Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday (C)

Readings: Luke 19:28-40

So, who killed Jesus?
Who is responsible for his death?
Of course we believe that the death of Jesus
is somehow part of God’s plan for human salvation,
but we might still ask about the human actors in this drama.
This has been a question of particularly intense interest
among Christian theologians and others
since the 1950s when,
in the wake of the slaughter of millions of Jews by the Nazis,
Christians began to reassess the long-held view
that the Jewish people as a whole
were collectively responsible for Jesus’ death
and therefore, as a people, cursed by God.
For Catholics, this process of reassessment eventually led in 1965
to the Second Vatican Council’s declaration Nostra Aetate,
which declared that the Jewish people did not share
collective or hereditary guilt for Jesus’ death
and that “the Jews should not be presented
as rejected or accursed by God.”

Which then leaves us with the question:
if not the Jews, then who?
Where can we lay the blame?
Whom can we hold responsible?
Today’s passion Gospel from Luke
seems to be of limited help here,
since the story it tells is one
in which responsibility is passed around like a hot potato.

The leaders of the Jewish people
would like Jesus out of the picture because he is a blasphemer
and because he has just enough of a following
that his disciples might cause serious trouble
that would bring down the wrath of the Romans on the whole city.
But they don’t want to alienate the crowds
who had greeted Jesus upon his entry into Jerusalem,
so they would like the Roman governor, Pilate,
to take care of the problem.

Pilate does not see Jesus as much of a threat,
and he waffles and vacillates and hems and haws,
not because he wants to acquit an innocent man,
but because he wants someone else to make the decision for him.
So he sends him to Herod,
the ruler of Jesus’ home province of Galilee.

Herod is initially curious, but eventually disappointed
when Jesus won’t perform tricks for him,
so he sends him back to Pilate.
Finally, Pilate, strengthened by Herod’s contempt for Jesus
and incited by the crowd
and the advice of the religious leaders of the people,
agrees to have Jesus executed.

So who is responsible?
Whom can we blame?
There seems to be plenty of blame to go around,
and lots of plausible candidates to hang it on.
But it is unsettling not to have a clear scapegoat to blame,
someone whom I can clearly identify as evil,
the sort of monster who would do the kind of things
I would never do.
It was so much clearer when it was “them” – the Jews –
who were responsible.
It is unsettling not to have a scapegoat,
because it leaves me open to asking myself
if perhaps I might not be all that different
from those who passed Jesus around like a hot potato.
Perhaps I too, like the Jewish leaders,
want those who disturb my peace simply to go away.
Perhaps I too, like Pilate,
am unwilling to act on what I know is true and good.
Perhaps I too, like Herod,
want only the sort of savior who will perform tricks at my behest.

Those responsible for the death of Jesus were not monsters
who did something that I would never do;
they were ordinary people who did what I do on a daily basis.
Their sins are my sins.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:
enlighten the eyes of our hearts and have mercy on us.