Wednesday, April 17th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 17th: Psalm 70; Isaiah 50:4-9a; John 13:21- 32; and Hebrews 12:1-3. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Did Jesus die with thoughts of Isaiah lingering throughout His last moments of consciousness? As soldiers and priests struck Him on the back tearing apart His flesh, as insults and charges of blasphemy were hurled at Him with utter contempt, as men spit upon the face of God, did Jesus find consolation in words He must have been familiar with from the Book of Isaiah: “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”?
This hope melds perfectly with the accounts of the Johannine Jesus. In other Passion narratives, Jesus is not certain which particular disciple will betray Him, but in John nothing seems hidden from Jesus. He outs Judas to the Beloved Disciple, and presumably the Beloved Disciple shares the news with Peter that Judas is the traitor.
There’s a problem with this scenario, however. After clearly identifying Judas, the account proceeds by telling us: “Now no one at the table knew why [Jesus] said this to [Judas]. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor.” These logical interruptions are often signs that history and theology are being forced together and sometimes the fit is not seamless.
John’s theology is then said openly. The cross is Jesus’ glory not His suffering. Jesus has almost transcended His human nature and taken on more of His divine nature. John’s Jesus is in control even as they crucify Him. And isn’t this what today’s three other readings repeat, as well? Isn’t God there for the faithful even in their suffering? Wouldn’t this be a reassuring theology for those first generations of Christians dealing with a crucified Saviour? Wouldn’t this soften the scandal of Christ being disgraced as an executed common political criminal?
But what if that’s a preferred theology talking? What if the scandal was visceral? What if Jesus’ cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was real? What if Jesus faced His suffering and mortality by carrying His full human nature all the way to the cross? What if He faced death scared, alone and wondering what the future held? Can this scandal be an even greater glory? Can it testify to the intimacy of God’s connection with all of us through the very real human nature of Jesus Christ? The Bible offers alternatives. But either way, let us never take the cross for granted. Jesus deserves reverence, and at least He deserves to be remembered.
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