Well, Holy Week is upon us. This week is one of the 2 weeks (also Christmas) when nearly every Christian will find themselves inside of a Church at least once. We spend this week thinking about Jesus’ last days leading up to His execution, and eventually, His resurrection. In that way, it’s a very unifying time. It is also humbling and beautiful to see just how diverse the Body of Christ is as we interpret the story being told to us in so many (often drastically different) ways.
This year I am thinking about my tendency to “over-spiritualize” the story of Jesus. Sometimes it is humbling and deeply enlightening to remember that Jesus was a very real person, living within a very real political atmosphere, pissing off very real religious and political powers.
I realized that I hadn’t really thought much about what Jesus’ followers must have felt when He told them He was going to die. It actually makes sense that Peter would rebuke that very notion whenever it was presented to him. Jesus, I suspect, was actually a huge disappointment to most of the Jewish community that followed Him. They had dreams of everything that was wrong finally being made right! They had dreams of Jesus leading them into a time of prosperity and power reminiscent of the legends they had been told regarding their rich history. They had placed Jesus at the heart of this revolution…and then His Grand Finale was getting Himself killed–and not killed as a valiant soldier in the heat of an epic battle, but as a shame ridden criminal void of anything that slightly resembled power and even dignity.
That must have been truly disorienting for those who followed Jesus. Imagine if you were convinced that a presidential candidate was the only hope for the future of our country. Imagine that they rallied all sorts of support and got everyone pumped about their “plan”. Then imagine that, at the end of the election, they revealed their plan was to let the other candidate win. Somehow this move was part of the beautiful story being told by this person, but to those who supported them, gave up time and money for them, it would feel like a betrayal and a shameful defeat. They would probably think, “Well, that was a waste of time”. They would probably be deeply grieved that they believed in this person so much only to see them willingly give it all away. Of course, this example shies in comparison to the reality of what Jesus’ followers must have felt.
Somehow, the act of letting the opposing power “win” in such a dramatic way was a deep, painful and beautiful part of the message Jesus was trying desperately to get His followers to understand. It was a message that spoke peace in the face of power. It promoted togetherness and love as opposed to ruthless ‘ladder climbing’ and competition. It exalted the least, last, and lost–and it seemed to make a bit more sense to the women around Jesus than to the men. It seems that the women who followed Jesus never left His side, regardless of the danger. Perhaps the men (except for John) were still too disoriented by this extremely counter-productive move to be present. Instead they were trying to figure out where to go from here since their leader has apparently led them to defeat.
I wonder if the disorientation of the Disciples would be very different from our own disorientation if Jesus were to stand before us and teach us the same message in our own context. I wonder if we, just as the Disciples, are too wrapped up in the belief that God is coming in power and might to destroy our enemies and lead us into prosperity. I wonder if we would also deeply grieve Jesus’ actions if we were to see Him willingly be defeated, in such a public way, by the very powers we saw as the enemy.
It seems that the disorientation of the crucifixion and resurrection transformed the Disciples. It seems that the message that Jesus worked so hard to teach them finally started to sink in. I wonder what assumptions about God are keeping me from truly getting this message of radical (and ridiculous) love. I wonder what disorientation I need to experience in order to allow a little more of that message to sink in and transform the way I see. This Holy Week I am reflecting on the very human reality of Jesus’ willing execution and all the radical confrontations and acts of scandal that led to it. Perhaps in allowing myself to be placed in the shoes of those following Him I will experience some of the transformation that changed everything.