Jesus before the Council/Peter’s Denial
Series: Holy Week
Speaker: The Rev'd Emily Griffin
He wasn’t the first to feel this way. I’m not sure if it’s comforting or horrifying to have your experience mirrored back to you in Psalm 69. Who wants to be a member of this club? “Zeal for your house has eaten me up; the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me…I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I could find none…” Everything we imagine Jesus feeling at this sham of a trial – everything we can’t quite picture inside the heart of God - is articulated here by someone centuries before who unfortunately knew the territory – the shame and isolation, the anger and frustration of being misrepresented so thoroughly, the blinding disorientation of being the object of another’s hate and lies, the fear that this disgrace will bring others shame, that the seeds planted won’t survive this storm. We have to imagine some of these feelings on Jesus’ part, of course; Mark doesn’t feel the need to convey them all. He doesn’t presume to know what exactly Jesus is feeling; for the most part, he lets Jesus’ words, his actions, his silences speak instead.
Besides, Jesus already had his “save me” moment back in the garden. We’re told he was distressed and agitated, that he asked for this cup to be removed from him. By the time we hit this mad house though, he’s got his poker face on again. We don’t see the waters rising to his neck, the firm ground slipping from beneath his feet. But he has to wonder what will be left standing when this is all over. His family thinks he’s crazy, his friends have deserted him; at this very moment, his second-in-command is treating him like he’s radioactive. True, he predicted all this would happen. He told the disciples three times that he’d be rejected by the religious leaders, that he’d be mocked and condemned to death by them. He knew that Peter’s bravado and bluster were just that – that his bold words were masking deeper fears and that he’d sink under the first strong wave. But who wants to be right about that? At the moment, being right about the frailty and baseness of his fellow human beings must feel like pretty cold comfort.
There’s a little too much humanity on display here, too much we’d prefer not to have mirrored back to us. It’s easy to turn the chief priests and elders here into cardboard villains, but to be honest - we’re not sure we want a God who’d expose us to this kind of vulnerability either. If the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One, could be treated like this, what does that say about who’s protecting us? If it’s possible to control our exposure to the pain of life, if we can reduce the risks to body, mind and soul by conducting the right rituals in the right places with the right people, then isn’t it worth it to try? If only we could measure our holiness – our usefulness to God – by the behaviors that separate us from others instead of by the humanity that unites us.
We tend to think that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day misunderstood him, that if they’d only paid greater attention they would have treated him differently. I’m not sure that’s the case. Jesus called us all to a love that, by definition, includes the capacity to suffer. It’s what the word compassion means – to suffer with. He relentlessly exposed our attempts to distance ourselves from our suffering brothers and sisters, our drive to isolate the sick, the poor, and the condemned. He said that he came for sinners, not the already righteous; he collapsed any distance between us and them – whoever “us” and “them” may be. If there was any way the religious leaders could protect themselves from this frightening reality, if there was any way they could prove him wrong, that’s exactly what they were going to do.
They couldn’t, of course. Once again, he was right. The storms of life will come for us whether we’re ready for them or not; no amount of institutionally-defined holiness makes us flood-proof. In fact, standing alongside the suffering and acting on our God-given compassion will increase our risks. Bidden or unbidden, we’ll all find times when it seems like the deep water will overtake us, that we’re alone in our pain and shame and that the darkness will last forever. It’s today of all days, on Good Friday, when we realize that the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One is standing right next to us – in our anger and frustration, our disorientation and fear. We’re not the first to feel this way; no matter what kind of pain we’re facing, we’re not facing it alone. We don’t have to pretend that our lives are any less messy than they are; we don’t need to waste our time with self-justification or self-pity; we don’t need to spend any more energy separating ourselves from our fellow sufferers, grading our suffering against theirs. We can let the compassionate heart of Jesus touch and eventually transform it all.
After all, he’s been right so far. If he was right about our weakness and brokenness, right about the costs of love and value of compassion, then maybe he’s right about the rest of it – right about seeds that eventually find their way to good soil no matter how many birds or stones or thorns may get in the way, right about new life emerging out of death and darkness, right about seeing him on the road ahead of us, and right that we haven’t reached the end of our story and that the end is still to come.