John 19:16-19

 So Pilate handed Jesus over to the Cabal to be crucified, and they took him away. Carrying his own cross, he was led out to Skull Hill, where they crucified him along with two others, one on either side of him. Pilate had commissioned a sign for the occasion: Jesus, from Nowheresville, King of the Cabal, and many of the Cabalists read it. (It was written in the three most common languages of the day.)
 Some of the Cabalist leaders complained to Pilate: "You messed it up! He isn't our King! It should say, 'He said he was King of the Cabal.'"
 Pilate answered, "No, you messed it up. I wrote exactly what I meant."

In the 90 years between the crucifixion and the writing of the 4th gospel, Christians had become a religion separated from its Jewish origins. The divorce had not been amicable. The vast majority of Christians no longer had any connection with Christianity's Jewish roots. So it was "the Jews" who took the blame for Jesus' crucifixion in the collective Christian consciousness.

Pilate, the callous overseer of the occupying forces in Mark's gospel, has been replaced by Pilate, the duely appointed arbitor with who tries his best to get Jesus off with a severe spanking. By the 4th gospel, it is "the Jews" with their insatiable pride and nationalism who are to blame.

It's a sad development, setting the course for Christian anti-semitism still with us today. We see it openly in the neo-Nazo MAGA groups that have emerged from the American shadows in the last 3 years – but it still lurks in the shadows of nearly every church where parisioners stare at their Pastors in wide-eyed shock and disbelief at the suggestion that Jesus was himself a Jew.

Reading between the lines of the 4th gospel, despite its prejudice, we can still discern plenty of blame to go around. Pilate in spite of his objections to crucifying Jesus, failed to follow any conscience he may have had. His apprentices, his closest friends, denied and left him. His fans and followers deserted. It was emphatically not "the Jews". It was all of us who share the blame.

It becomes apparent that the question in the old hymn, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" is a rhetorical one. The unspoken answer is, "Yes, I was there, and I am to blame." Jesus is crucified again whenever another innocent dies from the neglect, the self-interested political games, the denial of responsibility, the failure of anyone to speak up, or to stand up to the bullies, the charlatans, and the tyrants of our time.

On Good Friday, the gospel demands that we have the courage, each of us, to take responsibility for our own part in the death of the innocent. It takes courage to point the finger of blame at ourselves: if we accept the blame for such atrocities, how can we live with ourselves? How can we go on? Or, as the old-time religion has it, "How can we be saved?"

And how could we, indeed, except that only by seeing ourselves as comlicit as we stand with the jeering crowd at the foot of the cross are we able to hear him offer the key to new life, the way out of the incessant cycle of blame. If you can find the courage to stand there, you can hear him say, "Forgive them."

(Photo by Chris Barker on Unsplash)