Good Friday C, 2014
Luke 23:1-32

A Liturgy is also available


Of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ (some years ago)
there was one thing nearly everyone was in agreement on:
it was shockingly brutal and violent.

On everything else Gibson’s film divides.

Let me say up front: I did not view the film.
I agree with a colleague when, writing in the Uniting Church paper Insights, he said:
“I am offended by violence...  I wonder if too much violence, full in the face of the viewer, desensitises them to the greater violence in the community enacted by wise political leaders ‘in the name of God’...  We have put too many people violently on crosses in our world, isn’t it time we found ways to bring them down” (Doug Purnell. Letters... Insights March 2004/2).

However, I did not escaped
the TV film clips,
the advertisements,
the Ken Duncan photos from the film-set now published in a book, and
the reviews and commentaries.

People shaped and nurtured by a fundamentalist, pentecostal theology,
declared the film is a ‘faithful’ and ‘accurate’ account of what happened,
supporting the theology that the death of Jesus
was a sacrifice for sin and all part of God’s plan.

People shaped and nurtured by a progressive liberal theology,
declared the film mediaeval, confusing liturgy for history, anti-Jewish
(rather than anti-Semitic),
and where ignorance and prejudice have scored again
over scholarship and integrity.

Of all the reviews I read, including the most detailed of series offered by Jack Spong,
the one written by John Carroll,
professor of sociology at La Trobe University in Melbourne (Vic)
in the Sydney Morning Herald, was most helpful.

John Carroll wrote:
The Passion fails, crucially, at what in the Jewish tradition is called midrash. That is the method of retelling fundamental stories and their classical themes in ways that speak to the new times. Every new generation has to midrash its stories. This film reverts to the Middle Ages; it lacks spiritual force; it does not uplift; and it leaves little sense of who this extraordinary man was, and why he changed Western history” 
(Carroll 2004. SMH 3 April/Spectrum 4-5).

So, in the spirit of John Carroll’s comments, with Mel Gibson’s film
(and some other ‘Jesus’ videos I have recently received, as well) as a backdrop,
and on this Good Friday morning,
let us again reflect on the question: why did Jesus die?


Jesus died because he was publicly and brutally executed.
He certainly did not want to die.
He died as a result of his passionate, imaginative living.
He died as a result of a decision not to deviate from the God-Self-Neighbour relationship he continually lived.

What Jesus said and did and stood for...
collided with all that was heartless and oppressive
in a social religion that had forgotten its real meaning.
His healings on the Sabbath.
His acts of forgiveness.
His stories which turned conventional social wisdom upside down.
His association with that society’s outcasts.
His speaking in the name of the God of compassion...
all tore open the social and religious fabric of his time.

Either that social and religious order, or Jesus, had to go.

I really like what biblical scholar Brandon Scott has said:
“... one can see in Jesus’ language-activity the seeds of a conflict that could easily escalate to a confrontation and to death... Rome’s rule is built on the premise that the local population is divided and distrustful of each other.”
  (Scott 2002:35)

And again... some telling comments from American colleague John Shuck:
"Jesus was about making changes in this world. That is what got him killed. He talked about compassion. He talked about moving beyond ethnic boundaries and divisions. He talked about forgiveness. Not something you go to the priest for or even to God for, but your neighbor. That is the one we hurt. That is the one from whom we need forgiveness. We get it as we give it. He worked to bring people together: Samaritan and Jew, Greek and Roman. He practiced an open table, rich and poor, male and female. He challenged unjust boundaries and rules. That is what got him killed. Dying was
not his reason for living. Living was his reason for dying. For life, he died. For integrity, he died. For compassion, he died. For justice, he died.  For change, he died...  I think it is a sham and a shame that the religious establishment distorted his story.” ('No More Crosses’  3/2010)

And to complete my list of quotes, this from Rita Nakashima Brock, author of Saving Paradise:
“One of the great controversies to emerge from [the] Re-Imagining [conference] was our rejection of the atonement, the idea that the torture and execution of Jesus Christ saved the world. My theological career has been spent dismantling that doctrine. I want to tell you today that I am convinced that atonement theology is the deepest betrayal of Christianity ever perpetrated. It is not just one way to understand salvation, but a betrayal of salvation, a doctrine that abandoned the life and ministry of Jesus Christ for loyalty to Caesar and his legions.” (Brock 2009)

So my comments in response to Mel Gibson’s film
and all the fundamentalist hype which has gone on since its release, are:
• The cross is about Jesus’ integrity, not sacrificial atonement;
• God’s love is not about supernatural payment or rescue, but, to quote the process theologians, divine sharing in human suffering;
• Jesus did not invite the cross but accepted it rather than abandon his vision or glimpse of what the world can really be like
when you look at it with God’s eyes.

And one additional personal comment.

Jesus attempted to pass his vision or glimpse along,
as he told about it in stories and sayings and conversations.

He did not write a definitive essay or the complete book.
And more often than not the ‘book’ we have
hides more of Jesus than reveals him.  
(Robert  Funk)

Instead, his efforts were more like that of a painter who uses broad strokes.
And those strokes were ones which
enlarged God to include humankind
and enlarged the self to include the neighbour.


Why did Jesus die?
Integrity to a vision rather than a sacrifice for sins...
That’s what I and many others of the progressive theological spirit
want to claim the ‘cross’ is a symbol of.

And that is a hundred miles away from both
the empty heart of the Apostle’s Creed, and Mel Gibson’s film
and his fundamentalist medieval Catholic theology.

It is also, I believe, a far more appropriate and suitable vision
with which to shape a 21st century faith.

As Marcus Borg sums up his 'Lent and the Cross' article:
"Imagine: what if Lent and Holy Week are not about Jesus as a divinely-ordained payment for sin but about protest against a world that makes martyrs of the prophets?
"And imagine: what if Easter is about God saying “yes” to Jesus and what he stood for and “no” to the powers that killed him?
"Imagine that Christianity is not about an afterlife for those whose sins are forgiven.
"Imagine that it’s about participating in Jesus’s passion for the transformation of “this world” into a world of justice and peace.
"Imagine that it’s about a passion to change “this world.” What difference might that make for what it means to be Christian..."
(MBorg.  14/3/2014)

Brock, R. N. & R. A. Parker. Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of this World for Crucifixion and Empire. Boston. Beacon Press, 2009.
Funk, R. W. Honest to Jesus. Jesus for a New Millennium. New York. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.
Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.
Shea, J. The Challenge of Jesus. Chicago. The Thomas More Press, 1975.