Luke 22:47-53 (CEV)
47 While Jesus was still speaking, a crowd came up. It was led by Judas, one of the twelve apostles. He went over to Jesus and greeted him with a kiss.
48 Jesus asked Judas, “Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
49 When Jesus’ disciples saw what was about to happen, they asked, “Lord, should we attack them with a sword?” 50 One of the disciples even struck at the high priest’s servant with his sword and cut off the servant’s right ear.
51 “Enough of that!” Jesus said. Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed it.
52 Jesus spoke to the chief priests, the temple police, and the leaders who had come to arrest him. He said, “Why do you come out with swords and clubs and treat me like a criminal? 53 I was with you every day in the temple, and you didn’t arrest me. But this is your time, and darkness is in control.”
Three Views of the Story
Back in 1987, a Christian singer named Carmen wrote a song about Easter called ‘The Champion’, and set it in a boxing ring.
In the mid-1990s, the high school Christian group I was a part of was one of hundreds of youth groups that tried to create a drama to go along with this song and then auditioned to perform it as part of the school talent show in some attempt at telling the Jesus story to our peers.
Not surprisingly – maybe even thankfully – we did not get in, but the funny thing about turning a song into a dramatic piece like that is that the words and ideas get lodged in your head almost subconsciously and you find yourself operating out of these messages for months and years and even decades to come.
Today we find the crowd come to arrest Jesus. This moment – to me at least – marks the start of the Good Friday narrative, and I was reminded of this ‘cosmic boxing match’ as I started to think about the various ways that we have come to view what happened at Easter over the years and across our various traditions.
These views affect how we see God.
These views affect how we see the actions of others.
These views affect how we see ourselves and the challenges we face.
‘The Champion’ had a view of God as referee – as arbitrator and distant judge in a match between two opponents. It suggested that Jesus was a brash and arrogant street fighter who duped Satan into playing by his script. It described an underworld teeming with vicious, nasty horribles just waiting to bring you down, tear you to pieces or otherwise bring about violence through anyone and any means possible.
It’s one view of what was happening that night – and it’s a terrifying one – but it’s not the only one.
A second view sees God as army doctor – come to a world ravaged by war and disease and death – who brings Jesus along to be the paramedic, and bring people in for life-saving medications and surgeries. In this world the darkness is the darkness of pain and death and destruction – far more human in it’s origins, but no less frightening, chaotic or dangerous.
A third view talks about the eternally present Divine Dance – where God in God’s wholeness exists in a constant state of love-giving and love-receiving – and out of that light and goodness and infinite love sends one of God’s own into the darkness of our fear and pain and brokenness for a time and a for a purpose. God does this to bring these experiences back to the Dance to be understood fully by love, and to invite us and create a path for us to be welcomed into full participation in the Dance. In this view we simply say, ‘yes – I want to be part of that’ because God has already done all the rest. It is a view that can therefore say you are welcome simply because I AM showed up and because you have chosen to accept the invitation.
Can you see how much these different stories change our understanding of this night?
If there is a distant arbitrator or a judge come to decide our fate – if there are angels and demons lined up on either side of a holy fight – if it all comes down to just one shot and there is an enemy plotting our demise the whole time, we are in deep, deep trouble. It will be easy to conclude that God is aloof and yet someone to be feared; that the actions of others are weighable on scales by everyone – including me – to find if they have ‘won’ or ‘lost’ the ‘battle’; and I will lose my agency leaving me – at best – with a tenacious grasp on a hope that someone will get distracted at the perfect moment and I’ll squeak in.
If there is a doctor – separated by power and privilege and prestige – who has deigned to lower themselves to rescue us because of our utter desperation, then it’s going to be hard to have a relationship with them – hard not to feel pitied by them – hard to feel a deep connection with them. We will be prone to a mental ‘triage’ process when we meet other people – ranking their relative health and need and valuing or devaluing them accordingly. In this view it is possible to feel like I am either ‘not sick enough’ or ‘too far gone’ – both of which will leave me out of options.
But if, out of eternal Wholeness love is constantly being created and recreated;
If, out of a relationship of equals, relationship is offered;
If into the darkness steps a Light that comes into our very deepest shadows – joins in to our very darkest moments with us to learn and co-experience the depths of our pain and our fear – including our greatest fear: death – and then brings that knowledge back again to the Dance of Eternal Love;
If this is the story then all of a sudden I am seen.
All of a sudden there is a place and a space for a real relationship with the Divine, and therefore a way forward into life-giving relationships with those around me.
All of a sudden there is a very real opportunity to choose (rather than hoping not to be condemned) and to turn towards (rather than hoping to be noticed among the dead and dying) and to enter in to a Love powerful enough to change everything.
All of a sudden I don’t have to pretend about who I am or what I have done or experienced, but instead I can be ruthlessly honest with the one who showed up so that he could truly understand – and hold on to the knowledge that I don’t need to beat anyone else to some self-defined finish line of either achievement or illness.
All of a sudden the truth will start to set me free from the power of failure or the pressure of success; love will set me free from fear; and the life-giving relationship that I begin to experience will flow readily out of me to those around me, extending it’s reach and possibility into unfathomable directions.
- Which of the views above best describes your understanding?
- How does your view affect the way you see God? Others? Yourself?
- Romans 8:15 tells us we’re not supposed to be afraid of God. What would it take to be in a place where that was true for you?