What a blessing it was to play the role of Jesus today in The Trial of Jesus at Manchaca United Methodist Church. Hanging with Mark Osler, Jeanne Bishop, Joy Tull, and the great folks at MUMC was a much-needed shot in the arm. From the Sunday School time to worship to the fellowship meal to the Trial itself, I was challenged and inspired in numerous ways. It was such a fitting way to start off Holy/Passion Week, experiencing in some small way not only what Jesus the condemned-to-die-criminal might have experienced, but also what it might feel like to be a criminal defendant in a modern-day court. These people want me to die, or at least rot in prison. They have the power to take my life. Could I have done anything different? Where did I go wrong? Maybe I should die? Could they just give me another chance?
As I sat there in silence relying on others to defend my life, the crowd had the power to decide if my life was still worthy of living. Humbling. Haunting. Holy.
Here are some pics from the day, and below I share a few more thoughts.
Today, as I sat listening to the story of Jesus’s last week of life during worship and then the arguments and evidence being weighed by the “jury” at the Trial of Jesus, I was struck by the immensity of the power of the crowd. The power of the crowd to sway spirits in worship of a long-awaited King. Crowd power in shouting for his life. Powerful crowds in determining who should live and who should die. The power of a crowd to curse or bless, to seek healing or throw stones, to share a meal or prohibit children or untouchables or sinners from entering the fold, to seek life or to seek death. Crowds. Power.
Which way will we use our own crowd power? In judgment and condemnation of those we know to be guilty. Or in mercy and love for those we hope for redemption. Either way, crowds carry with them great power. The power to condemn and crucify. The power to demoralize and steal dignity and worth. The power to correct anything that stands against love. The power to do justice. Power. Crowds. Hosanna! Guilty! Save us! Crucify him! Mercy! It’s the law! Lock’em up! Give her a chance! Throw away the key! Praise the Lord! He should die! God is Love! Power. Crowds. Which one will we be…
In Texas, to sentence a convicted defendant to die, a jury must answer Yes to just the following two questions:
The first question is whether there exists a probability the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a “continuing threat to society”.
The second question is whether, taking into consideration the circumstances of the offense, the defendant’s character and background, and the personal moral culpability of the defendant, there exists sufficient mitigating circumstances to warrant a sentence of life imprisonment rather than a death sentence.
Today, the “juries” at the Trial of Jesus got pretty hung up on this word “threat”. I don’t blame them. What does that mean? A judge is not likely to define it for them. Left to their own devices, juries must choose. Life or Death based on this probability of a threat, whatever it means.
Was Jesus really a “continuing threat to society”? You bet he was. Jesus came to turn society upside down, to invert all that society thought was true, what was right, how to live. Flipped on its head. Challenged to its core. Transformed. Yeah, that’s a threat. Yet, Jesus had something even better to offer. New life, abundant and eternal. Love, not hate. Truth before the powers. Forgiveness, not condemnation. The way to live the life that is truly life. All the fullness of justice, mercy, joy. Hope. Belonging. Acceptance. Grace.
All these things Jesus came to bring us were threats, ongoing ones at that, to the world order. They still are. Will we see beyond these threats and into the heart of God, knowing God’s reign is truly near? Will we let Jesus’s threats to our worlds as we know them have their way with us, changing us, moving us from lies to truth, from ashes to beauty, from devastation and despair to new life and hope? “Threats”, as Jeanne Bishop so wisely and beautifully stated today, “from Jesus are actually promises.”
And now, what will we as a crowd do with our power in response to Jesus’s threats? The verdict is in our hands…