Lent Devotional 43

HOLY WEEK: MAUNDY THURSDAY

A few years ago there was a great railway disaster. Two trains, approaching London, speeded on to the same bit of track. Many were killed, several injured.

There was a long official enquiry. At the end of it, after countless hours of agonizing testimony, a report emerged. It was a grievous mistake, said the report. But there was nobody really to blame.

I have oversimplified, of course. But again and again that seems to be the verdict in such cases. Yes, it was terrible. But no, it wasn't really anybody's fault. Most of us, looking on, can't quite get our heads round that.

Matthew has told the story of the events that led up to Jesus' death in order to make exactly the opposite point. Yes, this was a terrible event. And yes, it was everybody's fault. The chief priests have already shown their true colours, and are clearly to blame. Now Judas realizes his own guilt. Then Pilate plays his own cynical game: some have suggested that he was a good man, trying his best to have Jesus acquitted, but most likely his main motive was to try to establish his superiority over the chief priests. Then the crowd join in, and they help the priests to beat him at his own game. But he was certainly to blame as well.

Then the soldiers join in the fun. King of the Jews, eh? We'll see about that. The previous mockery, in front of the chief priests, was making fun of Jesus' claim to be a prophet (26.67— 68). This time it's the claim to be king.

The point is that they all contribute. The crowd may indeed have shouted 'his blood be on us, and on our children' (verse 25) — a chilling phrase which has been horribly abused by many so-called Christians who have used it as an excuse to persecute Jewish people, Jesus' own blood relatives. But Matthew's point is that, though the crowd are indeed complicit, everyone else is too. Only the minor characters like Pilate's wife (verse 19) and Simon of Cyrene (verse 32) stand out in the other direction, and they can do nothing to stop the brutal killing of the innocent Jesus.

We may begin by watching from the sidelines, but the story is designed to draw us in. We find ourselves there in the crowd, shouting like football supporters for this man rather than the notorious Barabbas (the first person in history, but by no means the last, to discover that Jesus was dying in his place). We feel the surge of emotion, of anger that our national hopes have been trampled on by this upstart from Galilee. Or, in the back room of Pilate's headquarters, we find the soldiers, so long fed up with having to police Jewish uprisings, finally discovering someone on whom they can take out their frustrations. These things happen, we think. This is how people react. And, in a sense, who can blame them? That's how it is.

It is precisely 'how it is' that sent Jesus to the cross. Matthew is telling us, in these vivid and shocking human scenes, what Jesus' death is all about. There is a dark twist in 'the way things are'. Jesus came to enter that darkness, to have his own body twisted in pain on the cross, so that the world could be straightened out, so that light could dawn at last.

TODAY
Almighty God, as the darkness closes around Jesus, help us, like Simon, to carry his cross, to be there with him to the end.

SCRIPTURE READING
Matthew 27:1-32