Friday, April 09, 2004

Defense Wednesday and Good Friday

This Holy Week I had my thesis defense and passed. It's been a long journey, and it came to a happy conclusion this Wednesday. I thank all of you who came and celebrated with me later that night.

Today is Good Friday. Why is it called good when it's the day Jesus died? It seems a most un-good and unjust conclusion to his life.

Take yourself back to that Friday for a moment. Less than a week before, Jerusalem had given Jesus a royal reception, welcoming him as the "true" king of the Jews. Now, in short order he was flogged, pushed derisively through the same streets that had so recently rejoiced in him, stripped naked, nailed to some boards in a public place, and left to bleed to death in slow agony. Good?

Pontius Pilate had a little fun with this execution by ordering a trilingual sign to be placed atop Jesus's cross, proclaiming him to be "The King of the Jews." Yes, smirked the Roman governor, here was as much of a king as the annoying Jews would ever get: a pitiable, shuddering worm of a man, covered in bruises and rivulets of his own blood, as he moaned incomprehensively and died. The Temple priests, who had collaborated in the tortured man's condemnation, were not amused at Pilate's joke. The inscription only inflamed the crowds, who can always be expected to gather for the gorily diverting spectacle of a public execution: they spat on the dying man and mocked him, likely making lewd references to his parentage, and generally convinced themselves that this thing they were ridiculing had never been a man, only the ugly deformity that he now appeared to be. Would any of us have done differently?

Crucifixion was the end that awaited every enemy of the absolute Roman state, the opposite of the peaceful death that all good men hoped for; instead, an end in which one's dignity and pride were torn away, then all shreds of one's identity in life, and finally the semblance of one's humanity till one died the comic gargoyle of the moment.

For Jesus's disciples, this Friday was far from good. The crucifixion hit like an earthquake, destroying in a moment their entire world. No matter how many times he had told them that the "Son of Man" would have to suffer and die, they had not really listened: they had pushed it aside as the one part of Jesus's message they didn't want to hear.


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