Who is responsible for Jesus' crucifixion?
Matthew 26:14-16, 20-25, 48-50, 55-56
as interpreted by Deborah
When Judas realized that Jesus had been condemned to be executed, he was filled with remorse. He went back to the priests and elders to return the thirty pieces of silver.
He said, “I have sinned by handing over an innocent man!”
But they said, “What’s that got to do with us? Deal with it.”
Flinging the pieces of silver into the temple, he went away and hanged himself.
Too little, too late. If only Judas had resisted the temptation to turn Jesus in, surely things would have been different! His story has always seemed to me the great tragedy of the Gospels: the one who strayed, who fell away — doomed to an eternity of grief.
Yet was it really his fault that Jesus was crucified? What about those wicked priests and scribes, who were endlessly seeking to destroy the Lord?
Depicted as blind to Jesus’ true nature, jealously protective of their authority, violent and stealthy, they set a bounty on the head of an innocent man, and willingly hand him over to the Roman governor to be brutally killed.
Not a pretty picture, and not a fair one, either. Certainly it is true that Jesus was held in suspicion and dislike by the priestly class — he was definitely an outlier, and they may indeed have conspired to have him arrested, but they didn’t act alone.
At any point throughout the Last Days of the Lord, his arrest, conviction, and crucifixion could have been averted. It was all a matter of choice. And it seems that everyone chose badly.
We are told that Pilate, a cog in the wheel of the Roman machine, offered the populace a choice as to who would be released back into their community: Jesus, called “the anointed one of God,” or a different sort of Jesus: Barabbas — one known to be a man of violence. Incited by others, caught up in the excitement of the moment, drawn by the allure of danger, the mob shouted their support for the criminal, and eagerly condemned the man who came in peace.
Ah, such fools! So easily led, so thoughtless; so utterly ignorant of the healing, life-giving gospel. If only they had chosen differently!
Of course we never choose violence over peace, do we? Hmmm. Except for the television programs we watch. And the movies we see. And when we cheer when the quarterback gets sacked, when hockey teams fight, when an umpire’s call ends up in a skirmish that clears the benches. That’s just innocent entertainment, right? Of course there are also the times when we delight to learn that our candidate “crushes the opposition”, when we take comfort in hearing that “bad guys,” are killed, and when “the enemy” is destroyed.
No, we never choose violence over peace.
Pilate, of course, could have refused to get involved in the whole Jesus business. After all, it seems the Lord was a minor troublemaker at best: yes, there were a bunch of Galileans who’d come to town to celebrate the Passover, and the remarkable parade that heralded this fellow’s entry did stir things up a bit. Probably nothing to worry about.
And yet… a small spark can ignite a wildfire. There had been riots and insurrections in the past; the army had been called in, battles were waged; people died, sometimes many people died: men, women, children. In the desperate, frantic last hours, men murdered their wives and children and mothers strangled their own infants rather than surrender. Evil times.
And these religious festivals could be tricky; people’s emotions were high, sweet wine flowed in the market stalls, the population swelled with pilgrims and tourists and troublemakers. If Pilate didn’t intervene, the situation might go critical, harming the people and hurting his career. The reasonable choice was to eliminate the risk: get rid of problem before it started; err on the side of caution.
What else could he do? What choice did he have? Another Israelite uprising might have brought the whole weight of the Roman empire down on their heads; the whole people might have been wiped out, or exiled from their land. (As the high priest Caiaphas reasoned, “It is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” John 11:51.)
Did these things have to happen as they did?
Was there really any choice at all?
Jesus seems to have been convinced that the outcome was a fore-ordained conclusion. Repeatedly he told his followers that “my Time has come,” “Now we must return to Jerusalem,” “So must it be,” “This will fulfill the prophets’ predictions,” and — most alarmingly — “One of you will betray me.” He said these words as a done deal; there was no “maybe” or “might.” And that statement brings us to perhaps the greatest mystery of all.
Judas. The servant of Satan, the great betrayer, the sinner beyond redemption, the permanent, eternally punished, endlessly suffering resident of Hell. Or a fallible, pitiful human being deserving of our compassion?
Why is Judas singled out? None of the disciples were deserving of a hero’s crown. While Jesus was weeping and praying in the garden, his closest companions dozed off. At his arrest, every last one of the disciples abandoned the Lord and fled. Peter denied that he even knew the Jesus on three separate times in a single night.
And there is that kiss. Was it a horribly ironic, fiendish gesture: to betray by a show of affection — or was it was a sign between them that this apparently-hurtful action was not what it seemed? Strange, disturbing, unexplained and inexplicable, it is mentioned in all three synoptic gospels. Would you kiss someone you’ve come to hate?
Does Judas really deserve condemnation above all others for his misconduct — whether it was fueled by anger, or resentment, greed, or frustration (or even, possibly, love)? And there is the troubling fact that, according to all that Jesus had said, the betrayal was a deed that had to be done: “So that the Scriptures will be fulfilled,” “It had to happen this way.” “In keeping with the words of the prophets.” “The Son of Man will be betrayed…”
The word usually given as “betray” can also be interpreted as: “hand over.” While it still denotes a consignment into danger, it might also be understood as the act of passing along — as in a relay race when one runner hands off the baton to the next one along the track.
Is Judas simply “doing his part,” in the great chain of reality that will bring Jesus to where he needs to be? Does all that happens on the road to Calvary “have to be,” because, in our humanness, our neediness, our confusion, our failings and our foolishness, there could be no other outcome?
While the priests, the people, the disciples, Judas, Pilate, and the centurions, all share responsibility in bringing Jesus to Golgotha, the only one who could have prevented his death on the cross was the Lord himself — and that was never a part of the plan. Jesus clearly, intentionally, fearlessly “set his face toward Jerusalem.” He came into this world to confront the powers and principalities, knowing what lay ahead: trials and tribulations, suffering and sorrow, rejection, outrage, and betrayal.
But, above all else, Jesus knew and believed utterly in God’s everlasting, abundant grace and redeeming love. Would this Compassionate Shepherd condemn for all eternity an old companion who’d lost his way, a sinful human whose repentance was so deep and profound that he died from grief? No, in the Lord Christ we have the fount of Mercy, the divine healer who restores life, light, and joy.
Jesus said, “I’m telling you: people will be forgiven for every evil act and thought and word, but defaming the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, not in this age or the next.” ~ Matthew 12:31-32
What is unforgivable is to deny God’s power to redeem.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Pray for all those who have lost their way.