The crucifixion of Our Lord is almost always depicted in art showing the torture from asphyxiation on the cross, the nails, the wound made by the spear, the crown of thorns or the beating on the way to Calvary. While these are indeed the implements that took the life of Jesus, they are not the initiators. These did not put Jesus on the cross. People did.
If the art were to depict the back story, an exposé in today’s media parlance, what would it show? Whispering among community leaders? Soliciting and counting support from one’s friends? Formal and informal meetings on how to protect good people from the menace, Jesus?
Arriving at the inevitable conclusion that “something must be done”? Strategizing about when, where, how? Or devising incentives to get the collaboration of power brokers like the government?
All seems so benign, routine and respectable. But, as we know, it was evil. It wasn’t the machinations themselves that are unholy, but the motivations and emotions that led ordinary, maybe even well-meaning people, to bring everything they had to humiliate a man, crush his life and serve him up as a public spectacle.
Religious leaders were threatened even though Jesus had stated plainly he was not there to undo the law, but to put the spirit of love into their practice. They could lose relevance, influence and be called to a different level of accountability in their actions and service.
How could they let a “nobody,” without proper credentials, who did not earn his membership card, show the way of God, which was their business and profession?
And the crowd that earlier had cheered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem simply forgot and later joined in the mass hysteria, giving in to the intoxication of being part of the power base, if only for an afternoon, and then tuned in to a blood sport to break the monotony of an otherwise uneventful day.
I am sure few of us could identify with the cruelty of the crucifixion, but I hope that we can recognize the occasions when we have perceived others as a threat, when competitiveness drove our desire to win and fight for the dominant position, and when jealousy, cynicism and fear caused us to delegitimize and keep out the other. Our pragmatic calculus could lead us to disengagement because the costs outweigh the gains.
Our failings are not that we can be small-minded, rivalrous, self-righteous. Rather, we sin when we are blind to these in ourselves, when we dismiss “the other” as having no claim on our compassion and responsibilities, and when we disown the consequences of our decisions and actions on the well-being of others.
In the suffering that I have seen — starvation; displacement of people, be they refugees or farmers or indigenous populations who lost their land; loss of livelihoods because of climate warming; or lack of care for the mentally ill — I always wonder how we get here.
It would be so much more comforting if the source were the devil with horns and a pitchfork. But the source, unfortunately, looks unremarkably ordinary: indifference, self-centeredness, clannishness, self-righteousness, pride, moralism. More than I like, I see these in the mirror.
On this Good Friday, as we venerate the cross, can we call into view one person or one group who carries a cross for which our own actions or lack of actions may have played a role? Can we recognize these as the sins for which Christ dies to purchase our redemption?
Woo is distinguished president’s fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.