Where Logic Meets Love

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? | Faith Permeating Life

In the Catholic Church, on the Sunday before Easter we read the entire "Passion" story, or the part of one of the Gospels from the Last Supper all the way up to Jesus' death and the immediate aftereffects. This year the reading was Luke 22:14-23:56, which you can read in full here.

What struck me about the reading this year was what a testament it is to our humanness.

We think we know exactly how we will act, think, or feel in the future or in a hypothetical situation because we imagine ourselves, exactly as we currently are, being transplanted in a different place or time. We think we understand people who are completely different from us because we think of them as having all the same knowledge, experiences, and privileges we have. We take the best possible view of our future self's motivation and actions ("I will get up at 5am every day and run!") because we project our current intentions, motivations, and energy level onto that future self.

Jesus tells Simon Peter that he will deny knowing Him -- three times, even! That very night! And Peter, despite all that he has seen and all the reasons he has to trust Jesus, absolutely insists that he would go to prison or die before denying his association with Jesus.

It's beyond the capabilities of Peter's human mind to mentally put himself in a situation in which he would want to dissociate himself from Jesus. He is around a table with Jesus and all of his closest friends, the men he's been traveling with for years. He's just had food and wine and is relaxing, feeling comfortable, feeling safe, feeling loved. The most he can imagine is leaving the building they're in and having someone say, "Hey, do you know Jesus?" and imagine himself saying, "Of course! We just had the Passover meal together."

He cannot conceptualize the heart-wrenching fear and isolation that he will be experiencing before morning, so deep as to make him lie out of fear for his life.

Likewise, I imagine if you had asked the disciples in Gethsemane, "Will you stay alert and pray as Jesus has asked you to do?" they would have said, "Of course! We will do anything our Lord asks of us." But their best intentions could not keep them awake, and they fell asleep. Even having the motivation to do what Jesus asked, they probably wouldn't have accounted for possible drowsiness due to the meal and the wine, nor thought through their tendency to rationalize ("I'll just close my eyes while I'm praying..." "I can take a quick nap before Jesus gets back..."), and so wouldn't have made preparations to ensure they followed through with what Jesus had asked them to do.

They also had no way of understanding what was about to happen -- how could they? And so while Jesus, understanding full well what was going to happen, prayed so fervently that he was sweating, the disciples didn't really get the importance of praying that they wouldn't fall into temptation. If they'd had a preview of the following hours and seen firsthand how they would get scared and run away, then I can imagine them, wide awake, praying just as desperately that what they'd seen wouldn't come to pass, that they wouldn't desert Jesus that way. But not truly understanding the importance of what Jesus was telling them, they let their sleepiness take precedence.

And finally we have "the people." As the priest on Sunday said, likely many of the same people who waved palm branches, laid down their cloaks, and shouted "Hosanna!" when Jesus entered Jerusalem were there on Good Friday morning shouting "Crucify him!" Yet how many, at the moment they were welcoming and praising Jesus, would have said they would like to see Him crucified, or would have believed that they could ever want such a thing?

When Pilate attempted to get an explanation for why Jesus should be put to death, everyone was so swept up in the mob that they only continued shouting what they'd been enticed to say: "Crucify him!" and "Release Barabbas!" The body of research on conformity has two consistent messages: that the majority of people believe they will not conform to a group, and that the majority of people do conform. It's not a conscious choice we make; it's something that we do out of deep human need for belonging and acceptance. The people shouting for Jesus' death were caught up in the moment, even if they would otherwise wish no ill-will on Jesus and would, on any other day, tell you that they would definitely never take part in a group of people screaming for a man's death.

Which brings this back to us. To me. To you.

It is tempting sometimes to see the characters in the Bible as fundamentally different from ourselves. We laugh at the disciples when they misunderstand Jesus' parables, ask Him where they can possibly get enough food for a large crowd, or get scared when a storm rocks their boat. We laugh at Nicodemus asking how a grown man can get back inside his mother's womb. We, who have the benefit of two centuries' worth of Biblical analysis, are already familiar with the phrase "born again" in a spiritual sense, and we know how the story of the loaves and fishes ends.

And we secretly think that, unlike Peter, we would not have denied Jesus. Unlike the disciples, we would not have fallen asleep. Unlike the crowd of people, we would not have shouted for Jesus' death.

