Good Friday 2021
We have listened to John’s Gospel account of the Passion for so many Good Fridays…It is familiar and yet… I never get used to it. I find it painfully sad – every year.
Jesus suffered at the hands of the Roman Soldiers and the Jewish authorities, treated with cruelty, injustice, humiliation – In large part because of their fear of what they did not understand and their desire to maintain political power. As we all know, their reactions and actions led to his violent unjust death by crucifixion.
Almost more painfully, Jesus also suffered from betrayal, denial, and abandonment from his followers… Being rejected by your enemies is hurtful enough – but being rejected by your friends is an entirely different level of pain. I’d like to focus on this today.
Because I believe, this helps us acknowledge OUR capacity for our own betrayal, denial, and abandonment.
There is so much suffering in our world today. As Christians, we are called to spread love, justice, compassion in our world today. How deep is our faith? How steadfast and courageous can we be so that does not betray, deny, or abandon those in need?
John’s Gospel version differs significantly from the other three Synoptic Gospels. Each Gospel writer writes from his own perspective with an intended message… and there are both commonalities and differences.
But John’s account is unique for many reasons… One of them being the portrayal of a Jesus who is in control.
John does not write about Jesus’ momentary struggle in the Garden that we hear in the other Gospels, where he pleads with God to relieve him of his impending suffering. “Take this cup from me” is nowhere in John’s Gospel, in contrast to the synoptics. (I have always felt a little relief when Jesus is shown as doubting God’s plan… it reflects a very human person – not unlike ourselves.)
John’s Gospel portrays a Jesus in control from the beginning to his death. John shows us a brave and steadfast Jesus, who knows God’s plan and knows when it has been completed…
“It is finished”… can be translated as It is Completed.
From the beginning, we hear Jesus speak of his anticipated destiny. He knows he must suffer for the sake of the world.
Perhaps this is what is meant by “You can’t get to Easter without Good Friday”. I have always resisted this…I think – to protect myself.
There just is no way out of Jesus’ suffering…
Today’s particular reading of this portion of John’s Gospel is an adaptation… primarily for the practical purpose of shortening a very long Scripture passage. It appears to be Chapters 18 and 19 integrated into one chapter. It tells the Passion story in essence but some details are missing. I believe it is helpful to look more closely at John’s use of words in his Gospel help us better understand John’s message to us.
John writes intentionally and chooses his words in detail to make us understand the significant theological message of the Gospel … the Good News. His message underlies our understanding of our own Christian faith.
Jesus’ experiences of betrayal, denial, and abandonment do not stop him from spreading his Good News.
His followers were not perfect – we hear about this over and over throughout the gospels. The disciples doubted him when in the boat during a storm. They fell asleep when Jesus asked them to keep watch. They quarreled over who might be favored over another. They misunderstood Jesus repeatedly. Some did not believe when they could not literally witness Jesus’ action. There are many examples.
Why did Jesus choose these flawed people to follow him? They were just regular human beings… just as we are – regular imperfect human beings.
We share some of these negative and hurtful qualities… What does that say about our faith? I wonder what Jesus would think of our imperfect selves? I think this passage gives us a sense of “what would Jesus think/do”… His love was unconditional.
Let’s look at Betrayal:
Jesus suffered betrayal… most obviously, by Judas – but also by others. His other disciples betrayed Jesus in their inability to stand by his side. “Can’t you even stay awake a little while??????”
Judas’ betrayal was most likely a result of his greed. We aren’t privy to his motivations… But we do know that his greed changed him —from a follower to a betrayer. You could say that his greed separated him from the love of God. That is a definition of sin – being separated from the love of God.
I believe the same is true for all of us. We are only human -and greed is part of being human. But it comes with a cost…as Judas learned.
What about Denial?
Jesus predicted and experienced denial from Peter – three times before the cock crowed – as we hear today. John sets up a stark contrast between Jesus and Peter in his Gospel. There are multiple times in scripture when Jesus emphatically identifies Himself with the words I AM … (also a Hebrew term for God ).
Meanwhile, Peter equally emphatically denies his association with Jesus with the response I AM NOT. His response symbolically contrasts with Jesus’ I AM. He claims I AM NOT three times! (The repetition of I AM does not appear in this adapted text today – somebody got creative and used alternative words for Peter’s denial – but the repeated reference and contrast to the Hebrew Bible is important. It symbolically reinforces the intensity and implications of Peter’s denial.
Peter’s denials were not so far removed from Judas’ betrayal.
And of course, there were others who denied him – for instance, remember when Nicodemus came secretly in the dark to learn more about Jesus – it was risky to reveal one’s allegiance to Jesus. He did not want to get in trouble with the authorities. We see a transformed Nicodemus in this text… He bravely steps forward to request the chance to prepare Jesus’ body for burial – using expensive oils that were typically used only on royalty. Like Nicodemus, we all can be transformed by the love of Christ..
Peter was a well-meaning, devoted disciple – He was singled out frequently by Jesus and was given a leadership role – Jesus names him the rock of Christianity. How much more painful it must have been for Jesus to witness Peter deny him. Denial is a betrayal.
How many of us have denied or been disloyal to something or someone? Do we deny our faith when faced with a challenge?
I find myself thinking of the Christian martyrs who would go to their death in the name of Christ.
John also portrays the Jewish authorities denying their faith. Ironically, after self-righteously insisting that they not enter the temple so as to not defile it for Passover…they soon told Pilate that the emperor was their only king… renouncing their faith. As Jewish leaders, this was particularly hypocritical.
Jesus was abandoned by all his disciples and followers. Except for the two Mary’s and the beloved disciple, he was left alone and abandoned. So much for his disciples.
We know that later on the disciples hide in a room because they are fearful about what will happen them with their association with Jesus.
Where do you imagine yourself in this scene…denying at the warming fire? Hidden in a room? Or can you see yourself standing firm with Christ – even in his suffering. Mostly because of his suffering.
I confess that I might have hidden. Fear can cause me to lose my resolve. We must work to strengthen our faith as Christians in challenging times as well as the good.
Jesus died for us. It is the least we could do.