We Are All Complicit
As we reflect on the events of Palm Sunday and The Passion according to Matthew, we are reminded by Saint Paul to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” - Philippians 2:5-11
The “mind of Christ” Paul lifts up is that of a self-emptying Christ – that is Christ Jesus does not regard equality with God, that is being created in the redeeming love of God, something to be grasped, exploited or held onto, but rather empties himself, taking the form of a slave, a servant, humbling himself unto death – even death on a cross.
The “mind” of God, the “mind” of Christ is self-emptying; that is, God willingly limits God’s power in order to become engaged in life on earth. And more: God is willing to limit God’s power to undergo the ultimate in powerlessness so that the power and glory of God can enter the world. (Maggie Ross, The Fountain and the Furnace, (Paulist,
: 1987) p.4. New
More provocative than this, however, may be the realization that Christ had no assurance of a reward for his self-emptying. He acted on our behalf without any view of gain. This is what God exalts and vindicates: self denying service for others to the point of death with no claim of return, no eye upon reward. (Proclamation [Fortress,
That is Christ is utterly unlike the power brokers like the Chief Priest and Pilate. Pilate, instead of making a moral and right decision he polls the crowd. He takes advice from advisors, including his wife and her “dream,” but he cannot be moved from simply responding to the public opinion polls. “Who do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ, Messiah?” In Aramaic it is a false choice, for Barabbas translates “son of the father.” Do you want Jesus the Son of the Father, or Jesus the Christ, the Messiah? One can see the confusion this sort of “choice” really is, and what a lack of true leadership looks like as Pilate lets the mob make the decision.
Like many political and religious leaders, Pilate lacks vision – not only about his power and how it might be used, but about his own place in time. We are not unfamiliar with the kinds of myopia and impatience with complexity that blinds Pilate, and the Pilates of all eras and every generation, to the larger scope of things. We are all too familiar with leaders who use polls to devise policies, who use slogans rather than detail their policies, thus pandering to lazy minds rather than teaching people how to reason with real insight and compassion. Such practices are in full evidence in Jesus’ appearance before both the religious and the Roman leaders. Thus, his story serves as a cautionary tale on the daily machinations of power.
We might also notice the economy of the narrative in Matthew. Only six words are used to describe the actual crucifixion itself, and then almost obliquely – “And when they had crucified him…” Then immediately all attention returns to the actions and responses of those on hand: dividing up the spoils, mocking, torturing and tormenting the crucified one. So it is again when Jesus dies, only five words suffice, “and yielded up his spirit.” His Ruach, the very breath and spirit of God, he gives up, lets it go to invigorate his followers. This is self-giving beyond all human imagination.
An important note on the line of the crowd’s often spoken by the congregation in unison: “His blood be on us and on our children.” We must confess, as a Church and as a culture, these words have been used to justify the very worst kinds of anti-Semitism. The Church has been complicit. This was not the intent of Matthew or Matthew’s community, many if not most of whom were Jews. It does foreshadow, however, that the very next generation, the “children” in the text, suffer the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem and nearly all of ancient Israel, an act on the part of Rome that was already fact at the time these words were written. That’s where it is meant to stop. If only that were true.
The fact is that there are those whose lives are lived on the cross with Christ day in and day out. Just this week we have had the images of innocent children and adults having been attacked with poison chemicals seared onto our mind’s eye. Each child has a name, and parents, many of whom were also killed. I was deeply moved as a young family friend searched the internet to find the name of every single person who died in Syria in this attack and posted them on Facebook. “Please pray for them, for their families,” Jonathan wrote. “And then call your representatives, and express your outrage. It is the least we could do, because we are all complicit as Americans and as human beings. We allowed this, and we did nothing to stop it in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and now in 2017. Look at these names. You may have trouble pronouncing them, but try saying them out loud.” I tried and could not get past the first two or three of the fifty-nine names. Perhaps when we read aloud “His blood be on us and on our children,” we can at least remember them all, all fifty-nine, each a child of God. And all others whose lives hang on the cross every day.
To let the mind of Christ become the same mind that is in us means to become cooperators in him with respect to everyone and everything else – to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to strive for justice and peace for all persons; to respect the dignity of every human being. With God’s help and an attitude of self-giving, self-emptying, with no eye on reward nor claim to return, we may yet hear the good news in this ancient story so that we may indeed let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, According to Saint Matthew….(26:14-27:66)