Because we are human, and we cannot mentally put ourselves in any of those situations enough to make them real.

I believe it's important that we rein in this way of thinking. If we don't, the Passion story becomes the story of Other People, people who were too stupid to understand what was going on, people who were too lazy to stay awake, people who were too easily influenced into becoming a mob. Jesus' death becomes a result of what some Other People did or didn't do, and it seems to have nothing really to do with us.

Instead, let's acknowledge how much we have in common with all these people. How little we comprehend the future, how our best intentions fall flat, how we give in to peer pressure or care too much about what the people around us think. How easily we would have fit into any of the scenes in the Passion.

And how, despite all of that, we are loved by God. We are forgiven by Jesus on the cross. We are able to be instruments of God's will rather than obstacles to it.

We are part of a story bigger than us. Bigger than our weaknesses, our mistakes, and our utter humanness.

Praise God.


  1. Great post! The events of Holy Week began to mean a lot more to me after I studied social psychology. From the very first time I told my child the Easter story, I included the moral turmoil of the crowd and of Judas, because I think this is ultimately a story about how God forgives us for being human. That doesn't mean it's just okay to go along with this kind of thing and we shouldn't try to resist it or regret it--it means that we need to understand that anybody can get into this kind of thing and it takes a lot of courage and determination to resist.

    Two years ago, I fasted from buying things made or grown outside North America for Lent, and one of the biggest difficulties was coffee, which has a medicinal role for me as a migraine sufferer. I was surprised that I got through most of Lent without needing to break my fast to get emergency coffee. Then on Good Friday, I got a headache and panicked and ended up drinking some irresponsibly sourced Folger's in the office--when I totally could have gone home early--and as I started to feel better, I thought gloomily that if I had been in the mob in Jerusalem, all the servants of the high priests would have had to say was, "Yell, 'Crucify him!' and we'll give you this coffee." :-(

    1. Becca, I have definitely been in that same situation, breaking my fast right before the end of Holy Week. It's humbling to come face to face with your own weakness like that and to link it to the role you easily could have (probably would have) played in the Passion. And amazing to link it to the Resurrection, too, and know how much grace there is for all our weaknesses and failures.

      Jessica, thank you for a post that was both brain food and soul food. Yes, praise God.

    2. Confronting my own weakness in this way helps me be that much more in awe of Jesus' sacrifice; I like to think that I would be willing to sacrifice myself for those I love, but when it comes down to it I am human and would likely be fighting for my life to the very end.

      I think this is ultimately a story about how God forgives us for being human
      Absolutely, and that is what I am thankful for.

  2. Very well-written post.

    How are you like those people in the Gospel, though? Most of the time when I read your blog I just think, "Does this girl EVER do anything wrong?"

    1. I'm surprised to hear that you feel that way. There's a reason I write "we" instead of "you" here. When I say, "We laugh at the disciples when they misunderstand Jesus' parables, ask Him where they can possibly get enough food for a large crowd, or get scared when a storm rocks their boat. We laugh at Nicodemus asking how a grown man can get back inside his mother's womb." I'm saying that based on my own experience and the belief that others have similar experiences. I am guilty of feeling superior, assuming the best of myself, and forgetting how human and fallible I am. And I do things like thinking I'm going to get up at 7am to run and going back to sleep instead, which is why that example came to mind.

      It's interesting to hear this feedback about my blog. I feel like lately all I've been doing is spewing my anxiety and insecurities about life all over the blog, but maybe it's not coming across that way. I've written about how I suck at listening, how I judge people who manage money badly, how I make fun of Mike in front of his friends, how I struggle with trusting God about our finances... and so on. Most of the time I do try to pull a lesson from it or seek advice so it's not just a post about me and how much I suck. But I'm not really sure what specifically it is that you're looking for that I'm not writing. Maybe you can elaborate?

  3. Nice post. My parish from my hometown always did the Good Friday reading as a reenactment. So the priest would be speaking Jesus' words, the deacon, Pilate, etc. And the congregation was speaking the words of the crowd. I think this helps to realize that we were like them, as opposed to just reading along with the reading, about other people from 2,000 years ago.

    1. I've been to several different churches that did the reading that way, and I like the idea, though I'm sure there are still many people there thinking, "If I'd been there, I'd have known better than to yell these things."


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