Good Friday Reflections

Now at the feast [Pilate] used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was  a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)

Today as this passage was read at our Good Friday service, I was haunted by the contrast between Jesus and the crowd. My own attitude and response to circumstances are so much closer to the fickle crowd, stirred up and impatient for results. Jesus was the Messiah they didn’t want, proclaiming a kingdom that is like the grain of a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds on the earth (Mark 4:31). The Jews were tired of living off crumbs, under the thumb of violent oppressors, and the people were not interested in a leader who was beaten and spit upon without offering any retaliation. It doesn’t seem that anyone was under the impression Barabbas was the Messiah, but at least he was a man of action, someone who was willing to shed blood for the cause of his people.

Jesus had taught his disciples, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3), but the crowd had lived through Herod’s slaughter of the innocents when every baby boy under 2 was killed in Bethlehem and the whole region. Who in their right mind would become like a child to pursue God’s kingdom? No, there must be some other way, and the people’s rejection of Jesus could buy them time, helping them appear loyal to the Roman empire while they waited for God to send someone to actually deliver them. The high priest advised the people that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. (John 18:14)

So today I was slapped in the face because my response is the same as the crowds: I choose to believe God if I think it will work. I want results on my own terms: inner peace, financial stability, emotional harmony, affirmation from others. With those four pillars, I’m convinced that I could follow Jesus to the cross! “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” Jesus said (Acts 20:35), but I’d rather have a little more in my bank account before I start actually shelling out cash, and I’d rather have less clutter on my dining room table before we invite someone over for a meal, and I’d rather only babysit my neighbour’s kid if he’ll be well behaved, and I’d rather watch TV than go to one more music practice.

I have experienced the freedom of obeying Christ, of taking the counter-intuitive steps that seem to lead right up to a brick wall only to find the barrier miraculously removed. But time and again when I see God’s path for me headed into oblivion I turn aside and revert to what I know, to what works. I read up on prayer instead of actually talking to God, using study to replace intimacy; I vent to a friend about my frustrations instead of leaning into suffering and allowing God to make me more patient, more humble; I fantasize about how selflessly I would serve a different kind of needy person than the one I am faced with.

The gospel is powerless in the abstract.

May we who call ourselves believers in Jesus accept the challenge of obeying him even when it looks like the least likely course for success. Today we celebrate what looked like the ultimate failure of Jesus’ ministry, and we remember that the God we serve is no stranger to suffering.

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