Reflection on John 18.1 – 19.42 (Good Friday)

Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.

The Romans were experts at crucifixion. The barbaric cruelty associated with nailing a person to a beam of wood and leaving them to slowly die from weakness and suffocation was a speciality for those who sought to subdue the world through military might and fear. Today we see the same fate being handed out to Jesus, the Son of God, the One who came to bring salvation into this world. 

Following his betrayal, he was arrested and taken before the Jewish authorities, the leader of whom was the one who had said that it was better to sacrifice one man in order that the status quo might be maintained. It is unsurprising that the Jewish court wanted to see Jesus executed and expunged from their lives. But, those Jewish dignitaries did not have the authority to order an execution, and so they entered into an unspoken alliance with the Roman governor.

Whilst the occupying Roman forces were renowned for their ruthlessness, they also had a sense of justice. The condemning of Jesus to death was not a matter of routine. Pontius Pilate went through due process and gave Jesus the opportunity to defend himself. But, rather than begging for his life, Jesus adopted a completely different approach, an approach which left Pilate recognizing the malice of the Jewish leaders. Pilate looked for ways to release Jesus but, in the end, his political acumen caused him to hand Jesus over for crucifixion.

This was all foretold in the ancient prophecies. In the writings of the prophet Isaiah we read of the Servant who was destined to suffer in order that humanity might be brought to redemption. Just as Jesus was born into the humblest of human conditions, so his earthly life would end in ignominious and brutal execution. In order that future generations might come to understand that Jesus is present even in the greatest suffering, Jesus had to endure every aspect of human life, including the ultimate cruelty of crucifixion.

The Passion Gospel is a powerful telling of the end of Jesus’ earthly life, and it is one we should not just hear on Good Friday. This account of our inhumanity towards the One who was without sin holds a mirror up to the way in which we live out our daily lives. We are constantly guilty of hammering the nails into the hands and feet of those who do not deserve such treatment. We are constantly guilty of manipulating circumstances to our own advantage. We are constantly guilty of mocking and deriding those who are weaker than ourselves. But … despite all of our weaknesses, Jesus still offers to wash our feet and to love us … just as he forgave those who crucified him.

Today, at the foot of the cross, we are called to repent, to turn from our wicked ways, and to follow the one who loved us so much that he was prepared to hang on a cross to bring forgiveness and redemption into our lives. Let us pray for the humility to admit our faults and to prove that Christ did not die in vain.