When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
(Luke 23:33 NRSV)
Have you ever played the game of Consequences? As children we used to play it occasionally: writing random names and actions on pieces of paper, folding them over and then passing them on for someone else to write the next bit. At the end the paper would be unfolded and the story read out, amid much giggling at the various outcomes.
Of course, all actions have consequences, for good or ill, intended or unexpected.
In the story of Jesus it is quite clear that most of his disciples expected a very different outcome than did Jesus himself.
They expected a new King to be crowned; one who would, probably leading an army, throw out the hated Roman occupiers and revive the ancient kingdom of David.
Jesus knew different. He knew that the kingdom of costly love which he came to establish was deeply subversive of the existing kingdoms and, as a somewhat ironic consequence, would generate substantial opposition.
He challenged those who abused power.
He challenged those who abused wealth.
He challenged those who abused status.
He challenged those who wore their religion like a badge but refused to acknowledge their obligations to fellow human beings.
He showed that many people’s ideas about God, and God’s purposes for his world, were wrong.
He demonstrated that, in his Kingdom, life would be lived differently; in the present.
Jesus knew there would be consequences. And so there were: betrayed by a friend, arrested after dark and dragged off to face trumped-up charges of blasphemy before a kangaroo court, hauled before the governor on different charges (treason against Rome), beaten, scourged, humiliated and finally brutally and publically executed as a political expedient.
And as a consequence his enemies believed that they had solved their problem and set an example for other would-be messiahs to be aware of. “This is what happens to those who challenge us.” His friends thought that their hopes and dreams had died on that cross.
But the important thing for us to remember about the crucifixion of Jesus is that it is not the end of the story. There are further consequences.
Sometimes I look at the cross
and just don’t know what to think;
overwhelmed by its mingled story of love
in the face of deep brutality.
Help me to grasp its meaning
for your Kingdom
in our time.