Good Friday | Passion of John (18:1-19:42)

On Good Friday we focus on the cross. Although we are accustomed to seeing the cross displayed in art and even around our necks, for the first several hundred years of Christianity, followers of Jesus rarely, if ever, used the cross as a religious symbol. Crucifixions were still being carried out. To die on a cross was a humiliating and terrible prospect. It was meted out to those who rebelled against Rome, to deter others who might do the same. In fact, one of the earliest depictions of Jesus on the Cross was not created by a Christian. This is a piece of graffiti that was etched on the wall of a building on the Palatine hill in Rome, sometime around the year 200. This image depicts a young person worshipping a crucified man who has the head of a donkey. Beneath the image is a Greek inscription that reads, “Alexamenos worships [his] god”. Apparently, this graffiti was made to mock a Christian by the name of Alexamenos. Early Christians were ridiculed because the man they revered as God died the humiliating and terrible death of a criminal. At times it must have been difficult for Christians to see beyond the shame of the cross.Tracing of the etched grafitto, c. 200In the Passion account we hear on Good Friday, John the Evangelist presents a radically different perspective of how we should view the cross. Depending on what actions and words they focus on, each Gospel writer paints a different picture of Jesus on the cross in order to convey their understanding of the significance of Jesus’ actions. John, without denying the fact that Jesus’ Passion was terrible, wants us to see a deeper truth. John communicates the message that Jesus’ Passion is something glorious. Consider the following examples.

The arrest of Jesus (Jn 18:1-14) becomes a glorious event.Just as is the case now, at the time of Jesus, the arrest of someone was a humiliating spectacle. Today we occasionally see on TV a so-called “perp walk” when some high-ranking figure is put in handcuffs and paraded in front of the press. In the Passion account we find in John, Jesus’ arrest is anything but humiliating. There is no kiss of Judas recorded; Jesus is in full control of the situation (cf. v. 4). When the band of soldiers announce they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus replies “I AM” (v. 5), thereby calling himself by the name of God revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Ex 3). After Jesus says this, John tells us that the crowd fell to the ground (Jn 18:6), an action that people typically did in the presence of the Divine (cf. Gen 32:31; Ex 33:20). John, therefore, has transformed the arrest of Jesus, an event which should have been humiliating, into a theophany, a manifestation of God himself. It is something glorious.

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