The Way of Transformation

Feeding Judas large
The Feeding of Judas – woodcut by Solomon Raj

John 18:1 – 19:42

The Gospel reading for Good Friday tells us the story of a Jewish man who was rejected by Jewish religious leaders and then crucified by Roman soldiers – and in re-telling this story, we have heard the words Jew, Jewish, and the Jews twenty times.

This Gospel was written in the late first century by a Jew, for a community of Jews – and when the author wrote ‘the Jews’ he meant other Jews who didn’t follow the Way of Jesus. But in the centuries since then, this story has almost always been read by people who were not Jews, and told to people who were not Jews –who usually heard that the Jews were the Enemy.

This is how blaming, scapegoating, violence and hatred are perpetuated in human communities. A hard life is much easier to bear when it’s someone else’s fault.

This past week, terrorists brutally attacked Brussels, a few months ago it was San Bernardino, and before that it was Paris. All these young terrorists came from communities where hatred and violent retribution have been nurtured for generations.

When we moved to Beirut, Lebanon in the 1960s, the city was already surrounded by the tents of displaced Palestinians, exiled from their homes two decades before then. By the time we arrived in Beirut, the great-grandchildren of those first refugees were being born in the camps around the city.  Those children, and their children, and their children, were destined to grow up without citizenship, without jobs, without real homes, and without hope.

There are now generations upon generations of oppressed peoples around the world, and not just from Palestine. Imagine the anger, the despair, the hatred that grows in children who grow up without hope. And now imagine being told by your people – again and again – that someday it would be your mission to destroy the oppressors of your people, the oppressors (you are told) have destroyed your hope.

Jesus himself grew up under Roman oppression.  The roads of Galilee, not just Jerusalem, were lined with the crosses of those who had violently opposed the Romans – or simply agitated against them.  Yet Jesus did not nurse his people’s anger. His parents did not teach him to hate the Romans. If the village elders coached him to lash out against the occupying forces, he resisted; and he never called on his disciples to retaliate against their oppressors.  Instead, Jesus said to his followers, “Follow me.”

On following the way of Jesus, Richard Rohr writes, *

Human beings have usually dealt with anxiety and evil by sacrificial systems. Something has to be sacrificed. Blood has to be shed. Somebody has to be killed. Someone has to be blamed, accused, attacked, tortured or imprisoned because we just don’t know how to deal with evil without sacrificial systems. This always creates religions of exclusion and violence, because we think it is our job to destroy the evil element.

As long as we can deal with evil by some means other than forgiveness, we will never experience the real meaning of evil and sin. We will keep projecting it over there, fearing it over there, and attacking it over there, instead of ‘gazing’ on it within ourselves, and ‘weeping’ over it within all of us.

Jesus took away the sin of the world by showing us that sin is different than we have imagined, and letting us know that our historic pattern of ignorant killing, attacking and scapegoating is in fact history’s primary illusion, its primary lie.

We need to face the embarrassing truth that we ourselves are our primary problem. Our greatest temptation is to try to change other people, instead of ourselves.

To ‘scapegoat’ is to blame a problem on someone else – and Jesus of Nazareth became the greatest scapegoat in human history. (Christianity is the only religion in the world that worships the scapegoat as God.) But in worshiping the scapegoat, we should have learned to stop scapegoating.

We must stop believing in the persistent myth of redemptive violence and try to understand the divine plan of redemptive suffering.

Jesus allowed himself to be transformed, and thereby showed his followers the Way of Transformation. But only a small minority of Christians ever got the point (maybe because when Jesus asked us to do the same, we backed away from it as a life agenda and made it into a cosmic transaction between Jesus and the Father).

When we view the cross is a cosmic transaction that takes place between Jesus and the Father, we are asking a lot of Jesus but very little of ourselves. We have become practiced in saying ‘thank you’ to God and to Jesus for this sacrifice, but our deepest ‘thank you’ – following him – will take much more effort.

We will not learn the lessons of Good Friday until we stop blaming others for our sufferings, and resolve to follow Jesus in his Way of Transformation.

Feeding of JudasThe Feeding of Judas one more time:
Jesus already knows that Judas will betray him,
but still includes Judas in the supper where he gives his new commandment:
Love one another as I have loved you.
John 13:34