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Take a Stand

Luke 23:32-43

Among the four Gospel writers, Luke tells the most compelling story of the views expressed by three men nailed to Roman crosses. On each cross we hear a dramatically different view.

A view from the first cross:

“Look around you. It’s a violent world and only the toughest survive. If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. No one! Take a look beneath us. The clothes we were wearing a few minutes ago are being auctioned off with loaded dice. Just look at the vultures standing over there. They’ve got a bet going as to which one of us will die first. The winner gets a cheap jug of wine. That is how sacred our lives are.

If your eyesight is still working, friends, take a gander at those fools who are way off in the distance. They followed this hero here. They’re wearing that pathetic look that fools wear when they find themselves the butt of a bad joke. Can you believe they thought this Jesus would change this rotten world? Come on, Jesus, save yourself. Take a flying leap off the cross. Fly over to Jerusalem and turn Pilate into a toadstool and Herod into a croaking frog. And while you’re at it, take me along!

Now, look over there. You can see my gang breaking into a house. Steal every last penny and knife anyone who tries to stop you! Long live violence! Long live hate! Long live me! Why don’t you sing us one of your songs of peace while you are choking on your own blood, Jesus?!”

A view from the second cross:

“How can you hang there dying and speak like that to him? At least, you and I are getting what we deserve. What did he do? Tell the truth. Heal broken people. Feed hungry people. Love sorry, no worth people like us.

Jesus is no thief, no murderer. You and I are cut from the same violent, miserable bolt of cloth. We’ve spent our lives working the system, cheating and lying to get by. And look where it has gotten us. Where will it get your friends over there breaking into the house even if they manage not to get caught this time? You and I were dead long before they put the first nail in our hands.

Yes, I see the women over there and even a few men you call fools, all weeping for Jesus. Do you see one person here weeping for you? Weeping for me? Do you see a soul who gives a tinker’s damn about either one of us, whether we live or die? Didn’t you hear that weasel Pilate? He found no truth to any charge about Jesus. Even, Herod agreed that Jesus is innocent. God knows how either man will sleep tonight knowing that they are crucifying an innocent man? I guarantee that neither man will lose a second’s sleep over crucifying us.

‘Long live violence’, you say. Well, you are getting your wish. Barabbas is back on the streets. Who knows who he will murder next? How long will it be before he is hanging from the same post sticking up my back? Where does all the violence end? Where does the hatred and fighting lead except to more of the same? What kind of world are we leaving behind?

Jesus, remember me when you come into the new world you talk about. I can’t say that I understand what that world is going to look like, much less understand you. I only know that it has got to be a better world than the one I have helped to make. No one in this world will remember me even in a few hours. So, for God’s sake, Jesus, remember me. Please, remember me!”

A view from the third cross:

“Today you will be with me in that new world. In fact, by what I have just heard you say, you have one foot in it already. So, die in peace. You will not be forgotten. By the relentless grace of God, you never have been.

My God, forgive them. They have no idea what they are doing. Forgive Pilate and every leader who finds the pressure of pleasing the public a greater weight than serving the truth.

Forgive Herod and all who ridicule you, convinced that the world is theirs for the taking and the only thing worthwhile in life is what they can take from it.

Forgive this heckling crowd watching the three of us die as if violence in any form, dying, and death were entertaining. Forgive that part in each person that enjoys cruelty and is attracted by someone else’s misfortune. Forgive those who think a public execution results in anything other than a greater thirst for more blood.

My God, forgive the leaders of the Temple, my brothers, who know your law by heart but whose hearts are hardened to the spirit of your law. Forgive all who can quote the Bible chapter and verse but who turn aside from human need and offer only pitiful excuses for not getting involved.

Forgive Peter and my other disciples who deserted me when I needed them most, who found denial and betrayal more attractive than defending me against false accusations.

Many here were cheering only days ago, shouting loud Hosannas. Forgive those who believe that your will can be so easily killed. Forgive those who trust only in what is probable, who do not trust that in you all things are possible.

And to God’s child hanging on the cross beside me and who mocks me even as we are dying, you are right. It is a violent world. Who could argue that fact here and now? In your final moments on this earth, you can look down and see proof that your way of life was right. I look down, though, and see that your way of life was wrong and always has been wrong and always will be wrong.

Distorted, often misguided, and at times intentionally evil, it is still a world loved by God, a world for which I now die in peace. I will not convince you, but I will pray for you. I will pray for you even more than the other soul bleeding beside me. I will pray that before you breathe your last breath you will catch sight of the world that God sees, the world that God so dearly loves, the world into which God will usher in new life.”

Friends, as you and I step into a week that the church calls “holy,” those are three views of the world, of life, from three crosses. Beneath which cross will you take a stand? That is a question not just for Holy Week but for the rest of your life.

Choose wisely, dear friends, choose wisely.


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