Who killed Jesus?
Posted July 13 2003
Posted with kind permission of Ranjan Abayasekara
Ranjan's reflections 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 stay silent.
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
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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