Sundays with CWM (Good Friday): Broken by and for Empire

by CWM Communications Team

14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!”

15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” (John 19:14-15, Recommend reading the full text, 19: 12 – 16)

There is no way one can take a romantic approach to the distressing events leading up to Jesus’ death. The awareness that in human history to this day, some things remain as they were in Palestine when Jesus was condemned and crucified underscores this fact. Still with us, even sharper, is a world of inequities, racism, sexism, xeno/homo/trans-phobia, Islam-o-phobia, antisemitism, religious people, institutions conspiring with political and economic powers, slavery, and much more. Empire, at the heart of these ills, has not disappeared. It has morphed.

The reading from John (19:12-16) reminds us of the injustice of a system of values and hegemonic relationships the Roman Empire devised in order to maintain its total reach. Empire and its agents so framed the minds of the people that they became part of the irrationality of the system. Empire controlled the information and presented it to the people so they could no longer discern the injustice, their complicity, and oppression. Empire’s aim and behaviour never change.

When the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion is viewed from this angle, you may ask yourself: what was wrong with the people? Why didn’t they realize they were condemning an innocent man and losing the chance to transform things according to the revolutionary ideas Jesus presented in echoing the prophetic inheritance in the gospel of Luke (4:18). They were trapped within the (il)logic of the empire. They became part of it the very same moment they affirmed Caesar as their master and Lord.

Thus, Jesus became a victim of the empire. In their God-talk, Church Fathers, theologians, and preachers have made the cross part of God´s plan of redemption. Can it be that nearer to the truth, that the empire and its agents slaughtered Jesus because he was a threat to their exploitative system, which was denying full and flourishing life for all? His body was broken by empire and its agents because he was shaking-up and wanted to change things. He was a threat to empire’s extractive and exploitative ideals. Think again about our traditional liturgical mantra that ‘he died for our sins’. Pause and consider this: Jesus was killed because of the evil and insidious reach of empire.

Some things may never change. At the same time, what the ‘rising to life’ way of Jesus demonstrates is that things can change, should change, and they will change! That is the main content of our faith. Otherwise, why bring these memories back to us every year? Beyond that Friday, remember the rising-up Sunday.

Michael Jagessar

God-who-disrupts-our-neat-boundaries, you whose truth is larger than we are: by your presence and through your Spirit enlarge our minds and hearts so that we may seek truth, catch a glimpse of truth, hear the truth, learn the truth, tell the truth, live truth – your truth of the way of full life for all. In the name of the rising-up One whom no tomb could contain. Amen

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