An honest analysis of Holy Week invites us to take seriously the death of Jesus. It is easy to rush to the glorious resurrection and the triumph of life over death, but if we are ever to take seriously the power of the resurrection, we must be radically acquainted with death. For those of us living in the contemporary moment the paradox of a crucified Jesus at the heart of the Christian story is amplified when we look at the reality of modern government sanctioned executions of innocent persons. This paradox is particularly evident as we consider crucifixion was a particular form of torture reserved by the Roman Empire for insurrectionists and rebels, and our own nation has often used capital punishment in much the same
way (Cone 2011). The cross of Jesus, a paradoxical religious symbol, inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Maybe this year as we engage Holy Week we should really look at the Jesus of the crucifixion.
The poor Jewish Jesus with his non-normative body shows up in Palestine with an anti-imperialist message over against the religious tradition of his time. It is Jesus who unhinges the relationship between the underprivileged and the privileged: born in a manger and becoming King of the Jews without amassing either wealth or military might. By meeting needs of the poor, hungry, those without healthcare, and the mentally ill, Jesus becomes popular with the masses. It is not from the center of power and privilege he moves the crowds but by serving the needs of the people. The narrative of the life of Jesus highlights his lived reality as a practicing Jew living in a territory controlled by Roman political, military, and economic forces. Jesus through preaching and practice, in living and behavior performed masculinity in ways that opposed patriarchal expressions of maleness (Copeland 2010). Any nonnormative behavior from those who will engage the act of leadership leads to the death of a cross.
The cross of Jesus is moored to his engagement as a political operative and revolutionary. The message he proclaimed not only called for change in individual hearts but also demanded sweeping and comprehensive change in the political, social, and economic structures in his setting in life: colonized Israel. If Jesus had his way, neither the Roman Empire and the ruling elites among his own people would have held their positions of power (Hendricks 2006). The cross follows a call for a radical redistribution of authority and power, goods, and resources in favor of those on the margins of society.
Jesus’ awareness of his ministry charge, noted in Luke 4:18, was in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah; therefore, if leaders are to be faithful to the work of Jesus they will engage prophetic praxis. This engagement will always cause them to risk popularity and possibly even safety. Sallie McFague, a prolific feminist theologian, taught that if one understands the life and death of Jesus as a parable of God’s relation to the world, then being a Christian means to be willing to look “God-wards” through the Jesus story. Further, one is constrained to ask how that story is significant now (1987). This is of great import in that what makes theology distinctively Christian is its analysis in light of the person and work of Jesus. The cross is the destination on the way to resurrection that the leader must prepare for. Such vulnerability for leaders includes the task of critical theological reflection; this should result in leaders who think critically about the role of family formation in their own history, their ecclesial formation, and their social context. All this is needed to be faithful to Gospel values as seen in the person and work of Jesus (Francis 2015). May we become radically acquainted with the cross in this Holy Week.
Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Director of Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.
Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Francis, Leah Gunnning. 2015. Fergusen & Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community. St. Louis : Chalice Press.
Hendricks, Obrey. 2006. The Politics of Jesus. New York: Three Leaves Press.
McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.