“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered him, “If this Man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered Him over to you.”
- John 18:28-30
Do you ever wonder what were Jesus’ followers thinking? Jesus had told them that He was leaving them, but were they really prepared for what happened? I don’t think they were. I think they hoped, right up until the moment He gave up His last breath, that Jesus would do something to stop the evil be perpetrated by the leaders and authorities, both Jewish and Roman. The reason I think they believed that is because, more than once in my life, I’ve waited for God to make things right, to correct the wrong done, to repair to damage inflicted. That feeling – that waiting and expectation that God will fix what is broken, stop the powerful, and smack down the evil – is the innate human conviction that good ought to prevail over evil, the presentiment of salvation.
As they gathered to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, at the Last Supper with Jesus, the disciples had to be hoping that everything would work itself out alright. Yes, Jesus had said He was going to die. He even told them He would rise, but realistically, how could they possibly have imagined what that would look like? We know there was a Resurrection, and we confess that we believe in the resurrection of the dead. But do we know what that really looks like? I can’t imagine that we do. Peter, James, and John had seen the Transfiguration. I wonder if they had connected the Transfiguration to the Resurrection? Did they connect Lazarus’ death to the Resurrection? I don’t know. But I do know they had to want Jesus to win and not to let evil have the victory.
Jesus just let the powerful people win. While His disciples watched and waited from a distance, while His mother and the other women looked on, Jesus let Himself be led from one authority to the next without any struggle, without even objecting. Besides Peter, we don’t really know how many followers were in close proximity to Jesus, but I imagine they stayed as close to Him as they safely could. Wouldn’t you? Their Rabbi, Friend, the Christ, the Son of living God, the Wonderworker, the One in whom they’d placed all their hopes, the living Promise of their future… Clinging to shadows or standing nonchalantly at a distance, don’t you know that they were holding their breath, just waiting for the moment when Jesus either broke free of their chains or put a stop to the illegal proceedings? Or, maybe Jesus would explain everything to the Sanhedrin, and they would stop this injustice? Or, perhaps, as Pilate offered to do, maybe Rome would just let Him go?
We all have things we want God to make right. Whether it’s a misbehaving child or a nuclear superpower, there are people, events, circumstances, all sorts of things beyond our control that we think God should fix. We pray and then wonder. What else is there to do? If we cannot resolve those things which weigh upon us – the broken relationships, the terminal diseases – then surely, that is when God should step up and act.
But that’s not what happened on the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Jesus let the Jewish officers and guard haul Him off like a common criminal, leaving His disciples in the garden at Kidron. The “interviews” with Annas and Caiaphas were a dishonest at best. St. John’s Gospel captures Caiaphas’ ironic observation that “it would be expedient for one man to die for the people.” He meant something entirely different from what Jesus’ death truly meant, but Caiaphas didn’t know that. People in power often say things that are unintentionally true in an entirely different context.
From the farcical trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus was led to Pilate, to Herod, and back again. All those men exercised the powers they had, and Jesus just let them. We know that Jesus prayed about what was to come, but what was He thinking of those He left in the world? As He was led out of the garden, He took His first step toward His death, but He walked away from His closest friends, from His mother, and left them in a world under the spell of darkness, where victors gloated for having gotten rid of the problem of Jesus. He would have known that, for all that He’d tried to explain, they would feel abandoned and afraid. They were at the mercy of people who wished for Jesus to be forgotten as quickly as possible.
Things don’t change all that much. Or, I guess, people don’t change all that much. There’s an awful lot of struggling for power and wealth. People still desire control over others. The other day, I read an article about various organizations that are pushing for the removal of children from Christian homes to protect them from dangerous indoctrination into religious faith. I don’t think that idea is going to gain much traction, but it bothers me that people feel free to suggest it. Two of the people quoted in the article said they thought Christianity was harmful to the mental health of any person, even adults, but especially cruel to transgender children. Apparently, telling a five-year-old it’s okay to choose a different gender is better than telling the same five-year-old that s/he is the beloved child of the Most High God, fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator of all that exists.
Another day, another news item, one of the comments was something to the effect of, “Half of the people are religious nuts. How are we supposed to talk to them using logic and reasoning?” Funny… I think that’s true of people who believe there is no God. “Only the fool says in his heart that there is no God.” The world is full of beauty and majesty. How blind we must be to see just stars or mountains or newborn babies or budding flowers. We lost so much wisdom when we ceased to be amazed by a creation of such magnitude and complexity, when we decided the universe was an accident without a Creator, without rhyme or reason. Then, we called ourselves smart and brave as we embraced the utter purposelessness of life.
What is my point? The Son of God came into the world to save it, and He did so, not by conquering with victories the world admires. Rather, He saved the world by laying down His life to defeat death for us, to set us free from the weight of life’s end. That is not how the world is victorious. He walked away from His friends, from His mother, from every person who had followed Him, and He went to the Cross. When He did so, He knew not only that He would suffer, but that they would be left in a world of selfishness, greed, and lust, under leaders capable of inflicting untold cruelty in their pursuit of power. Every generation since has been peopled with just these sorts of rulers, including our own.
The hour draws near to remember the prayers of Jesus in Gethsemane followed by His arrest, His flogging, and His humiliation at the hands of rulers, religious leaders, and soldiers. Each stop along the way, someone of high office or low station was proud that they had defeated the Nazarene. Watching from a distance, His mother, Peter, John, and others watched the ignominy of our Lord’s passion, and slowly, each one came to the realization that He was not going to win. He was not going to escape. He was not going to avoid the Cross. With that understanding, hope dried up as they realized He’d walked away to die and left them in the world alone and unprotected.
Only… He didn’t. As He walked away from them, subjecting Himself to the powers of His day, even to death on the Cross, He would walk away again in just three days.
Weep and mourn for a broken world that gleefully chases its own destruction. What a tragedy… But never believe that rulers of this age have won, no matter how confident and certain they are. The story doesn’t end here.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau