So Jesus is dead. Jesus’ ministry appears to have been cut down and crushed by the government, just as it was taking off, and is now lying cold and dead with his body in the darkness of the tomb. Jesus’ followers are not only denied access to him: the police are stopping them from even venerating his body. The state, or, in the words of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, “the tyranny of the majority”, seems to have won. And certainly, if God was not around, if there were no absolute truths, that would be our situation.
And so Jesus’ dead body and crushed movement tells us of the dangers of abandoning ourselves to the limits of human goodness and ingenuity alone. It will always fail, because human beings always fail, all the time. If we depend on a conscience without the commandments, or the services of the state without reference to the eternal truths which limit human action, this is certainly what will continue to happen to innocents out of favor with the majority: they are crushed. It is for this reason that in our intercessions today, we will pray for those who do not believe in God, and for those in public office: because without reference to universal truths, they are answerable to no one, and can treat anyone any way they wish. This is why, in a year of election and plebiscite, we have a responsibility to protect ourselves, and all innocents, by informing ourselves of what the infallible Son of God teaches, and why,
But what is even more important, and difficult, to acknowledge too is that Jesus is only lying there, on this bare slab of rock in the middle of our church, dead and scratched and nailed, because of us. We nailed him, we scratched him, we killed him. Now we might recoil from this, and say, but of course, if Jesus was alive today, I would never do anything like that. Well, that’s not what he thinks. He thinks it was you and me. That’s what he’s just said to us. He was despised and we took no account of him, God tells us in the first reading, Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins… each taking his own way, and the Lord burdened him with the sins of all of us. He says the same thing in the psalm: I am like a dead man, forgotten in men’s hearts, like a thing thrown away.
Jesus isn’t trying to bung on the Catholic guilt. Rather, he wants to be in a loving relationship with us, and so, like in any authentically loving relationship, points out our blind spots so we can become better people, and stop hurting ourselves and others as well as him.
Yet Jesus’ love is so powerful that it changes the way we hurt him into a tool for good. Why? Because he lets us do it. He loves us so much that he respects our choices even when they hurt him, because he is confident that when we see how patient he is with us, we will realise: wow, he really loves me. He really does respect my freedom, because he even lets me hurt him if I want to. This permits us to make that step necessary to any relationship: to trust him. Enough to hand over control of our life to him, our only perfect lover and Master.
And I think this is the central message for today – the same message as that at Christmas. Nobody can be afraid of a tiny innocent baby. And no one can be afraid of a God who will patiently let himself be taken away and scourged and crowned with thorns and humiliated and slapped in the face, as we heard in the Gospel. So let us stop being afraid of God. Let us stop listening to the ridiculous objections the devil suggests to us, and live differently, and come to God often, every day in prayer, every week at mass, and every month in confession. Let us be confident, then, as the letter to the Hebrews told us, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help. Jesus’ crown was his thorns, and his throne was his wooden cross. This is one reason we will soon take time to venerate the cross: not only because it is stained with the blood our Beloved shed for us – but because it is the throne of grace, our ladder to heaven, and the sign of the peace and joy and interior unity that only his forgiveness can give.