The Bible tells us that on a Friday before the ceremonial Passover celebration in Israel, imperial forces killed a Jewish rabbi suspected of insurrection. Little did the presiding officials know, this single act would spark a movement that changed the course of human history. It is clear from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ that He came to give himself for the sake of humankind, a stunning act of self-sacrifice through a public, humiliating death. Despite his gruesome execution, the Friday before Easter is annually known as “Good Friday”.
Though he went willingly, the public killing of Jesus at the hands of an unjust criminal court rings uncomfortably close to our present time. As we witness the public, viral executions vulnerable members of our society, we are left wondering if our justice system is any different than the one in the days of Jesus. When we see families separated and deported, we are left concerned about our own lack of compassion. Beyond our own domestic concerns, humanity exist on a planet filled with complex injustices. This includes the plight of the vulnerable around the world, whether they are afflicted through extreme poverty, oppressive systems, war, and violence.
While faithful Christians may differ on their theological perspectives of the Cross, what every believer can agree upon is that the death of Christ was a powerful sign of the just how far he was willing to go to humbly display his love for the world. Isaiah 53 prophetically describes, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” (verses 7-8) The Messiah became vulnerable to the broken corruption of the state’s cultural systems. And like far too many of our neighbors, he was killed without cause. There are many reflections that can be made from this moment, but a screaming lesson for us to grasp is the complicity of the powers in the death of God’s Son.
In Matthew 27, Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus on the charges he was facing. In a private message, Pilate’s wife warned him about his involvement in the sentencing of Jesus: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Verse 19). Pilate’s wife was aware of Christ’s innocence and warned against his unjust treatment, despite the pressure being placed upon the governor. Pilate foolishly ignores her advice. After having a conversation with Jesus, he makes a stunning declaration: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said.” (Verse 24)
The man with the power to sentence Christ (and others) to die, decided that he would absolve himself of complicity in a moment of injustice. The governor used his privilege as a shied to clear his conscience from guilt. He publicly washed his hands of the responsibility to deal with the consequences. Though his act is public and literal, there are many ways that the privileged and powerful can still do this today.
When we do not have friends or neighbors who are affected by flawed immigration policy, it is easy for us look the other way as families are broken up and deported. When we don’t have loved ones suffering from crushing poverty, advocating on behalf of the poor is not our problem. When we are not directly affected by mass incarceration, we will not take its crippling consequences seriously. Whether publicly or privately, by commission or omission, we “wash our hands” of responsibility. Yet, the truth will continue to stare us in the face: we cannot ignore our own complicity.
No matter how much the powerful or we as participators “wash our hands” from the injustice that is all around us, there is no escaping their brutal reality. Broken systems cost our entire society, regardless of who is directly affected by its immediate consequences. We should not mourn our innocent Savior’s death and ignore the repeated violation of innocence all around us.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ came to introduce a new kingdom into the brokenness of the world. Justice and peace are pillars within His kingdom, and that good news of this kingdom’s message extends to everyone. Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection tells us that, now, the vulnerable have an advocate. The poor have a defender. The enslaved have a liberator. The downcast have a redeemer. The broken have a comforter. And the powerful, no matter how much they would wash their hands, will have a day of reckoning.
We have an opportunity, as citizens of this new kingdom, to manifest the biblical justice of the kingdom of God in our time. The responses may be complex, and the solutions may be layered. Yet, it is our responsibility to lead the way as we address the burning issues of our time.
As we strive toward the more just society expressed in the kingdom of God, we remember that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, as Dr. King would say. Justice will reign. His kingdom will come on earth, as it is in heaven. That is Good News for a Good Friday.