Summary: For Good Friday: sometimes we no longer see things because we are too close to them. The disciples saw the cross "at a distance", but the centurion saw it through his callousness, cynicism, and skepticism, and affirmed, "Certainly".
Sometimes when you are too close to something you cannot
see it. Or at least you cannot recognize what it is. You can
be so close that you do not know what you are looking at.
You need somebody else to give you a fresh perspective.
My wife and I buy grocery items when they are on sale,
whether or not we need them at the time. We just store
them until we do need them, confident that we have saved
money. But of course you don’t save money if things go out
of date, so it’s important to store them in date order. It’s my
task to look for those “sell-by” dates and organize the
shelves. But now do you think I can see those dates? Do
you think I can read those little squiggles and codes that are
stamped on the packages? Not on your life! I stare and I
squint and I look at every possible angle on every possible
surface, and see nothing! I give up and put it down on the
shelf, and my wife comes along and says, “There it is, right in
front of you.” What was the problem? I was so close I didn’t
know what I was looking at. I needed somebody with a fresh
perspective. I needed to back off and let someone else see
it with new eyes.
Much of life, in fact, is like that. We cannot see what is going
on in our relationships because we are too close. We cannot
understand when our marriages are going bad because
we’ve spent ten or twenty or thirty years enmeshed in the
same behavior. We can’t figure out what’s going on with our
children, because we have so much tied up in those kids.
We don’t understand why the supervisor on the job is
dissatisfied, because we are too filled up with our own stuff.
We are less than happy about our relationship to God,
because we’ve been in church since Day One, and we’re too
close to know our own hearts. So we go to a counselor to
get a fresh perspective. When you are too close to
something, you just can’t see it any more. You need the
insights of others who don’t come with excess baggage.
At the cross many human dramas play themselves out.
There are the enemies of Jesus, not content with His death,
but who are cheerleaders for cruelty, “He saved others; he
cannot save himself.” There are the common soldiers, just
doing their dirty jobs, dealing with this grim business by
tacking up a mocking sign, “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex
Iudeorum”, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Some
came to scoff, and some to do their jobs; and some came to
die – two thieves, common criminals – one of them
screaming off his searing pain with hostility, the other finding
a wonderful peace. Many human dramas play themselves
out at the cross.
But none are more compelling than the roles played out by
the friends of Jesus, who were too close to see what was
happening; and by the centurion who brought a fresh
perspective and saw the scene with new eyes.
At the final moment, when all is said and the deed is done; at
the crucial moment, when He breathed His last, and all
nature groaned with Him – when the silence fell like a storm
– when the eyes adjusted to the darkness – when the crowds
who had come for spectacle scurried home, afraid – when it
came down to it, there were two responses, two reactions.
The centurion, the officer, who spoke the most honest words
of the day, “Certainly this man was innocent” (or
righteous, or a son of God – the gospels differ slightly on
what he said). “Certainly this man was innocent and
righteous”. Certainly. He had come to know for himself
about this Jesus.
The centurion is one response. And the friends of Jesus are
the other – “All his acquaintances, including the women
who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance,
watching these things.” At a distance. I wonder: does
that mean that those who had been with Jesus could not now
grasp what was happening, because they had been so
close? But the centurion, with a fresh perspective, is able to
Some of us have been around Christ and the things of Christ
for a very long time. We were carried to church when we
were too young to have any grasp of what it was all about.
We have read the Bible, we have prayed, we have listened
to sermons – in case anyone is counting, this one is number
690 for me at Takoma! – we have listened to and preached
sermons, we have sung hymns, we have done it all. And for