Of all weeks, this is the week that followers of Jesus ought to be thinking seriously about justice.
This is not the time to be absorbed with private, sentimental thoughts of lilies and butterflies, or even of a peaceful life after death.
Our faith evolved out of a profound injustice that was perpetrated on an innocent human being two thousand years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem. As if to drive home the point, Matthew describes the conversation of the two thieves who are hanging on either side of Jesus. One guy says, “Save yourself, you would-be Messiah!” The other chastises him, saying, “We deserve to be hanging here, but he doesn’t, because he has done nothing wrong.”
And to top it all off, all of the Gospel accounts depict a Roman soldier who, watching as Jesus succumbs, utters, “Surely this was the Son of God!” This was a frank admission that the execution was a terrible mistake.
The fact is that Jesus should not have been arrested, condemned, and executed. He should not have died on Calvary. He should have lived to be a ripe old age, slowly proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God all the while. (I dispute the notion that Jesus’ death was theologically necessary, as if the only reason he was born was to die. But that’s another post.)
Jesus’ life and teachings were the epitome of justice; he preached and lived right relationships with God, self, others, and creation. He went about putting things right, through acts of healing, exorcism, and where necessary, resurrection.
What happened to him was plain injustice. He was arrested on flimsy charges, condemned on the basis of false witnesses, and executed like a dangerous serial killer. He didn’t deserve it. The execution was wrong.
But before we rush on to the end of the story, we ought to pause here and let the weight of this judgment fall on us at this particular point in history.
We cannot deny the fact that the injustice done to Jesus is repeated on countless numbers of people every year. And because we are acutely familiar with Jesus the victim, we ought to be intimately aware of the victims of oppression and evil all around us.
When I think of the criminal saying, “He has done nothing wrong,” I think of children born in refugee camps, or to abusive parents, or in wretched, grinding poverty. I think of young women trapped as sex slaves in Thailand and Eastern Europe. I think of young male African-Americans who are headed to prison in a few years because we’ve greased the slide for them. I think of undocumented workers sitting in detention camps near the Mexican border who were caught trying to visit their sick family members. I think of couples who love each other with a fierce commitment, but are not allowed to formalize their relationship with rites and legal protections.
During Holy Week, we replay all the suffering Jesus went through. We visualize the drops of blood, the whipping, the beating, the crown of thorns, and the nails driven into the hands. We might even shed a few tears of our own, as we reflect in the silent darkness on the injustice done to our Lord.
But if we don’t also shed tears for the victims of present-day injustice, then perhaps we never really did understand what Jesus was doing here among us.