The Politics of Holy Week

I write commentary on the political scene, but some may feel it out of place during Holy Week. I can understand that, and I’m not going to dwell on current events here. Yet it can’t be ignored that the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion were driven by political interests. It was politics that got him killed. Theology had little to do with it.

Jerusalem’s religious leaders had worked out a tolerable rapprochement with their Roman overlords that kept them in political control and assured them a pathway to economic success. It was tenuous because a restive population could upset the whole arrangement if they got out of hand. For their part, Roman procurators had to generate a flow of income to Rome, keep local rulers from asserting too much independence, and be quick to put down any sign of rebellion. They were already in an undesirable place, and any failure on their part could lead to something even worse. In Judea’s case, the Herod family had found ways to ingratiate themselves with the Caesars, so social back channels made it treacherously difficult for Jerusalem’s Jewish and Roman leaders to keep their balance.

The gospel records of Holy Week are about Jesus teaching us his final lessons, demonstrating what it means to follow him, and giving us his presence in the holy food and drink of the Eucharist. The records are about God’s salvific work and the shredding of all that separates humanity from intimacy with God. They’re about forgiveness, love, healing, reconciliation, and the visible triumph of God’s love over all that would oppose it. They’re all of that and more, but not about politics, at least not for those who followed Jesus to the cross, nor to us who are immersed in the narratives of the week.

To Jerusalem’s leaders it was all about politics. It was never about anything else. They had little interest in Jesus’ religious teachings. Peddlers of odd religious ideas came and went. There were lots of wonder workers and magicians who claimed miracles at least as good as his. What made him dangerous was the growing public conviction that he might be the messiah, the political leader who would restore Israel’s independence and face down the emperor. The proclamation that he was not beholden to Caesar’s authority, his apparent ability to unify Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles, and his appeal to the lower classes, asserting that they found favor in God’s eyes, it was these that made him dangerous.

They’d gotten rid of John the Baptist with no problem. Making quick work of Jesus should be a piece of cake. It didn’t work out as they planned. They’re dead and gone, Caesar too, but Jesus is still here, and still dangerous for the same reasons.

Crucifixion was tried once and failed. And what a dismal failure it was. No point in trying again, but there are other ways to neutralize him. Some try to domesticate him, removing him from the realm of politics to the inoffensive realm of platitudes and tea parties. Others divert attention away from Christ’s way of love by appropriating his name to sell snake oil cures and investment opportunities guaranteeing riches (for themselves). The more sophisticated force his teachings into their political agenda, then box it up and nail it shut. They know well that letting Jesus take the lead, and following where he goes will not be to their liking.

It won’t work, no matter what it looks like at the moment. The tomb is empty. Death had no power over him, neither did Caesar. The trivialities of domestication, diversion, appropriation, and political legerdemain are the last resorts of charlatans used to delude the gullible, but God is not amused, and Jesus will not go away.

2 thoughts on “The Politics of Holy Week”

  1. Your powerful last two paragraphs may not make some people happy, but so very true or truth.

  2. Indeed, “God is not amused”… “politics” always rears its sometimes big head into the pure theology and numinous reality of God in relationship with His people…all people…

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