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

see it?

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

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