Summary: The fifth sermon in a 2005 Lenten Series
(Opening of the sermon is the dramatic reading script “Forsaken” by Elaine Aadland for the Lenten Series, “Watchers on the Hill,” produced by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2003)
“People fear what they can’t understand.” It’s true. Those who crucified Jesus, and I am not talking just about the military authority, were afraid of him.
What are you afraid of? We, you and I, are afraid of many things.
For example, we are afraid of not being accepted. We fear rejection with a passion. We fear having a displeasing glance thrown our way. We dread the experience of being “out” instead of being “in.” Repeatedly Jesus spoke of rejection during His earthly ministry. John, in the opening chapter of his gospel account, summarized this reality very simply in verse 11 “Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted.”
We fear disqualification. We have a fear that we are going to be disqualified in some way like being fired or not being hired for a job or not making the team. In our nation’s history, we have disqualified various groups of people over the years because they thought different, looked different, or spoke different. Those who made the rules of what qualified for faith and what did not qualify for faith disqualified Jesus. “You lose Jesus! Crucify Him!”
One of the ways we can read the crucifixion story without taking out its real meaning is as a story of who’s in, who’s out, and the how fear of disqualification and rejection motivated people to do what they did.
Like people such as Pilate who, as Mark writes in chapter 15 and verse 15, was “anxious to please the crowd.” He did not want to crucify Jesus. “I find no fault in Him.” However, he feared the uproar and trouble that would take place if he did not give the order for Jesus to be crucified and feared a loss of power. Therefore, he gave into their demands out of fear.
The religious leaders acted out of fear as well. Mark also notes in chapter 15 and verse 10, “For he (that is Pilate) realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.” John echoes this statement in 12:19 of his gospel account when the Pharisees, after the raising of Lazarus from the dead say, We’ve lost. Look the whole world has gone after him!”
Envy drives us to anger because we fear someone who has something we don’t have, is able to doing some we don’t do or cannot do, or is a threat of us because we fear that we will not be liked or admire as before. Hollywood is great at giving us story lines with envy behind them. Think about Buzz and Woody in Toy Story or Prince Charming and Shrek in Shrek 2.
But, what about the guards? What did they have to fear from Jesus?
As I have re-read the gospel accounts of what we now call Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I know that Luke tells us that Jesus was subject to mockery and beating by the guards soon after His arrest as we read in Luke 22:63 -65: “Now the guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him; then they hit him and asked, “who hit you that time, you prophet?’ And they threw all sorts of terrible insults at him.”
We also know that following His death the Roman Captain who stood guard at the foot of the three crosses exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” What did the guards fear? No doubt, there were some soldiers who feared Him, found Him to be, as we heard, “A mysterious figure. A puzzle.” And there were those who saw Him as no threat at all.
Fear makes us do things and say things that we otherwise probably not say or do. Fear creates anger because as someone once wrote (and I cannot remember who) “we get angry about what we fear.”
There was plenty of fear to go around in those hours. We read of fear in Peter who denies Him. We hear it in Judas (“I have sinned…for I have betrayed an innocent man.”) and the deep remorse over betraying Him which drives him to give back the silver and then end his own life.
Even the repentant thief expresses fear as Luke records in chapter 23 and verse 40, “Don’t you fear God even when you are dying?” he asks the other thief.
What do you fear? Do you fear rejection? Do you fear disqualification? Do you fear death?
Did Jesus have fear during this time? Some would argue no because He is God and God is not afraid of anything. Others would ask, “Then what did He feel in the Garden of Gethsemane as He cried out, “Please take this cup of suffering from me. Yet I want your will, not mine?”