John 19: 17 – 37 The crucifixion and death of Jesus

John 19: 17 – 37 The crucifixion and death of Jesus

The crucifixion of Jesus

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write “The King of the Jews”, but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’

Pilate answered ‘What I have written, I have written.’

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said.

‘They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’

So this is what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the discipke, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

The death of Jesus

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now it was the day of preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.’

*       *       *

St John describes the crucifixion very briefly.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

He doesn’t go into detail; he didn’t need to; his readers would all have been familiar with the practice. In our time, we aren’t familiar with it – thank God! – so we have no real idea of the horror. Suffice it to say, it was a procedure designed to strip the humanity from the victim, by the infliction, in public, of humiliation and intense pain continued until death.

The soldiers did that to Jesus, and I have to ask ‘Why?’

It was clearly willed by God the Father. There’s no getting around that.

I cannot see how a God of love could demand such a thing.

Let’s see what might allow it to happen.

Firstly, let’s ascribe responsibility for the execution itself to the right quarter. It was Roman soldiers who carried out the crucifixion, on the orders of a Roman governor, in response to the lobbying of the chief priests of the Jews. In other words, it was human beings that put Jesus on the cross. It wasn’t God.

Secondly, God the Father did not demand that Jesus be crucified. Jesus’ crucifixion is not a sacrifice to God.

Thirdly, God the Father could see that a certain sequence of actions would bring about the crucifixion of Jesus. In that sense, he planned the crucifixion.

Fourthly, Jesus, throughout his whole life, subordinated his will to that of God the Father. Like all of us he had free will, but he chose in every action to implement God’s plan.

Fifthly, Jesus continued steadfast in God’s will until the very end of his life. It was immensely costly; when we read the synoptic gospels we see that he was terrified at the prospect of being crucified.

Sixthly, it must have been in some way necessary. And now I’m starting to guess at mysteries, so take what I write with caution; it’s probably mostly wrong and certainly incomplete.

Perhaps part of the answer can be found in John 16: 7 “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Despite the flawed nature of humanity, we can experience God living within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. This is our access to God the Father. This gives us strength and guidance as to how to become better people. Perhaps God’s long-term plan is that humanity should eventually be able to live authentically good lives? Wouldn’t that be worth Jesus’ (completely voluntary) sacrifice on the cross?

Well, that may indeed be the case, but why does it require such a horrible event? Or, to make it even sharper, why does God have a plan that includes the crucifixion? And I think to even start to understand that we have to return to my first point

“Firstly, let’s ascribe responsibility for the execution itself to the right quarter. It was Roman soldiers who carried out the crucifixion, on the orders of a Roman governor, in response to the lobbying of the chief priests of the Jews. In other words, it was human beings that put Jesus on the cross. It wasn’t God.”

Sin, or doing the wrong thing, is built into human society. It is firmly cemented into the power structures. When power structures are seriously challenged, they respond with violence. Take the case of the military junta that ruled in Argentina in the nineteen seventies. They didn’t want people working to help the poor. They snatched people who did so – teachers, health workers, union representatives – imprisoned them without trial, tortured them and killed them. Tens of thousands were murdered in this way.

I firmly believe that any power structure that is vigorously challenged about its wrongdoing will respond with violence, especially if it looks as though it may be forced to change its ways

I suggest, very tentatively, that the crucifixion of Jesus was the example we have been given to follow. We have to be prepared to challenge evil, not just in our own lives but in the society in which we live. It almost certainly won’t lead to martyrdom – although it may – but it will always be costly.

And why should we follow a course of action that could cost us so highly?

Because the really important aspect of Jesus’ crucifixion is actually his resurrection, the act by which God says “It is worthwhile challenging evil, because good has now overcome evil, and will do so onwards throughout history.”

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Help us to challenge evil, and to support those, like Médécins sans Frontières, who try to mitigate some of the worst  consequences of evil in our human power structures.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: