As we have just passed through Holy Week, we reflect on one of the strangest juxtapositions of events a person could encounter. A Jewish carpenter turned preacher goes from being hailed as the next king to being brutally tortured and executed in the span of five days. Then, completely against the normal way things are supposed to happen, the tragedy becomes a celebration when that apparent victim returned to life triumphant. That’s not just the “good news” the church is called to preach, but also what it is called to live.
Therein lies the problem. It is easy for most people to spend lots of time reflecting on Jesus the young baby who men travel from far and wide to meet. It is also easy to reflect on Jesus the wise teacher. The ugliness of the cross is much harder to deal with.
In part, it is simply the inhumanity of it. Crucifixion is one of the most horrible ways human beings have developed to kill other human beings. We wish Jesus did not face the cross because the cross is unpleasant.
But, the cross is also uncomfortable. We see the horror of what those attempting to protect their own turf were willing to do, and we cannot fathom how people could be so cruel, so evil. How could those leaders be willing to kill Jesus for their own good?
Or, maybe we can fathom it, because we do the same thing. Witnessing the horror of Good Friday should lead us to ask how we do the same thing in our own lives. How often in our work, in our home life and, yes, in our involvement in churches do we crush those who get in our way? No, we may not crucify those around us, but we do willingly inflict pain by means large and small.
Every time we fail, we cement Christ’s crucifixion, for it is for those very miniature wrongs, the day to day stuff of life that we so easily justify, that required he die for the price of human sin.
This point, which the Church often preaches, must also be a point we live. The Holy Season ought to be a yearly reminder to the Church that it must reform. It must constantly be seeking to be more in line with what Christ commanded it to do and unwilling to justify its perennial failings.
The chosen leaders of Israel, the Church as it existed at the time, used their positions to protect their power. They were willing to abuse anyone, even the Messiah, for their own gain. Individual Christians today, reflecting on the hope that rests upon one who faced cruel abuse ought to seek above all to make sure the Church today honors the Savior by not doing to others what its predecessor did to him.
Every person in the church must passionately fight those who abuse. If we do not, we are serving as a curse rather than a blessing to the world. When we cover up those who distort Scripture for their own gain, we are a curse to the world. When we allow people to be crushed by ecclesial authorities, we are a curse to the world. When we look the other way while children are violated, we are a curse to the world.
The Gospel realistically reminds us that we can and do fail and that God forgives that. The very cross exists that God might forgive us. But, it must also make us discontent with those failures and unwilling to tolerate them. The problem with those religious leaders who killed Christ is that they were willing to tolerate their own failings and see them as virtues.
We do the same, but as we reflect on the cross of Christ, we must set aside our justifications and repent. That is when what we preach becomes what we live.
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business.