Shuck and Jive

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday? A Reflection

Good Friday?
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
April 6, 2012
Good Friday
Mark 15:1-47

A few years ago a poster advertising Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion, featured an image of Christ wearing a crown of thorns. The caption read:
Dying was his reason for living.

The movie itself was about his supposed last hours cobbled together from the various accounts in the gospels and other traditions. It was an incredibly violent and bloody film, typical of a Mel Gibson film.

Why are we so obsessed with the death of Jesus?
Dying was his reason for living.


Much of Christian theology has been used to induce guilt and shame. You are so bad that Jesus had to die on the cross. The bloodier and more painful the death serves to demonstrate the depth of your depravity. You deserve all that beating. But Jesus took it for you. That is default Christianity. I call it spiritual abuse.

Jesus had a life before he died. The things he did and the things he said were provocative enough to put him on the wrong side of the authorities. From the things people remembered that he did and said, he was critical of the authorities. He was critical of the religious authorities and of the political authorities.

That is what got him killed.

He challenged systems of authority that took advantage of widows, of the poor, and of the outcast. He created a movement. And it was threatening enough that those in power felt the need to stop him. Perhaps to make of him an example.

That is what got him killed.

He was on the side of people who were oppressed by the economic policies of the temple. He was on the side of people considered unclean and sinners by the religious.

That is what got him killed.

He is remembered for telling parables and stories that upset people. He used a phrase "kingdom of God." That phrase means little to us because we have tamed it. Most folks thanks to the theologians think it is another phrase for heaven, a place the true believers go when they die.

It is likely that it was a political statement. It was a social statement. It was a statement of hope. As opposed to the kingdom of Caesar, imagine what the kingdom of God is like. It wasn't just a fantasy, a story. It was a movement. This is the kingdom to live for, to work for, perhaps even to die for. It is a kingdom of justice and compassion. In this kingdom, in this political economy the hungry are filled with good things. Now let's make it so. That was Jesus’ message.

Jesus was about making changes in this world.

That is what got him killed.

He talked about compassion. He talked about moving beyond ethnic boundaries and divisions. He talked about forgiveness. Not something you go to the priest for or even to God for, but your neighbor. The neighbor is who we hurt, not God. The neighbor is the one from whom we need forgiveness. We get it as we give it.

Jesus worked to bring people together: Samaritan and Jew, Greek and Roman. He practiced an open table, rich and poor, male and female. He challenged unjust boundaries and rules.

That is what got him killed.

Dying was not his reason for living.
Living was his reason for dying.

For life, he died. For integrity, he died. For compassion, he died. For justice, he died. For change, he died.

He was in the way. He was in the way of progress. He was in the way of Rome. He was in the way of the religious authorities who had sold out their people to Rome. He was killed as were many just like him.

Jesus didn’t die of old age. He didn’t die of cancer. He didn’t get trampled accidentally by a runaway horse. Jesus was bullied to death. Not only Jesus, but thousands of people were tortured and executed methodically in a spectacle of brutality and control. Jesus was a victim of imperial terrorism.

There was and is nothing sacred and holy about the execution and torture of Jesus or of anyone.  If anything, remembering the death of Jesus should summon us to honor life not death. It should give us the courage and commitment to speak out and not remain silent in the face of torture, execution, violence, injustice, and needless suffering around the world.

The Easter acclamation, “Christ is Risen!” meant what? I think it meant that they, the people, those who told and wrote the stories about Jesus had had enough. They had had enough of Rome’s bullying. They said,
“Every time we gather for a meal of bread and wine we will remember. We are Christ's body. Christ is alive with us. We will continue to remember and to resist. We will show hospitality to those who are victims of imperial bullying, to the outcast, to the slave, to the stranger. We will lean on and support each other. We will remember and tell the stories of the victims. And we will dream, hope, and work for the day in which the kingdom of God, the empire of God, the empire of justice and peace will be realized on Earth.”

Obviously, Christianity evolved and moved in all kinds of directions and embraced many different mythologies and interpretations, and some of them quite good and helpful. But it is important not to lose sight of our roots. The earliest interpretation of the death and resurrection of Jesus is this:
In Christ, Empire’s brutality is overcome by God’s justice.

I wear this cross around my neck to remind me whose side I need to be on.

Jesus' life was fast. Like Martin Luther King, they both died before reaching forty. But their lives burned with passion and fire. They burned out for compassion and justice.

Apparently, they believed that it is better to have burned out than never to have burned at all.

Whenever any of us stands up for those who are abused or put down or who suffer injustice from bullies big and small, we practice true religion.

We live in the example and spirit of Jesus.

Only if today helps us to live a life that matters can we dare call it Good Friday.



  1. Shared on facebook...

    I love your lines near the end:

    Whenever any of us stands up for those who are abused or put down or who suffer injustice from bullies big and small, we practice true religion.

