his life, teaching, death, and resurrection are for the life of the world, the entire world. Jesus is the recapitulation of humanity in one divine person. If there is a part, even a speck of humanity, for which he did not come and give his life, then he is not the Savior of the World. Classically stated: “If he did not assume it, he did not save it” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101).
But indeed, he assumed everything and everyone. “When I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw everything to myself” (John 12:32, my trans.). The neuter plural is well attested, and should not be rejected merely because it suggests a cosmic redemption, which is, after all, thoroughly consistent with the Christian message.
Today, we feel our hearts pound and our breath uneven at the reading of the Passion of Jesus. Some may even shed tears. These deep emotions may inspire our best thought and call us to rightly interpret this horrific scene at the center of the Christian story. You have heard about the intimate friends who turned against Jesus — Judas Iscariot who betrayed him, Peter who denied him, the disciples who fled in fear.
Too often, however, Christians have heard, or believed they have heard, a wholesale condemnation of Jewish people in a cluster of other names and groups: Caiaphas the high priest, the chief priests, the elders, the whole council, and the crowd yelling, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Beware! Within living memory of the Holocaust, an anti-Semitic poison is leaching into the culture, and drawing again from Church sources. Let it not be so among you.
You have heard too about the Roman governor Pilate, and the governor’s soldiers, agents of the so-called Pax Romana. The violence against Jesus is not the act of one person or group. Reading the story, hearing the story, feeling it in the fiber of one’s being, it is impossible to miss that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The guilt is universal, as is the forgiveness Jesus offers: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This is not a story against the Jews, or any other group. It is the story of love universally rejected. “There is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10).
Think of yourself. Feel the truth about your life. Acknowledge your failure and cruelty, even if it arises only as prejudiced and hurtful thoughts. Yes, God loves you, but you are not perfect, not even close. The spiritual “Were You There when They Crucified My Lord?” carries a double meaning. We have sometimes suffered with him, and we have sometimes, and too often, inflicted suffering on him.
If the entire world turned against Jesus, then perhaps we may see hope for everyone, and especially for ourselves, in a few gestures of love and tenderness before the dawn of the resurrection. Like Joseph of Arimathea, take his body in your arms, wrap him, bury him, and roll a stone to the door of his grave. Do this for the one who is the Son of God and the Son of all humanity.
Look It Up
Read Isaiah 50:6-7.
Think About It
God’s love surpasses the possible.