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Reflection for Maundy Thursday morning
Reading: Luke 23. 1-25
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’
Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
Jesus: accused, rejected, or received?
In our reading this morning, Jesus stands accused.
First, accused by the chief priests and religious leaders of “perverting the nation”, specifically forbidding them to pay tax to the Emperor. Now, when someone’s complaint is, “He won’t let us pay our taxes!”, you can be confident something else is the real issue! Jesus had threatened the power and authority of the religious leaders. They don’t care about financially supporting Caesar: they are using this to attack someone threatening their power.
So I ask myself today: where does Jesus challenge my power, my control? And how about you? Because if he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.
Second, Jesus is accused by Herod of being a useless Messiah. Herod had wanted to meet Jesus, to see a miracle or two. I’ve always liked Herod’s song in Jesus Christ Superstar, including the immortal lines, “Prove to me that you’re divine – turn my water into wine,” and “Prove to me that you’re no fool – walk across my swimming pool.” What’s the point of a Saviour if he can’t pull off a few good miracles? But Jesus won’t play stupid games, so his Messiahship is deemed fake news.
So I ask myself: in the current Coronavirus crisis, does my faith in God waver because he does not miraculously eradicate the virus or enable a vaccine to be found immediately? God is with us in this emergency, but not by magicking it away.
And third, Jesus is accused by the crowd of … well, actually, that’s not clear, but they’ve been worked on by the priests. So they bay for his blood, when they could call for his release. Instead, they ask for Barabbas. Pilate – who accuses Jesus of nothing –pleases the crowd.
And one feature of crowd-think, of populism, is that people can be particularly good at overlooking the failings of their heroes, as long as those heroes look like they will serve the crowd’s goals. So Pilate handed Jesus over and released the man they asked for, who’d been put in prison for many crimes and misdemeanors, as the crowd wished. But such heroes always turn out not to be the Messiah after all, and often very naughty boys instead.
So I ask myself, am I, are we, too willing to overlook the failings of those we happen to agree with – politically, spiritually – and too unwilling to see the good in those we disagree with? If we are to heal the political divisions which were still occupying us so very fully until a pandemic struck, we will need to do better at this.
For only the Messiah is the Messiah. And we receive Christ and all his benefits only by being willing to surrender our power to him, and without demanding the miracles we want in exchange for our faith.
And then we will find that this same Messiah is able to forgive all his accusers and rejecters, even me, because he turned the outcome of all our accusations and rejections into a saving death and resurrection. But more of that tomorrow and on Sunday.