Jesus knew what awaited him that night. If you remember from the story of the Last Supper, Jesus instructs them one final time that they must follow a new commandment, to love one another. Before they left the table, the story tells us he sang a hymn with his disciples. Although we can’t be certain, there’s good reason to think they might have sang from Psalm 118, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”
By now, it’s no surprise that Jesus turns everything on its head. He is lord, but he takes on the role of the slave. He is friend to sinners, but is betrayed. He is king, but submits to arrest. He is the teacher of the Law and the Judge of humankind, but he endures a series of unjust trials. He blesses those who curse him, and is gentle with those who reach out to hurt him. Everything goes upside-down.
But if we’re honest, it’s not upside-down at all. The betrayal, mistrial, and suffering of Jesus is not an exception to the way our world functions; it’s a mirror that shows us just how broken and bloodstained humanity is.
God came among us as a human, in flesh and blood. He taught, he healed, and he showed us the meaning of God’s law. But in our world, wisdom is discredited, authority is rejected, and goodness is suspect. What was the meaning of betraying him and striking him down? What meaning was there in treating God as a criminal?
Sometimes I hear preachers speak eloquently of the many contrasts in Jesus’s suffering, how he took the place of a sacrificial lamb to become the final sacrifice, how he bore the punishment for sin, and it makes for a very dramatic message. But the more I sit with these explanations, the less comfortable I feel.
When Jesus was among us, he taught that God does not desire sacrifice and offerings, but righteousness and right relationships. When Jesus was among us, he did not respond to sinners with punishment but forgiveness and loving instruction. So if you look at who needed to see punishment, and who demanded a sacrifice, I don’t think it was God–it was humans. It was our faulty view of justice and our own taste for blood that afflicted suffering on Jesus.
As I sit in these services, on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I can’t help but think about the people in our world today who suffer from humanity’s broken sense of justice. I think of those who are wrongly convicted, I think of people in prison and those condemned to death, I think of those who suffer because they do not matter in the eyes of our society enough to help, I think of those who suffer because of war and violence, I think of those who suffer because of unlove and neglect. And I look at the cross, and I think about a God who sits with all of them, who has suffered as they have. Not because he was self-righteous or because he wanted to suffer, but because he was righteous and the world cannot long tolerate anyone who is righteous.
Jesus knew he would suffer and did not run from it. And when I think about him waiting for his trials to be over, I hear him softly humming a hymn, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”