Thursday, April 5, 2012

This piece was originally published at America Magazine on Good Friday 2011:

I would rather not talk to you today. I have no idea what happened, no idea what just took place. After the meal, the Apostles walked with Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. All of the Apostles but one; Judas had already left. The others said that there was a strange tension between Judas and Jesus, that they had spoken quietly, that Jesus had said someone would be betray him and Judas left the meal. No one was sure why he left or what he went to do – I talked to Andrew and Peter and Simon and James and John as we walked over to the garden to pray, but no one was sure what Judas’ problem was or what kind of betrayal to expect. Some thought Judas had wanted money, but I do not think that is it. Some said that he thought he would help hasten the coming of the Kingdom, but I do not think that is it. I think he thought Jesus was wrong, that whatever plan Jesus had was wrong, that the answers he wanted from Jesus at the Supper did not come. He had enough, whether he thought he was saving Jesus or handing him over to death, he wanted it all to stop. He was tired of being an Apostle with no answers.

No one knew what to do – James and John and Peter could not stay awake with Jesus while he prayed, even as they thought of the words he had said about his broken body and the blood shed on our behalf. For what he was praying, they were not certain. Was it to die? He had said it before, and it was still not clear why he wanted this.  They told me that Jesus had spoken to them for a long time, but that they could not always follow him, which was not so unusual. Jesus did say he was going home, but that they could not go with him, that they had to stay behind and simply love one another. He would send them an Advocate, a Counselor. Some of them just wanted to go home; they were so scared of what Jesus was saying and what might happen to Jesus. Was this the time to fight though, not to run home? Peter had a sword and some others did too, including me I must admit, but we did not think we could destroy the Romans; we would just help when God sent his angels, legions of angels to destroy the Roman swine, but when Jesus was arrested, he did not want help. He did not call on angels.

I saw Judas then. He brought the Temple officials to arrest Jesus; he knew where Jesus would be and kissed him on the cheek. Just a common greeting – did he do it from love or hatred? He was confused. He could not wait for answers; he made his own answers. God was not fast enough for him or his ideas. But why the Temple officials? They thought Jesus was wrong, mistaken, that he could cause trouble for the whole country - maybe that’s what Judas thought too – but Jesus had also angered them when he caused trouble in the Temple and challenged their authority with an authority they could not control or compel. He claimed to be King, Messiah, Son of God, even if he did not use words to say this. It was how he was. He just was. They would stop his foolishness, whether they did this from worry, concern, envy or pride, they would do it. I cannot read their hearts; I have a hard time reading my own heart.

But the trial was so much anger, so much anger and vitriol, that I could not bear to watch. Yet, I could not leave. I followed as usual at a distance, with my friend Cleopas – he is my friend and a disciple of Jesus – and I saw more than I needed to or wanted to see. Crowds now yelled at Jesus when they took him to the Romans and it was hard to remember what Jesus had said or how he had inspired us, when they hit him and spat on him. I wanted to stop it and I wanted the others to help me stop it, but I stood silent and fearful, frightened at this evil running through the crowd. Peter I saw for a moment and I heard him say that he did not know Jesus, but no one else was even near enough to deny him with words. The others had already denied him with their feet.

Even now I want to think, yes, he might have been the Messiah, but this plan has not worked out at all, not at all. This was not a good plan. To be beaten by the Romans and now to be crucified? Hung like a common criminal or slave, naked, bloody, mocked, suffering, dying for all to see? This was not a good plan. People tried to warn him, I know that, but would not the Messiah have had a better plan for evil than being conquered by it?
I watched him on the cross suffer; I wanted to stop this pain. I watched him die on the cross; I could not look away. Now this is the end. They will take him down and put him in a tomb like everyone else. Cleopas pulled on my robe and told me to come, that we should go away and meet up with some of the other disciples and apostles. Now was the time I hoped for this Advocate to defend us. It was getting dangerous for us outside Cleopas said, while people were in a killing mood, so we should go get shelter amongst our friends. But death seemed like all there was. As we walked from the cross, I turned back to see them take his body down and he was dead. What is there but death? Jesus, I’m sorry, but what is there but death for all of us?

John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens


Post a Comment