Holy Week is just around the corner. As Christians prepare to remember the week of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; his Last Supper with his disciples; and his subsequent arrest, trial, and crucifixion, here are some reflections that I first preached during our Holy Land pilgrimage last November and promised to share back in January.
We think of Jesus as being crucified by those who didn’t get his message, but it’s really that he was crucified by those who did get his message—and were threatened by his renunciation of the established social order. In John 18:14, Caiaphas, the high priest, declares it is expedient that one man should die for the people. He wants to crucify Jesus because Jesus is critiquing the social system that works for those like Caiaphas who are willing to collude with the Romans. The system has made them rich and powerful, and Jesus wants to turn that upside down.
And let’s be honest: The established social order works for us today. We are not oppressed, although some of us may fear that is coming, as the American democratic system is under siege on many levels. Still, many of us have the means to travel 7000 miles away from home and be driven around to various holy sites in an air-conditioned bus while keeping tabs on the political situation through our smart phones.
This is what we need to understand in order to get to the heart of the beatitudes. For Jesus, the beatitudes inaugurated his description of a new world order. The beatitudes were revolutionary. They were designed to turn the world upside down.
Let’s look at some examples. “Blessed are the meek.” Can you imagine someone meek succeeding in the cutthroat world of Wall Street?
“Blessed are those who mourn.” When is the last time you saw weeping and wailing being encouraged or held up as important in our broader social conversation? The death of England’s Queen Elizabeth last year gave us pomp and pageantry, analysis and speculation, but very little emotion, and certainly not raw grief.
“Blessed are the merciful.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” When’s the last time you saw mercy or peacemaking being encouraged in America’s political conversation?
“Blessed are you when others revile and persecute you.” Think about all the ways our culture glorifies legal fights over who slandered who, taking people to court over words while the poor are starving in our streets.
Yes, Jesus had a radical alternative plan that would turn modern American society upside down—just as it would have turned Roman imperial society upside down and shaken up Jewish collaborators as well. That’s why Jesus was crucified by the religious leaders who were collaborating with those in power.
As we prepare for Holy Week, I invite you to pray about how the Holy Spirit might be inviting you to embrace the beatitudes in new ways. As we remember Jesus being crucified, how might you be called to proclaim his new world order rather than just worship him? What needs to change in your life for that to happen?
muchísimas gracias 🙏🏼 Shirin
de nada, Alex…and yet…it’s not nothing…! I’m glad my post spoke to you so strongly!
This is too sobering to respond to…. but I am. thinking…
Thank you for your honest response, Joyce, and for thinking and praying on this.
Just a couple comments…
The death of Queen Elizabeth’s death was deeply felt by the thousands of people, both celebrities and common folk, who stood in line for hours to pay their last respects. I might argue that deep grief does not always manifest in loud weeping and wailing. A respected and honorable Queen died, and many of her subjects realized an age had passed. The grief was real and for a moment, united a polarized society.
You suggest that Jesus died the victim of the state because he pushed for a progressive political agenda. The gospels – all four – insist that Jesus knew he would die and freely chose to do so as God’s beloved Son. He was not a victim of Caesar or his deputy Pilate, but fully in control of his destiny. We might argue about why he decided to die, but the New Testament says he died for us and by doing so, our sins are forgiven. The death and resurrection of Jesus opens the Kingdom of God and promises eternal life for men and women. We grieve his death with tears and lamentation because we realize he shed his blood and gave up his life for us.
Hi Diana and thank you for your thoughtful response. I acknowledge that there are many ways to grieve and I don’t doubt that many mourned the Queen—-but my point was that we hide our grief in public situations with a stoic face—-and I believe that can become a problem on a psychological level if we “stuff” the feelings.
As to Jesus knowing and choosing to accept what would happen—-those are both true alongside the truth that he was a victim of the religious leaders’ fears over what he preached. That too is in the gospels. As to whether his death was necessary for our redemption, that’s my point about disagreeing with the atonement theory.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on these important issues!