Mark 15: 1-47 & John 18: 33-19:42
We have witnessed the Crucifixion today, once again hearing of the trial, suffering and then death of Christ. The words are familiar, with both Mark and John agreeing on major points of the story. But the differences are also very telling. And these differences really poise difficult questions for us.
It is clear that for the actual telling of the story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, both Mark and John speak from a strong witness tradition. Jesus was arrested by the Jewish authorities, sent to Pilate for punishment, Pilate finds little blame upon Jesus but is convinced by the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ guilt and therefore sentences Jesus to crucifixion.
So what is the difficulty? It lies in the exchange between Jesus and Pilate, as over time it seems the early followers of Jesus sought to portray and more sympathetic view of Pilate. This is hard to reconcile with what we know historically about Pilate, a bloodthirsty and violent governor of Palestine. The question this poised for us, two thousand years later is, what do we make of this political revisionist history?
Crucifixion was a punishment of Rome for those people who committed acts of sedition and violence against the Empire. Rarely, if ever, did Rome get involved in religious struggles and disagreements among the people under the empire’s rule. Furthermore, Jewish leaders in the past had punished blasphemers without Roman oversight in the past. Why this rush to place the emphasis of guilt for Jesus’ death on the Jews and not the Romans? We tend to view the death of Christ as having religious roots, but his form of death and how it happened more reflected a political punishment, which occured at the hands of the Romans.
Why was the church so quick to vilify the Jewish community? Why was the church so quick to try and present a softer image of the Roman Empire, an image that history does not support? Does it make a difference our faith if we view Jewish death as religious more than political? While there is no doubt both play a role in his crucifixion, we cannot ignore the role of the status quo, the powers of this world, to kill Jesus.
If the powers of this world, which the Gospels point to the satanic forces, where the cause of Jesus death, then in placing blame for his death on the Jews, have we ignored the real power behind his death? The same power that even today oppresses others?
Charles Baudelaire wrote in the 19th Century, ” The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”