Human beings will do almost anything to protect ourselves, our reputations, our traditions, our interests, and our ways of life. Sometimes this is a good thing, and it leads to our survival as individuals and as a species. But sometimes, our desire for self-preservation is so destructive it leads us to commit or condone some pretty terrible things. Many times in history, people have decided that it would be easier to kill someone than to listen to them or to deal with them. This hasn’t always been the right move.
One story where self-preservation went too far is found in the gospel of John in chapter 19. John 19 is not a feel good story. It’s not uplifting. It doesn’t begin or end happily. In John 19, Jesus is arrested, slapped in the face, flogged and beaten, and pierced in the head by a crown of thorns. He’s nailed to a cross, the cruelest of all means of execution by the Roman government, and he’s killed. The crowd of religious leaders and other onlookers want him dead, the Roman soldiers beat him and kill him, almost no one in the scene is innocent. Why do they do this to him? Because he’s loved the unlovable, he’s challenged the unjust systems that hold people down, he’s called into question religious traditions that are upheld for the sake of tradition alone, he’s healed people when they didn’t deserve it, and he’s given things to people who hadn’t worked for it. He’s asked people to evaluate who they really are at their core, to look at themselves, their hearts, their motives in comparison to the perfect love of God.
What we see throughout the gospel of John is that in the light of the perfect love of Jesus, nothing can be hidden. When all of our brokenness and sinfulness and selfishness and pettiness have a light shone on them so that everybody can see us as we really are, it’s much easier to turn off the light than it is to try to change what the light reveals. The light of the world, the son of God, came into the world to show people how to truly live the way they were created to live, and it’s different than how most of us choose to live on our own. Rather than accept him and embrace him, rather than live the fullest kind of life possible, the people beat him and killed him because it was easier to silence him than to follow him.
If Jesus showed up today and turned a light on who I really am, would I welcome him or would I want to kill him? If Jesus showed up today and turned a light on who we really are as a Church, a culture, a society, a nation, if Jesus questioned our values, our traditions, our attitudes, and our lifestyles and asked us to change, would we accept him or would we join the crowd in yelling, “Crucify him!”