Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 37, Wednesday of Holy Week

Today's Reading: John 19:1-16 (NRSV)

Pilate is an interesting figure.  There is apocryphal material written about Pilate claiming that he converted to Christianity.  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church went so far as to canonize him and now they view him as Saint Pilate.

Some scholars claim that the gospels softened Pilate in order to diffuse conflict with Roman authorities.  With the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, groups might have been hesitant to incur more wrath from the empire.

We know that Pilate served as the governor of Judea for Rome from 26 to 36 AD.  His main job would be to keep the peace and keep the tax dollars flowing back to Rome.  It seems that he was recalled to Rome in 36 after he bungled a riot in Samaria resulting in the deaths of many citizens there.

Within John's Gospel, Pilate is very hesitant to have Jesus killed.  John makes it to be all about the will of the Jewish people.  We do know that people were crucified for insurrection and revolt.  Rome was good about sending a pretty clear message to the populace about what happens to rebels.

Jesus suggests that this is all according to plan.  We have the idea that God wants this to happen or else it would not happen.  The danger in this philosophy is that if we apply this thought across the board and all tragedies are God's will, it doesn't put God in a very good light.

The narrative today makes one reflect on
innocence and guilt.  As we see the response
of the crowd, we must re-think our own
sense of innocence and guilt.
This begs the question, "Did God need a sacrifice for the atonement of humanity or did humanity need a sacrifice to accept forgiveness?"  John implies that it was God's will but this could be because God understands the needs of the people.  For a culture that was steeped in blood sacrifice, the death of Jesus makes sense in a way that may be somewhat confusing today.

Regardless of how we understand the death of Jesus today theologically, humanity continues to show a propensity for violence.  If we think that Christians are immune, we see that American Christians are largely in favor of capital punishment.  The church really didn't bat an eye about the Syrian missile strikes.  This is not to debate the pros and cons of these actions, merely to show that we have a fairly nonchalant attitude when it comes to dealing in death.

What does it mean to go along with the crowd today?  Do innocent people still suffer when we do?
The prayer for the day was written by Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, who was an Anglican leader in Iran.  It was written for the funeral of his son, Bahram when he was murdered during the Iranian Revolution in the 1970's.

Prayer for the day:

O God, we remember not only Bahram but his murderers.  Not because they killed him in the prime of his youth and made our hearts bleed and our tears flow;

Not because with this savage act they have brought further disgrace on the name of our country among the civilized nations of the world;

But because through their crime we now follow more closely thy footsteps in the way of sacrifice.

The terrible fire of this calamity burns up all selfishness and possessiveness in us.  Its flame reveals the depth of depravity, meanness and suspicion, the dimension of hatred and the measure of sinfulness in human nature;

It makes obvious as never before our need to trust in thy love as shown in the cross of Jesus and his resurrection,

Love that makes us free from all hatred towards our persecutors;

Love which brings patience, forbearance, courage, loyalty, humility, generosity and greatness of heart;

Love which more than ever deepens our trust in God’s final victory and his eternal designs for the Church and for the world;

Love which teaches us how to prepare ourselves to face our own day of death.

O God,

Bahram’s blood has multiplied the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls: so when his murderers stand before Thee on the Day of Judgment, remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives, and forgive.

Photo by Victor via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

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