“Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross!”
In this way, those who passed by Jesus while on the Cross mocked Him and “wagged” their heads at Him.
It all seems so wrong, this Crucifixion thing. It doesn’t seem to make sense. Surely it could have been avoided, surely there was another way, another plan. It just doesn’t seem right.
So you think you’ve had a bad day? Then maybe it’s time to put things in perspective by reliving the events of Good Friday.
Frankly, I’m exhausted by Mark 15 and by the scenes leading up to the Crucifixion. It’s all downhill after the Last Supper. Even the Last Supper is the time and place where Satan entered Judas. What should have been the ultimate Happy Meal was marred by the satanic attack.
And then it gets worse. Jesus goes and prays but finds that even in prayer His disciples will not remain faithful to Him. His soul is in anguish and can find no relief, except from the interlopers who have come to take Him away forever. His own friend, the one with whom He had just broken bread, comes to betray, armed with an army of malefactors. He is betrayed by a kiss and then led roughly away.
If you think anyone is going to intervene in this ultimate mockery of justice and all that is good and holy, you are wrong. He endures a bogus trial by the Sanhedrin, after which He is betrayed again, only this time by the one He had hand selected to be the Rock. But the rock crumbles into pebbles.
And then another trial, so that the Gentiles can also be equal partakers in declaring war on the Prince of Peace.
Have you ever been picked last in a game or in a P. E. class? Do you remember that feeling? What if your own countrymen chose Barabbas, a notorious murderer and thief, over you?
And then it gets personal. The Roman soldiers mock the King of kings and crown Him with a crown of thorns. They strike Him in the head and spit on Him and mock-worship Him. Has anyone ever spat on you? Can you imagine how that feels? Surely, someone has mocked something good that you’ve done or mocked you for being or doing good. Have you ever been beat up or physically abused?
What if all of this happened to you on the same day? It’s almost as if Jesus had to endure every category of humiliation for us all in one day.
And then on the Cross itself the very people for whom He is hanging on the Cross begin to mock Him. This hurts in a special way because of the kernel of truth contained in it. He will indeed destroy the Temple and raise it up in three days, and He could indeed save Himself and come down from the Cross. He had the power to do so.
How the words of the chief priests must have hurt when they said, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Isn’t that exactly what Jesus would have desired – to conquer the Cross by coming down off it and demonstrating His power and authority so that all who saw might believe?
Here we see Satan pulling out all the diabolical stops, tempting one last time with the most reasonable and holy temptation of all. Come down and show everyone you’re God so You can save them.
That’s what I would have done, which is precisely why it’s a good thing I’m not God. It also explains why I am so spent after having read Mark 15. It all seems so wrong. It’s not the way I would have written the story because it’s not the way I want the story of my life written either.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I get a lot of practice on my own life, imagining how things might have turned out differently. Without meaning to, I get a lot of practice in telling God how to run His business.
Jesus should have come off the Cross to show everyone who He was, at least the way I want to tell the story. And in my life I am constantly pleading with Jesus to come off the Cross and save me. There are many things I want to be delivered from, and I want to be delivered from them when I ask Jesus to deliver me.
And so often He doesn’t. Why does He do this? Why won’t He come off the Cross for me today? I’ve had a pretty rough spell in my life the last six months, and sometimes I feel as if I’m going through Mark 15 in microcosmic form. And so I ask Jesus to come down off the Cross from me.
Unwittingly, I am like the passersby and chief priests and scribes when I ask/command Jesus to come down. I am better than they, in that I am not mocking Him and I ask from belief. And yet when I insist that God come down to me in my time and in my way, am I not, along with them, violating the second commandment? Am I not, with them, worshiping God in my own way, a way that He has not commanded?
The fact is that Jesus doesn’t come down off the Cross. Instead, He patiently endures it and sees it to its crushing end. Worse, for my way of thinking, He resurrects offstage. He doesn’t come down from the Cross where everyone can see Him, at the time when they are looking for Him. When He comes back to life, no one is there to witness the actual Resurrection.
Instead of a flash of glory that no one could deny, we get evidence that Christ was resurrected. It’s true that the disciples see Him in person, but all we receive is certain kinds of evidence that require faith to connect the dots. It’s as if He wants to involve us in the work of making Him known and as if He is making faith an irreducible necessity.
What I really want to know is why does He seem to work offstage in my life as well? He doesn’t come down right when I ask Him, in the time and manner of my choosing. Instead, He works secretly and mysteriously, so much so that I’m prone to miss Him altogether.
Why does He do this? Wouldn’t it be better for my life if I were healed this moment from all my fatigue and confusion and fears and doubts and worries? Wouldn’t it be better for my faith if I saw Him work with a more direct response to my requests?
God frustrates my attempts to manage, direct, coerce, cajole, and imagine Him into doing what I want Him to do. He wants me to learn that He is in control, and not me: He will not come down off the Cross just because I want Him to. He will do so because He wants to. It is I who must come and climb up on the Cross with Him, to go wherever He is.
I have a new favorite film, one that has actually dethroned Cool Hand Luke as my all-time favorite film. It’s Diary of a Country Priest, directed by Robert Bresson and based on the novel of the same name by Georges Bernanos. I consider it to be one of the best films of all time and highly recommend it as possibly the most spiritual film ever made (I still have a lot to see before I can make this judgment, and I am flush from having just experienced it.) In the movie, Bresson has the frustrating habit of purposely holding out the resolution of a scene until after the scene has ended and another scene has begun. We want there to be a one-to-one correlation between what is being said, what is happening, and what we are experiencing, but they don’t all align and adhere until later.
I think maybe Bresson took directing lessons directly from God, for this is how He directs our lives. (I also like the way that God, like Bresson, uses real people and not actors in His stories!)
And so where am I in today’s scene in God’s mystery play?
I want the Resurrection, but am I willing to be with Him through the humiliation, Passion, and Crucifixion? Do I really want Him – in the way and time that He desires to give Himself to me?
That’s the question for me and for you today.
I know what I’ll do: I’ll go and rewind to Mark 15:29-30 and find myself at the foot of the Cross again. But this time I will not tell God what to do. Instead, I’ll humbly make my request known to Him and entrust the next scene to the Author of Life, letting God tell His Story the way He wants to tell it to and through me.
Prayer: Prayer for Acceptance of God’s Will
O Lord, I do not know what to ask of You.
You alone know what are my true needs.
You love me more than I myself know how to love.
Help me to see my real needs, which are concealed from me.
I do not dare to ask either for a cross or for consolation.
I can only wait on you. My heart is open to You.
Visit and help me, for the sake of Your great mercy.
Strike me and heal me; cast me down and raise me up.
I worship in silence Your holy will and Your unsearchable way.
I offer myself as a sacrifice to You.
I have no other desire than to fulfill Your will.
Teach me to pray. Pray You Yourself in me.
Amen. (Prayer of St. Philaret Patriarch of Moscow, Russia)
Point for Meditation:
In what ways am I dissatisfied with the way God is telling the story of my life? Which of these ways are due to sin in my life, and which are due to a lack of faith?
Resolution: I resolve today to practice entrusting my life, my troubles, and my requests to God, allowing Him to tell His story in His way.
Cruxifixion – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Generic 2.0 license