In my heart of hearts I am a political scientist, so my Easter meditation is focused on this question: How can a man, acclaimed by throngs of people on Palm Sunday, be sentenced to die on a cross by those same people on Holy Friday? The stakes must have been extremely high for these complex acts to occur so fast. If you believe, as I do, that this man, Jesus, was also God, these events become even more astonishing.
The stakes were indeed so high that the consequences of that switch are still with us. First of all, it seems we are still confused as to whom to blame. A misguided hurtling about of shame has blinded us to the enormity of that event for the human race. Some people have blamed the Jews. Some people have held the Romans as complicit. This bouncing of the blame has been so steady and so ferocious as to be vicious in its consequences. The fact that no agreement on the ascertainment of a simple truth of this sort has yet developed is proof positive that something has gone terribly awry.
It is not “the Jews”, it is not “the Romans” who have to be held accountable for the fateful events of the Holy Week. By implicating a whole people, the blame is so diluted as to become impossible of clear and definitive assignment. This traditional line of historical investigation leads only to obfuscation of what occurred that sad week.
The facts are clear. On Palm Sunday, the people exulted in Jesus. On Holy Friday, they demanded His death. How was this turn of passions engineered? That is the question.
To answer it, we have to backtrack. We have to acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the events of Palm Sunday. Clearly, the Jewish people exulted on Palm Sunday. They laid palms in front of Jesus as He entered
on a donkey. And yet, members of the
Sanhedrin, the elite, were so stunned, they were taken over by so much fear as
to plot the end of Jesus’ apostolate on earth. One can imagine them looking
over the scene from dark chambers. Was it in the middle of that first night
that they sent secret messages to relatives and friends among the Jewish and
the Roman ruling groups? Jerusalem
The question is: What was their fear?
The political answer that is traditionally given covers the entire gamut of fear of forfeiting their power, prestige, and wealth. And, yet, that is not fully satisfactory to cover the enormity of that tragic event. It is the depth of the gap between their fear and the challenge posed by Jesus that needs to be explained.
The answer resonates loud and clear during an Easter meditation. The powers-to-be discovered that they were not going to lose power and prestige and wealth. Jesus did not appear on a horse, sword unsheathed, and followed by menacing hordes of armed marauders. They discovered a deeper reality; they discovered that Jesus challenged the authority that stood at the foundation of their intellectual and spiritual life.
They believed they had authority by virtue of their institutional position on top of a belief system that granted them the right to command the use of force. If it can be said that by the time of Moses the elites were exercising rights in the context of well-defined responsibilities, by the time of Jesus they preserved their rights but felt no sense of responsibility – either toward man or toward God. In the end, they believed that might makes right.
Jesus challenged that notion. Even in the case of expulsion of the moneychangers from the
, Jesus did not challenge either power in
itself nor the forms through which power manifests itself, namely money and
armies; He challenged the lack of responsibility through which power is
exercised and money is used. Temple
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. That is what terrified the elites on Palm Sunday. In Jesus they saw the emptiness – and some might have seen the viciousness – of their lives. And they could not stand the view.
With His actions and teachings, Jesus stripped them of their fig leafs and asked them to put themselves in the presence of our Father in Heaven with only hope, faith, and love in their hearts – with hope and faith, as the apostle Peter said, centered in God, and love for oneself, for one’s neighbor, and for God. They trembled. And plotted for His death. A majority of Jewish and Roman elites tried to deny their nakedness by putting Jesus, the messenger of truth, to death.
Those efforts were in vain. Jesus was resurrected. The spiritual Jesus is still with us. He insists on His request for hope, faith, and love. Hence, He begs us to rely on the power of the Spirit.
We still cannot accept Jesus’ message. How else to explain the horrific events of our days? Do those with power and prestige and wealth behave differently today? If we yearn to avoid the stubborn repetition of the horrid events of the Holy Week, we need to start with a true understanding of Jesus. We need to understand that Jesus did not threaten anyone’s power and prestige and wealth. People with power and prestige and wealth were among His friends here on earth. He simply came to fulfill the Jewish law, the Jewish prophecy, the incredible Jewish insight of the prevalence of the spirit over blind energy and matter as repeated consistently through the ages: “Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel); “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zechariah); “Atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long” (Daniel).
There is one more step to take to foster the reconstruction of the New Jerusalem. We have to comprehend the mechanics of the transformation of a loving mob into a hateful mob. Members of the Sanhedrin were able to switch people’s allegiances on the basis on a lie—a bold lie. They told the people that Jesus planned to become their King, to rule over them; hence, they were going to forfeit their political freedom.
Was that not a lie? Jesus did not conceive of taking away from anyone the freedom that God gave to everyone. Jesus asked not even for a prayer for Himself; the prayer He taught us is to Our Father, your father and mine, the father of the Jews as the father of the Gentiles, the father of the Indians of America as the father of the Indians of India, the father of all the people on earth. Just as for the powers-to-be, Jesus came to give everyone hope, faith, and love.
And there is where the throngs of people are conjoined at the hip with the elites; that is why, in the end, the people became so gullible as to believe a bold lie. The majority of the people were not steadfast believers in Jesus’ message of hope, faith, and love. We still do not believe; and if we do, we do so fitfully and hesitantly.
This is the meaning of Easter. This is the meaning of the Resurrection. The Spirit sits in pained judgment. What we do is our test: we can either die or live in the Spirit. It is not power and prestige and wealth that matters; it is how we acquire, preserve, and use power and prestige and wealth that matters. We are free to either die or live in the Spirit.
The apostle Paul got it all – and expressed it tersely: "Acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God's image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth."
Peter J. Bearse and David S. Wise have helped immeasurably to clarify the set of interrelated ideas included in this presentation.
Carmine Gorga is a former Fulbright scholar. Using age-old principles of logic and epistemology, in a book and a series of papers Dr. Gorga has shown how to bend the linear world of economic theory into a relational discipline in which everything is related to everything else—internally as well as externally. He was assisted in this endeavor for twenty-seven years by Professor Franco Modigliani, a Nobel laureate in economics at MIT. For details, see www.carmine-gorga.us.
Originally published at http://www.spectacle.org/0511/gorga.html