Sermon - Brad Brookins
Luke 23. 26, 32-34
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’
This is the Word of God. It is true. We can trust it.
The one who healed the broken, fed the hungry, encouraged the hopeless and wept for his people is hauled away by the mob to a night of interrogation, humiliation, and condemnation.
Under cover of darkness, and by means of an “extraordinary rendition”, he is delivered to Pilate’s torture hall. He is interrogated again; humiliated again; condemned to death again and then beaten to within an inch of his life.
The soldiers are very skilled at this sort of thing. They preserve that last inch of life, his terminal, gasping breath, so they can finish him in public—in a ghastly, sadistic spectacle.
He is led off to The Skull, stretched out on a rough, wooden cross and nailed in place; raised up so all can see what happens to one questions the Powers; what happens to one who makes trouble for the Powers. They get put in their place; they get nailed in place.
Is there anything more they might have done to him; any greater violence, any deeper contempt, any clearer rejection they might have shown? Probably not.
Which makes what happens next so hard to believe; frankly beyond belief for most of us.
Jesus hangs helpless on the cross—weak, vulnerable, defeated, having received the very worst his tormentors can give. He breathes it in, absorbs that evil deep into his own heart. And he holds it there; keeps it there—in the heart that to this moment has known only love.
And there, right there, deep in the heart of God, their vile contempt, their unspeakable violence is transformed into something quite unexpected.
“Father forgive them”, Jesus says, “they don’t know what they are doing”.
Now there are a lot of questions swirling around this story, but only one that we need to answer this morning; only one that matters, and it is this:
Did Jesus get what he asked for that day?
Were they forgiven—these religious powers who betrayed him to the political powers and who together engaged in the single greatest display of evil that humankind has ever accomplished?
Did God honor Jesus’ request? Were they forgiven?
They didn’t ask to be forgiven. They didn’t think they needed to be forgiven. And goodness knows they didn’t deserve to be forgiven. But were they? “Father forgive them”, Jesus said. Did he get what he asked for?
Because if he did, I read this week and I think this is right, if he did then God has redeemed the world—the world, all of it, all of us—God has redeemed the world through a peaceful, non-violent act.
This will take some thinking, but it’s true. God did no violence on that Good Friday—not to Jesus and not to those who crucified him. The empire is violent. Religion is violent. But God is not.
When Jesus forgives his tormentors, God redeems their violence with peace, their hate with love. God transforms evil into kindness.
And here’s why this is so important. If Jesus got what he asked for that day—if God can transform evil with love, then another world is possible. If he got what he asked for, hope is possible, kindness is possible, forgiveness is possible—in any situation.
If Jesus got what he asked for, we have reason to believe that all the violence we see in the world today—from the halls of Washington to the bleeding, choking streets of Syria, all the wickedness, the greed, the hate, the violence that takes the innocent—all of that has an end date. The evil men do in the name of God or country or power or wealth—all that has an end date.
If love wins, violence does not have the last word; evil will not have the last word.
If Jesus got what he asked for
But is that even possible? Is it possible for the heart of God to embrace and hold the sin of the world, and in that embrace transform our worst into God’s best? Is it possible? Can God, unbidden by those who do evil, forgive the evil doer? Is there justice in such forgiveness?
“Father forgive them”, Jesus said. Did he get what he asked for? We need to know.
Does love win? Is the heart of this God who is love big enough, strong enough, persistent enough to transform evil? Is the kindness, generosity and forgiveness Jesus displayed there on the cross enough?
Did Jesus get what he asked for? We need to know.
Because, if the answer is no, then nothing else we say or sing or pray today has much meaning.
If the answer is yes, God can—God did, forgive them, then there is reason to hope. If love does win, if kindness is greater than hatred, if trust does make more sense than fear—then we can be a people who live in hope.
Because, having seen such generosity, we could then be generous. Having witnessed abundant forgiveness, we could then forgive. And we could love because—beyond all measure, beyond all justice even, we would know that we are loved.
Did Jesus get what he asked for?
Sometime between now and Easter morning, see if you can find the answer.
Slightly less mind bending than usual--
You might find it helpful to read the excerpt from Borg and Crossen’s book The Last Week
printed below before reading the text for this week.
Luke 19. 29-44
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ 34They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
v. 31 “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this: ‘The Lord needs it.’” In 1st century Palestine, who do you think would typically have the authority to issue such a demand?
Four things are left out of Luke’s account that you might have expected to be there. See if you can find what’s missing. (Hint: look between verses 36 and 38). What does this tell you about the gospels and how we read them?
v. 38 Luke likes to bring his story full circle. When’s the last time you heard language like this in his gospel? Why is it significant here?
v. 40 “He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’” Really? The stones? What does Jesus mean by this?
Read vs 42-44 (either out loud or to yourself) with a harsh, judgmental tone of voice. When you are done notice how you are feeling about the people of Jerusalem. Be prepared to describe your feelings.
Read vs 42-44 (either out loud or to yourself) with a lamenting, sympathetic tone of voice. When you are done notice how you are feeling about the people of Jerusalem. Be prepared to describe your feelings.
What can you learn from questions 5 & 6 about life and human relationships?
Luke 23. 26, 32-34
26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
8. Does Jesus get what he asks for in vs 34? Why or why not?
9. What difference does it make if he does?
10. What difference does it make if he doesn’t
(Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp. 2-5)
“Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 ... One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class ...On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion.
Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology ... it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals ... to be in the city in case there was trouble ... The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts ... Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful. Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God ... For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.
We return to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem ... As Mark tells the story in 11:1-11, it is a prearranged ‘counter-procession’ ... The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish Bible. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion), ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (9:9). In Mark, the reference to Zechariah is implicit. Matthew, when he treats Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, makes the connection explicit by quoting the passage: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion: look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (Matt. 21:5, quoting Zech. 9:9). The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be: ‘He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations’ (9:10). The king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, war-horses or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.
Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This contrast—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Cæsar—is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’s life ... Holy Week is the story of this confrontation.”