Good Friday

Scripture Readings for April 14, 2017

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25, Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9:

John 18:1-19:42

Good Friday recounts Jesus death on the cross. This happens because people killed him. It didn’t happen to pay off a God who had been tracking human offenses and needed repayment. It did happen because God had been trying to save humanity for centuries and people didn’t understand the true implications of the message from prophets, priests and history. Jesus dies because people’s hatred and fear destroyed the best efforts of the Son of God. Except, of course, people didn’t really destroy those efforts they only managed to kill the messenger, as we so often do.

What we are still trying to take to heart communally is that God wants to give us a life of beauty and peace. We generally find it hard to believe that offer is real. So some person, a real, in-the-flesh human being, had to demonstrate the peace and love of God’s presence so the rest of us could recognize what God’s peace, love and joy would look like. By doing that, Jesus literally changes history, changes the reality we live in by accomplishing what God has wanted since Adam looked across the garden. In Biblical terms, Jesus does what Adam failed to do. People now live in a world where God’s will has been done. At least once.

The problem is, it cost Jesus everything to do it. So it doesn’t look like a victory. Only Easter solves this problem. But that’s a discussion for another day. Today, he dies brutally because by remaining faithful to a life of love, mercy and generosity the political and religious powers of the time were threatened. Today too, radical Christian living threatens the status quo. People in power want to keep it. Privilege expects to keep privileges and doesn’t worry about those damaged in the process. This is the weight of human sin that fell on Jesus and everyone else who now knows there is divine value in living out of love. Jesus came to show us a God that literally lives with us and he was therefore subjected to all the tragic evil a defensive human race could muster.

It’s crucial that we get this right because otherwise we twist the message into a horror. God’s message is that God is with us, takes on our sins, our failures, our fears and hatred in order to give us a chance to live freely, generously and happily. This death of Jesus isn’t about God exercising justice because of humanity’s failures, it’s about God absorbing the consequences of human injustice. God will take and transform the worst we can dish out into a glorious tomorrow. (OK, that is Easter.) Jesus’ death is the demonstration that God means business, “I do what I say,” in this case, that God’s life lives with us.

This is not an easy message. Because Jesus does absorb everything the Romans could do to him. He died. That means being a Christian, one that is trying to live as Jesus did, can be a dangerous and costly life choice. Jesus death doesn’t fix the human condition. It only succeeds in establishing the possible. That’s why the St. Paul warns “we are baptized into his death.” Living a Christian life should change us and it will cost us something. How much depends on what each of us can manage to risk, to love, to give of ourselves accepting that what happens may not look like success. The key is that we live out of love, giving as Jesus did, and therefore, establishing that no matter what life often looks like, God’s love, care and generosity do exist in this world.

Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent

Scripture Readings for April 5, 2017

Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95, Daniel 3:52-56, John 8:31-42

Today’s readings are about the challenge of living what we believe. Both readings pit the believer against the establishment of the time. For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego the challenge is the pagan god and statue set up by Nebuchadnezzar. In John’s Gospel, Jesus faces a group of Jews, some of whom think as descendants of Abraham they are automatically God’s children.

What stands out for me in Daniel is the comment of Nebuchadnezzar that these men “yielded their bodies” rather than worship a god other than their own. They acted on their faith. The situation they were in was not some theoretical exercise or test to see if they could answer the catechism questions correctly. They lived their faith by the decision they made in that moment. That’s something that is relevant to us. Do we believe enough in the love and mercy of God to make tough decisions when the prevailing authority wants us to do the opposite?

Jesus faces a similar situation with Jews who think their heritage affords them the privileged position. Today this might look like Christians who know their Bible or Catholics who know all the catechism answers. It’s one thing to know about your faith and another thing to actually trust in God day to day. That’s what Jesus is pointing to when he says, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham.”

The way John presents this argument Jesus sees these people as slaves of sin and therefore not only not free but as children of the evil one. If they were children of God they would recognize Jesus as the authentic voice of God. Today we probably wouldn’t suggest the same dichotomy between believers and non-believers. But it is fair to remind ourselves that faith exists only to the extent we live it. Faith is not primarily a mental exercise. It is trust in a God who shares our lives, loves us, forgives us, and supports us in ways we often may not recognize. The choices we make may not be as dramatic as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego facing a fiery furnace but assuredly they are just as important in making us who we are. Sometime we have to, just do it. Because if we believe in Jesus’ loving God then we too must be loving, forgiving and supportive of others even when it may not seem like such a good idea. There is no other way to be a child of God.