Who killed Jesus?
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refugees > Who killed Jesus?
Posted July 23 2003
Posted by kind permission of Ranjan Abayasekara.
are not new. His closing sentence is a classic Christian
conclusion. What is important about this reflection is that he takes
the traditional homiletics of the Church and applies them to us, Australia,
and our treatment of refugees today. I was chastised by some of
my congregation for a sermon about Jesus
the Refugee and I suspect he has received some criticism for his fine
sermon, for he brings us the truth when we would rather not hear. Jan
WHO KILLED JESUS?
When I was young I had a gnawing question which never received a satisfactory answer. It was a
simple question. Everyone said Jesus was a good man, who led a blameless life - why then was he
put to death? If Jesus had been assassinated, I could have reconciled myself to a satisfying
answer to this vexing question. He evidently had been hauled before an assembly and the Roman
governor had done an almost 'democratic' act - he'd asked the people 'What should I do with this
man?' And they'd shouted back 'crucify him'! This was on the record. We read the accounts of
Christ's trial in the Gospels each Holy Week, and during Good Friday services. We seem to
concentrate on Pilate's role in his death...but the people also had played a key role. Why?
Weren't they 'normal people', like us?
My grandmother, who lived with us, was well versed in the Scriptures and also read Christian
books. After reading a book, on Christ's life, I can recall her telling me, that not everyone in
the crowd had shouted out "crucify him". She uttered with some authority, quoting the book she'd
read, that there were people in the crowd who had wanted Jesus' life to be spared. They knew he
was a blameless man, that he was the Saviour, he'd done miracles ........ but sadly in the crowd,
these folk were fewer in number, or towards the back of the crowd, at the time, according to the
author. Their view was not popular at that moment, hence some of them would have kept silent. All
of us can empathize with this, as in school, or at meetings, it is common to check which way the
tide is flowing, before putting our hand up for anything.
This point, of some folk in the crowd actually supporting Jesus, helped somewhat towards
answering my question. It appeared Jesus' death would have not been a unanimous decision after
all - there had been those who wanted Jesus to live! This was some relief to me, to feel that a
good and blameless man had someone to support him, when it came to the crunch. As a boy, I used
to sometimes wonder - what if those supporters had been in the front of the crowd? What if they'd
not given in to the populist sentiment? What if they'd shouted louder 'Release Him'? - then the
'fence sitters' may have even joined in! 'Fence sitting' is what most normal people do well - we
The power of populist sentiment was given official sanction in Australia, with the 'MS Tampa'
incident in August 2001, and it's aftermath. Politicians in all nations take note of polls
nowadays, and usually swing with the tide. When elections are close at hand, the likelihood is
even greater, and only strong leaders having integrity, can resist the temptation to 'take the
tide at the flood, which will lead on to fortune'. It certainly led to fortune in Australia, in
late 2001. By exploiting the fears within people, and using misinformation, and outright lies
too, an election was won. 'Fear of the unknown' is something that those in power have very
successfully tapped in every country, over the years.
The following incident illustrates this same aspect - prejudice against those who are 'different'
to us. A couple befriended a homeless young man whom they met in their town one Saturday morning.
He stayed one night with them, enjoying a shower and shave, and the chance of interacting with
people after many weeks of being alone. They took him to Church on Sunday morning, and helped him
to find a place to stay that evening. He stayed a week and then left town. During the following weeks, the couple found to their surprise, that they were the target of
outright hostility from some senior people in their church. At a committee meeting, to look into
ways of reaching the community, they were attacked for associating with undesirable types! They
received angry telephone calls. It was told them that homeless people should register with the
Police, and they should have nothing to do with them! The couple, being mature folk, accepted
these outbursts with equanimity, but also a sense of sadness. It is easy to understand Simon
Peter's actions and denials during that first Holy Week. It was not only Peter, but all of us
even today, who would deny him, when it is too risky, or unpopular, or difficult, to follow
Christ's teaching. Not only do we deny Him, but we would even be hostile towards anyone who tries
to show Christian charity to people we are prejudiced against.
Christ's commandment 'Love your neighbour as yourself' led to another question, "Who is my
neighbour?". His answer to the second question was quite emphatic. The story of the Good
Samaritan is one of the best of his known parables, but we miss the point of it, when we see the
word 'Good' as being pivotal. What is at the crux of the story is that it was a Samaritan, and
the story was told to a Jewish audience! There must have been pin drop silence! It is the
equivalent of saying "The Good Muslim", in today's climate, full of misinformation, paranoia and
bigotry. "The Good Different" - that was the point - 'the Different' - he/she is your neighbour!
Christ made it clear - Christian Love has to cross all social and religious barriers, and we are
commanded to see a neighbour in every suffering human being! Wow - get real, Jesus!
Christ not only spoke of a Samaritan in that one famous story, but actually encountered these
people in his life. In Luke Ch 17 we hear of the ten lepers being made clean, and only one
returning to thank the Lord. There's the word Samaritan again, dropped like a bombshell, in Verse
16! The 'different', again being commended by Jesus. The most descriptive encounter described in
the Gospels between Jesus and a woman, is with a.... Samaritan! John Ch 4 Vs 40 says that Jesus
stayed with the Samaritans for two days, as result of that encounter with her.
Christ's life of example, underscoring the importance of reaching out to those who are
'different', mixing with the social underclass, and emphasizing Love for all, would really not
have won him many friends. We would take his loaves and fishes, and be happily fed no doubt, but
we would not take kindly to being instructed on who, and how deeply, we should Love. Christ's
instructions are in fact very difficult to actually practise. Matthew 5 vs. 44 - "Love your
enemies...." being another of them.
Australia has incarcerated indefinitely asylum seeking men, women and young children for years
now. Out of those that were saved from certain death, by the MS Tampa, 143 Afghanis were sent to
New Zealand for processing. All 143 were found all to be genuine refugees, and are building new
lives in New Zealand. Australia however, has rejected 244 out of the 292 it processed, and offers
them money to go back, to that land of 'peace and tranquillity'. These figures say much about the
two countries, Australia & New Zealand, and the 'normal people' who live in them.
We are 'normal people' - we pray for those overseas, who are being tyrannized and persecuted,
some of them for the faith they share with us. We even very generously send money and goods to
them. However, if they come to us, we are like the Priest & Levite, in the Parable, too busy with
other 'important things'. We support military force to liberate people from an oppressive
dictator, but if those desperate oppressed people come to us for help, we imprison them for years
on end. We pray earnestly for all the Prodigal sons in the world, trying to find their way back
to the Father. However if one of them knocks on our door, we would rather he went somewhere else.
The answer to my childhood question has become quite clear now. It is no wonder that some of the
'normal people' may have shouted 'crucify him! Most of them probably did not shout anything -
they only stayed silent...... It is not Pilate, not the Romans, not the High Priests, who
ultimately bears responsibility for Jesus' death. It is us...... the 'normal people'.
(c) Ranjan Abayasekara
Palm Sunday, 2003
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