    Thank you, John, if we ever meet, I will surely burst into tears (grateful ones)...kinship.

  2. Wait...What? So you're saying that Jesus's horrific death on the cross *wasn't* the most wonderfulest thing ever?

    Pshaw! ;)

    Now the resurrection, that's pretty cool. But filicide? "Oh, but Jesus was God!" they claim. So suicide is better?!? Wait, what? :)

    It is amazing that people celebrate behaviors they ascribe to God, behaviors which those same people would scream for the death penalty if a human father did them. (But then, I think it ain't for nuthin' that the penal substitutionary atonement fundies are almost universally pro-death penalty. When your God gets to put even family members to death, what's to prevent...) It is even more amazing that isn't so blindingly obvious to more people, alas.

  3. Thank you for sharing this insightful post on Good Friday.

    I guess the penal substitution theory of the cross appeals to the human ego to those who subscribe to it because the ego feeds on the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The ego's motto is "an eye for an eye", but we know that is not Love's motto. Love keeps no records of wrongs, so payment isn't necessary. Besides, we are already innocent and perfect, for "as He is, so are we in this world".

    And yes, the kingdom of God is not a literal place called heaven. It is a state of being on earth where there is love and compassion. As Jesus said to the Jews, "The kingdom is within you." When people realise Love is within them, they will enjoy innocence, peace and joy and experience paradise on earth.

    Peace and blessings.

  4. John -- haven't been in touch for too long -- but your piece on Good Friday got to me, literally and emotionally -- thanks! Let's let "passion week" fulfill its promise of "passionate commitment" instead of "passion = suffering."
    -- Houston Hodges

  5. Thanks all. Nice to hear from you again,Houston, and thanks!

    Because I have said similar things for so long they have become "mine" but really I owe these insights including the phrase "living was his reason for dying" to Dominic Crossan. Many scholars have made me see things anew and many of them have been with the Jesus Seminar, although not exclusively with them.

    If I had to narrow the list of scholars who have had the greatest influence on me down to one, Crossan would remain.

  6. @Nomi That was very kind. I hope we do get to meet!

    @Alan The more bloodier the more wonderfulest! You are exactly right. I remember one politician defending the death penalty because had it not been in effect in Jesus' time he couldn't have died for our sins. Whaaa?

    @Jimmy Tan Thanks for stopping and for your kind words. We certainly need to recognize the Love within...

    @Houston I am glad you caught the double sense of "passion" --thanks for commenting!

  7. Have you read "The Nonviolent Attonement" by J. Denny Weaver?

    I haven't read it yet, but we've been hearing serrmons about it all throughout Lent and it sounds quite good. I'm hoping to pick it up when I get some free time ( time.)

  8. @Alan No, I hadn't heard of that book. I will pick it up...

  9. This is one of the most moving, truthful and inspired comments on the Crucifixion I have ever read or heard!


  10. All true! However, was Christ not also the pre-ordained sacrifical lamb for the atonement of sin. Regardless on how or why, this required a death.!

  11. Thanks Aussie!

    @gibbief was Christ not also the pre-ordained sacrifical lamb for the atonement of sin.

    I think that was later theological reflection in an attempt to make sense of his death. I don't find it particularly credible.

  12. I just have to say something about a relevant question that gibbief has asked here :

    "was Christ not also the pre-ordained sacrifical lamb for the atonement of sin."

    Remember that atonement is comprised of the words At-one-ment.

    Jesus taught us that we are 'all one' - we just aren't aware of it yet!

    About 'sacrificial lambs'.

    I remember being very hurt, confused and disgusted with this text as a child. The very thought that the Creator and Father of all should require a 'blood sacrifice' before his love was great enough to forgive, LOWERED the God I believed in into the same category as 'Baal' and other pagan gods who demanded blood sacrifices to satisfy their ego. This seemed to me to be the ultimate insult to what I knew as THE DIVINE LOVE.

    I actually told my Sunday School teacher that this picture of God was false, and the work of the Devil!

    Today, in my twilight years, I see it as a 'carry over' from ancient times when religions were influenced by the pagan beliefs around them, and when it was thought that punishment and retribution were the primary characteristics of God. Remember that the ancient Jewish religion practised the sacrifice of a perfect lamb at passover. So this traditional belief was carried into Christianity, and sadly has intensified over the centuries, even though it no longer exists in modern Jewish practice. They have grown up. Our religious leaders have not!

    It is a form of spiritual blackmail. It threatens and is born of hate, not love.

    These very errors Jesus sought to correct, by showing that the true nature of God was LOVE. Our 'punishments' we bring upon ourselves, by the natural process of cause and effect. We are our own greatest judges, juries and executioners.

    God demands no sacrifice, but a pure, contrite and loving heart.

    Just my experience!

  13. Great sermon...thanks for sharing it!