The sweat runs down his brow as Jesus hangs in the orange glow of the burning sun. The intense heat beating down upon his broken and bleeding body. How did Jesus end up here? Why was this innocent man convicted of treason against the state and blasphemy against his own religion? Surely there must have been a flaw in the system. Surely those in charge are the worst of humanity – mean, petty, and jealous people. At least that’s what we like to tell ourselves, isn’t it? Because it makes the story of Jesus’ unjust execution easier for us to stomach.
And yet, as Jesus looks at the crowd before him, at all those who played a part in his execution – Pilate, the High Priest, Herod, the mob, the Disciples who ran away when things got tough – Jesus says to them, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” It doesn’t make sense. Because if these really were mean, jealous, and petty people, then Jesus would have forgiven them for those specific sins. Yet, he doesn’t. Instead, Jesus forgives them because they have no idea what they are doing.
And that’s because these political and religious people are not simply mean, jealous, and petty. In fact, in that day and age, they are believed to be the best in the world. The people best charged by God to interpret the scripture. The leaders put into place by God as the best enforcers of the Roman law. The people who execute Jesus are the best human society has to offer. And they act with the best intentions. So much so, Jesus doesn’t even fight them. And if this is the case, what about us today? Those of us who believe we are “good people” and “good Christians”, who have the “best intentions”? I want us prodigious, pious people of God to sincerely ask ourselves, “What if the cross is the best that we can do?” What if, when God appears in front of our faces, the pure presence of love incarnate, the cross is the best that we can do? What if when God offers the free gift of grace to all people, the best response we have is to murder our own God?
Many of you may be saying to yourself, “I would NEVER do that! I would NEVER hurt Jesus!” And yet, Jesus teaches us in his Judgement of the Nations: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Right now, as we sit here in the comfort of this sanctuary, across our own community we allow teenagers to go homeless, children to go hungry, immigrants to be feared as a threat to our lively hood, and elderly we abandon and ignore. We pray for them. We have the best intentions to help them – even though really we don’t. And when we allow this to continue, to allow our fellow humans to live homeless, hungry, rejected, and abandoned – we crucify Christ all over again. “Father, forgive us…”
When the Religious Leaders cannot execute Jesus in their own way, they go to the Political Leaders to obtain what they want. The Temple Priests bring Jesus to Pilate and manipulate Pilate’s politics to guarantee an execution. Do not be fooled – Jesus is found guilty of both religious blasphemy and political treason. Jesus is murdered by the marriage of Church and State. And the Religious and Political Leaders do not know how dangerous such an unholy marriage will be. So dangerous, that they murder their own God. And we continue to do the same today as the coitus between Church and State grows deeper and more dysfunctional. We create laws so we can treat others as second-class citizens because we fear their existence threatens our religious beliefs, threatens our country, even our very salvation. (We must have very little faith in God’s grace if that is true.) We fight for the lives of children while they are the womb – claiming our God-given responsibility for their lives. Yet the moment they are born, like Pilate, we wash our hands of any further responsibility for their quality of life – making sure that child has access to food, healthcare, and an education. We have the best intentions. We say we are protecting our faith and saving lives. Yet our best intentions allow others to be treated as sub-human and children to suffer – and in doing so, we crucify Christ all over again. “Father, forgive us, for we do not know…”
Jesus’ ministry emphasized welcoming outcasts, forgiving sinners, caring for immigrants, and sharing life with the most unseemly people of society. Jesus teaches that “the first will be last and the last will be first” – upsetting the status quo of society. Jesus justifies “ungodly sinners”, returning their righteousness taken from them by the self-righteous – upsetting their theology of God’s justice. And when you are the social and religious majority, the ones in power because of your wealth, status, or self-righteousness – when you have been in such a privileged position for so long – even equality with those once seen as beneath you, feels like oppression. But, the Kingdom of God is coming to overturn your Kingdom of Privilege and Self-Righteousness. And the only way to protect your privilege – to protect the assurance of your theological rightness – to make sure that your religion and state will be great again – is to take those Jesus ministered to, label them “sinners” and refuse them a place in our churches and communities. We have the best intentions. We are protecting our way of life. Yet in labeling and rejecting others, we crucify Jesus and ignore all his ministry stands for. “Father forgive us; for we do not know what we are doing.”
Remember, you will NEVER meet a person that God does NOT love. You will NEVER meet a person that Christ did NOT die for. And when you do something to harm a neighbor or fail to bring a neighbor out of harm’s way – you crucify Jesus all over again. And the times we are most likely to crucify Jesus is when we believe we are at our best.
Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. Thanks be to God for these gracious and merciful words of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we’d all be damned to a hell of our own best intentions. AMEN.