Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild? Not Really.
It’s Holy Friday in the Orthodox Church today. In the western churches they call it Good Friday, which actually came from Middle English “God’s Friday.” And we are late this year, very late. I’ve tried to explain the difference between the western and eastern dating of Easter but it is nigh impossible. Sometimes I think that only a handful of monks on Mount Athos actually understand the heavenly machinations that put our celebrations so far apart in some years. All I know for sure is that in the years when the western churches have the earliest date for Easter, we invariably have the latest date. Next year, however, we will be together again on the 20th of April.
The thing we need to remember about Holy or Good Friday, no matter whether we observe western or eastern dates, is this: Jesus of Nazareth was put to death through a coalition of forces that gathered around him like gloom, as the old hymn We Three Kings puts it in one of its stanzas. The myrrh presented by one of the Magi at his childhood became a sign that his life was headed for doom in the end. That coalition of forces that led him to one of the most, if not the most, horrific form of execution ever invented, consisted of people filled with jealousy, turf-protection, fear of new concepts and ways to be in relation to God and other people, and fear of political upheaval. The only civil charge against him is at Luke 23:1-2, where he is accused of sedition. In the law, sedition is defined as any kind of overt conduct, particularly speech and organizing, that legal authorities believe will lead to insurrection against their established order. The Romans put a fast end to such people.
Why would Jesus, whom so many people continue to think of as “meek and mild,” a sort of antiseptic teacher of religious and moral truths, be put to death under such a charge? People who think of Jesus as a milquetoast have doubtless never read the gospels. If you do, some discoveries will raise your eyebrows.
Jesus consistently confronts people with truths about themselves that they don’t want to hear. Many influential people thought he would upset the religious or political system they had so carefully constructed. Those in cahoots with the Roman government were particularly worried; one of the amazing things about his ministry is that he called a tax collector, of the hated class, into his ranks. That tax collector left his office to follow Jesus.
Above all he appealed to the little people of the realm, those who were poor or without many resources. He even said, of them, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you hungry, for you shall be satisfied.” Not exactly good news to those with vested interests in wealth, property, and the maintenance of the status quo.
In Luke, Jesus is accused of “subverting the nation” on two counts: refusal to pay taxes and setting himself up as messiah – tantamount to making a claim to kingship. There is every reason to believe that a placard indicating this charge was placed on the cross where he was hung.
At Easter we see God’s vindication for this man Jesus, but to many he was a menace to the realm. Dostoevsky wrote this clearly in the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, a story within the novel known as the Brothers Karamazov. There Jesus comes back during the Spanish Inquisition and is confronted by Torquemada, who says essentially, “we will have to kill you all over again.” The reason? Jesus means freedom.
published 03 May 2013