Friday, March 25, 2016

Sermon; Good Friday; John 18:1 - 19:42

Have you ever noticed that the circle of those whom we want to marginalize or persecute continually expands?  And by “we” I mean the collective majority We.  That collective majority We continually redefines who is acceptable and who is deemed an outcast.  The collective majority We continually expands the circle of exclusion.

In John's version of the Passion, we can see this continual expansion in a few different places.  Judas brings a detachment of Roman soldiers and Jewish police to arrest Jesus.  Had Jesus not stepped up and said, “So if you are looking for me, let these men go,” it's possible that the circle of persecution would have been expanded to include those disciples with Jesus.

While that expansion of persecution may or may not have happened in the garden, it most definitely began while Jesus was being interrogated in an effort to identify and turn in other agitators and known sympathizers.  Three times people try to identify Peter as being a known disciple of Jesus.  I’m fairly certain that those questioning Peter as to whether or not he was with Jesus weren't casually wondering how he thought the whole thing would turn out.  This wasn't an ESPN interview with a former player wondering how his old team would do in the big game.  Instead it was an effort to expand the circle of persecution.  Had Peter stood up and said, “Yes, I was with him,” our gospels would have recorded that the two crucified criminals would have been matched in number by Jesus and Peter.

Then we have the interrogations themselves.  The original detachment of soldiers brings Jesus to Annas.  We are told very little about that encounter, but the circle of exclusion begins to expand as we see it beginning to define who is allowed to be included and who is forced to be excluded.  It begins with Annas.  He sends Jesus to Caiaphas; who in turn sends Jesus to Pilate.  Annas was Caiaphas' father-in-law, so he probably had no actual legal authority.  Caiaphas, as high priest, did have legal authority, but not the authority to carry out an execution.  These two men keep expanding the circle, willing to see how many people they can accuse and/or coerce into their position.

That circle now moves to Pilate.  Caiaphas claims that Jesus is a criminal and demands that Pilate do something with him.  Pilate responds by telling him that this is basically an internal religious issue and it's Caiaphas' responsibility to take care of it.  And they, in turn, reply that their laws don't allow for the death penalty.  And there you have it – the circle that originally began focused on punishment is now enlarged to focus on death.

In John's gospel, Pilate is portrayed in a positive manner – a man caught up in events beyond his control and trying to broker Jesus' freedom.  And while that's not factually accurate, it does allow us to witness more of this ever-widening circle.

Pilate interrogates Jesus and reports to the crowd that he finds no case against Jesus.  He attempts to gain Jesus' release by offering to release the bandit Barabbas or the innocent Jesus.  The crowd, incited by the leaders, is willing to both expand and warp the definition of guilty by calling for the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus.  Not yet willing to push Jesus into the circle of persecution, Pilate has Jesus flogged in an attempt to satisfy the crowd's blood-lust.

The religious leaders, on the other hand, have had it with Jesus and his tendency to test the boundaries of the establishment and his advocacy for a different kind of ever growing circle.  They have had it with his insistence on including the wrong sorts of people.  They have had it with his continual attacks on how the majority treats the minority.  So they take him to Pilate because they want him punished for his refusal to cease and desist.  But when Pilate has Jesus flogged, that circle of persecution once again expands and the flogging is not enough – now they want to see him crucified.

Pilate attempts once again to release Jesus.  But that ever-widening circle that expanded from punishment to death is now widened to include Pilate himself.  The crowd lets it be known that if Pilate doesn't crucify Jesus then he will be labeled as a traitor to Rome; a charge that could bring the death penalty upon his own head.

The circle of exclusion, marginalization, and hate continues to be enlarged by the collective majority We.  First Jesus, then an attempt to round up the other disciples.  First punishment, then execution.  First Jesus, then Pilate.

The collective majority We does this all the time.  We see it with how we treat the homeless, the poor, the minorities, the refugees, and others until people see giant walls and forced deportations as a good thing.  We saw it with things such as the former logo of Proctor & Gamble where a rumor started that it was Satanic and devolved into a belief that anyone not fighting against P&G was a Satanist.

This is not how we should treat people, by enlarging the circle of persecution to continually demonize others in order to claim some supposed moral superiority for ourselves.  This is not how Jesus taught us to treat people.  The road to dignity, respect, and inclusion should itself be an ever-widening circle, not a circle that is continually shrunk by the enlargement of a circle based on exclusion.

Tonight we sit in judgment of ourselves – of our betrayals, our denials, our desertions and our willingness to enlarge our circle of persecution and exclusion but not our circle of respect, love, and inclusion.  Jesus lived his life in solidarity with outcasts, minorities, and the marginalized, working to enlarge the circle of God; but the collective majority We have not followed that path and have not lived up to Christ’s expectations.

When We as the collective majority allow for the persecution of others, we betray Christ’s message to respect the dignity of others.

When We as the collective majority see ourselves as more deserving of rights and privileges over and above other groups, we deny Christ’s message of love.

When We as the collective majority refuse to aid those in need, we desert those whom Christ supported.

We as the collective majority consistently betray, deny, and desert Christ.  And every time we are willing to enlarge the circle of exclusion, persecution, and marginalization, we become more comfortable with shouting, “Not this man!  We want Barabbas!”


First time comments will be moderated.