The soldiers took custody of Jesus, and forced him to carry his own cross up to Skull Hill (Golgotha in Aramaic), where they crucified him. They crucified two others on either side of him, with Jesus in the middle.
There is nothing good about Good Friday. It’s everything that’s wrong, unjust, cruel, and ugly on display. It’s shock and awe. It’s what happens to those who dare to say that those in power are wrong. It’s what happens to those who dare not just to opt out of the way things are, but to lead others out as well.
The gospels hold this gruesome image before us and say, “This is what it takes.” With Jesus hang all the 3000 children around the globe who die of malnutrition and dehydration every minute of every day. The gospels hold up this man on a cross as a representation of all the suffering and dying taking place in every moment of every day, as if to say, “See!”
And having witnessed this evil, one remaining question is, Now that you have seen, and now that you know, what are you going to do about it?
That same Sunday evening the students had locked themselves inside the house and barred the doors. They were afraid of the Jews. Nevertheless, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace!” Then Jesus showed them his hands and his side, and his students were elated to see him. Jesus said, “Peace! As God sent me, I’m sending you.” Then he blew on them and told them, “Be the wind of God.” If you forgive anyone’s wrongdoing, they will be forgiven. If you don’t they won’t.”
Tom, however, (he’s the one of the twelve everyone called the double) wasn’t there when Jesus came, and when the others told him about it, he said, “I don’t believe you. Not unless I see the nail marks on his hands with my own fingers, and feel his side with my own hand.”
The next week, the students were in the house again, and this time Tom was there. And again, in spite of the doors being shut, Jesus appeared among them and said, “Peace!” Then he said to Tom, Put your fingers here. See my hands. And put your hand here. Feel my side. Don’t remain skeptical. Believe it!”
Tom said, “My God, it is you!”
Then Jesus said, “Seeing is believing indeed! But those who haven’t seen and who still embrace me have it even better.”
Jesus did a lot of other things, too. His students saw it all. But they’re not written down here. What’s included here ought to be enough to convince you that Jesus is the Chosen One. And if you by him, you’ll really be living.
There are two ways to believe something.
First, there is the way we typically think of believing. We believe that a proposition is true. It’s a matter of saying yes or no about something. That it corresponds to a particular sequence of events that is empirically verifiable. It’s a mind thing. That’s the “seeing is believing” part. Tom won’t affirm the fact until he can see it for himself. And why should we blame him? Most rational people would say the same.
But there is a second kind of believing, which has nothing to do with propositions. It’s not about a mental acknowledgment of fact. It’s about orientation. Believing in this second sense, is orienting one’s life toward something that may or may not be a present reality, but which is nevertheless compelling.
An example. Chocolate. In the first sense, I can say yes or no, that chocolate is or isn’t the most delicious flavor on earth. I can base my opinion on the empirical evidence of having myself tasted thousands of different things. In the second sense, though, I can believe in chocolate by orienting my life around it, making everything I do about chocolate. Strive for chocolate. Look forward to savoring chocolate at every opportunity. You can’t argue with me about this kind of believing. It’s the way I live. Ask a kid eating a chocolate bar if she believes in chocolate. The question makes no sense. It’s not something to be believed. It’s something to be eaten.
In this scene, Jesus says that to believe in him in the first sense, to mentally assent to his existence in whatever way your mind is able to come to a favorable conclusion – that’s fine as far as it goes. What’s even better is to reorient your life by him. And for that, you don’t need to have seen anything.
The next day it got out in the huge crowd that had come to the festival that Jesus was coming to town. So they tore the branches down from palm trees and ran out to meet him, chanting:
God save us! Here comes the King of Israel! Hooray for God’s man who’s coming!
Jesus found a donkey to ride. The scripture says, “Don’t be afraid, child of Zion. Look! Your king is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt!”
His students were mystified by all this at first. Later on, when Jesus had gone to heaven, they put together what had been written about him with what had been done to him.
In John’s version, unlike Mark’s version, the crowds are clearly driving the story at this point. The best Jesus can do for initiative is to grab the nearest donkey that happens to be handy as the crowd whisks him along. The disciples are equally useless. All of it, as John says, is being done to him.
If the expectations of the crowd were misplaced in Mark’s version (and subsequently Matthew and Luke’s), the misunderstanding of the crowd is all there is in John’s version. There is no more intention of Jesus at all, and the whole episode is that much more happenstancial evidence that the prophesy about Jesus is being fulfilled as proof of who Jesus is.
Of course, nobody in the moment has any idea of who Jesus really is. And that’s the fourth gospel’s primary narrative means of communicating the story: nobody understands who anybody else really is. Those who appear to be in control never are, and those who appear not to be in control really are at the center of power.
In this scene, the crowds seem to be controlling everything, and yet have no idea what they’re doing. Jesus, who seems to be just passively along for the ride, is the one who is “being glorified.” The students, who represent the best of what can be understood, have no idea what’s going on until it’s all over.
So, what about it? Have you ever realized, only after it was all over, that something momentous was happening, that nothing really was what it seemed to be, until it was already over? Are you passively letting everything happen to you, or do you know exactly where all this is leading?
Some heathens also went up to the Temple to worship during the festival. They came to Phil, who was from from Fishermans Wharf in Galilee, asking for an appointment with Jesus. Phil went and told Drew, and together they went to ask Jesus.
Jesus said, “It’s time for the authentic human to be recognized. I’m telling you, really, if a seed never falls into the earth and disintegrates, it remains just a seed. But if it disintegrates, it produces fruit. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. If you let go of your life as it is, your horizons will expand forever. If you want to serve me, you have to do what I do. You have to go where I go. If you do this, God won’t let you down.
“I’m troubled. What am I supposed to say? ‘God, keep me from my fate?’ No! I won’t deny the reason I came here in the first place! God, make yourself known!”
Just then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I’ve made myself known, and will do it again.” When people heard it, they thought it was thunder. Some said that an angel had spoken to him.
Jesus said, “The voice wasn’t for me. It was for you. It’s decision time. The world’s ruler is about to be sent into exile. I’ll be upheld, and everyone will come to me.” (This was how he hinted at the way he expected to die.)
This passage begins and ends with people coming to Jesus. All the wrong people.
It’s the gentiles – the heathen- who approach Phil, the one with the Greek name, to ask for an appointment. They’re not the ones who are supposed to be “in the know” about right religion. But somehow they know that Jesus is the one they should talk to. When Jesus talks about being raised up, it’s not the people who are already on the inside, the “right” people, who are drawn in. It’s everyone else who will come to him. In the very next verse (omitted from the lectionary) the crowds (of insiders) don’t get it. They want to know how Jesus can say he’ll be raised up. This doesn’t fit their expectations of religious protocol.
The people on the outside get it. They come. The people on the inside don’t. They go.
At the center is this saying about the seed, and the paradox of keeping your life and losing it, or losing it to keep it. This is the great truth that the religiously inside so often fail to grasp. It’s not just about Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s about being willing to follow Jesus into death and resurrection. What’s true for him is true for everyone. You can’t move by standing still. You can’t grow by remaining the same. You can’t reach your destiny by refusing to participate in the moments that are meant to define you. You can’t be great by playing it safe. You can’t stand out by staying with the in crowd.
It’s decision time! Will you stay on the inside, comfortably numb and self-assured? Or will you follow Jesus, face your fear, and forever expand your horizons?