Lenten Service – March 18, 2020

“By His Wounds We Are Healed: The Wounds of Murder” – John 11:47-53

Lenten Service – March 18, 2020


During this Lenten season, we have been looking at how Jesus was accused of breaking various Commandments. We have heard that Jesus was accused of claiming to be God, and of using God’s name to refer to Himself – a breaking of the First and Second Commandments. The fact that Jesus healed on the Sabbath and allowed His disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath broke the understanding of the Sabbath in the eyes of the religious leaders, even if those actions didn’t truly disobey God’s intention for the Sabbath Command. A few times, Jesus was challenged about His obedience to authorities – both political and religious authorities. We can understand how Jesus would be accused of breaking those first four commandments.

But tonight, we get to the Fifth Commandment – “You shall not murder.” Whereas the Commandments to keep the Sabbath and to obey the authorities may have had some latitude and subjectivity implied in them, the Fifth Commandment is pretty straightforward – murder is murder. My knowledge of the Gospels tells me that Jesus did not murder anyone, nor was He accused of murder, nor was He faced with a situation of murder and challenged about how to deal with it.

Martin Luther, when he explained the Fifth Commandment, wrote: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbour in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” Luther brought the actual act of killing someone down to the intention to hurt someone, which has its root in emotions like anger and hatred.

Luther did that because Jesus, Himself, broadened the commandment against murder. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used the spoken formula – “You have heard it said to the people long ago… but I say to you…” – He used that formula to explain and unpack what God really meant when He gave some of the “love your neighbour” commands. Regarding this Fifth Commandment, Jesus spoke of how anger against a brother or sister makes us liable for judgment, and of how insulting a brother or sister makes us liable to the council, and of how saying, “You fool” makes us liable for the hell of fire. All of that Jesus spoke in the context of encouraging us to reconcile with those who hold us in judgment. All of those things, Jesus said, are the attitudes and emotions that can lead to murder. And there is not one of us in the building tonight that can claim complete innocence from anger and hatred and insults and calling someone a fool. That means that there is not one of us in the building tonight that can claim complete innocence from breaking God’s holy intentions of respecting life in that Fifth Commandment. That means that there is not one of us in the building tonight that is not in danger of the hell of fire.

Jesus did not murder, but he was killed. Jesus did not engage in violence, but physical violence and cruelty was directed against him. Jesus did get angry – remember the episode when He overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple, for they had made God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves – Jesus did get angry, but he never encouraged others to use anger as a means or rationale for harming anyone, even those who despised him. Indeed, in his final act upon the cross, he called for his Father in heaven to forgive them. His disciples once wondered whether Jesus should call down fire from heaven against those who would not receive Jesus, but Jesus rebuked his disciples for thinking and speaking along those vindictive and even murderous lines.

Jesus was on a mission of love, not hate… a mission of forgiveness, not revenge… a mission of life, not death Those who became his followers – including we ourselves – recognize this and trust him as the Lord of love, and forgiveness and life. How deeply we need that love because we do get angry and insulting and speak mean-spirited words about and even directly against our brothers and sisters. And if you think otherwise, consider this the next time someone cuts you off on the highway, the next time someone says something you disagree with, the next time someone criticizes your family member, your church or your faith.

By virtue of the Creator’s creation, all of humanity is neighbour, even brother and sister. The ethnic Chinese – to whom we might like to point the finger of blame with respect to this hideous virus – they are our brothers and sisters, suffering as we are the health and social and economic woes brought on by the virus. That Creator’s creation also includes the very environment of our planet – with its various issues of climate change, overfishing, extinction, clear-cutting of rain forests – things that have been put on the back burner of the news recently. And there are also the brothers and sisters we have by faith who are part of the community called Church, and how sometimes we consider them more like enemies because of our differences rather than our allies because of our common beliefs in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Oh, yes, we have a lot of work to do toward eliminating our anger, hatred, insults and selfishness, and toward reconciling in love with all of these.

Indeed, the task is one that overwhelms us all. How can we reconcile when the issues and the differences are so apparent, so in our face?

In our Gospel reading from John 11 this evening – a story that we will hear in full in ten days’ time – Caiaphas had a plan. Caiaphas was the high priest and you can be sure that he was well aware of Jesus and all the trouble He had stirred up with His apparent breaking of the Commandments, with His teachings that went against the grain of Jewish religious orthodoxy, with His healings and miracles, and with the crowds of people that followed this itinerant rabbi because of all those other things. The context of Caiaphas’ plan was Jesus’ raising of four-day-dead Lazarus. The people were certainly talking about that, and putting their faith in Jesus, and it didn’t help that Bethany – where this resurrection took place – was only a couple of kilometers from Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish worship and religiosity.

What was Caiaphas’ plan? Just let one die so that peace can prevail. His words were: “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” It sounds like such a reasonable and logical principle: let’s just get rid of this one guy, Jesus, because he’s the one stirring up trouble, and stirring up a following; let’s just get rid of him, otherwise the Romans are going to hear about this trouble and they’re going to send troops to quash this little uprising, and they will shut down our temple and our entire religion. It was eerily like Spock’s famous line in the Star Trek movie “Wrath of Khan”: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” Spock had exposed himself to a radiation chamber, and certain death, in order to re-align the dilithium crystals, to enable the starship to achieve warp speed and escape a deadly explosion on the nearby ship of Khan. With Spock slumped over, dying, in the radiation chamber, Captain Kirk arrived and Spock said something they had discussed before: “the needs of the many…” Kirk continues, “outweigh the needs of the few,” and Spock concluded, “or the one.” Actually, to honour the chronology here, Spock’s comment was eerily like Caiaphas’. In Spock’s case it was a life and death solution.

For Caiaphas, it was a political peace that he had in mind… let’s get rid of this religious and political problem, and make no mistake, political peace would be a major accomplishment. Let’s just keep the Romans in the dark and out of our hair. But the fait accompli of Jesus is to accept being that One who would die for the people, and to bring a peace that would go far beyond anything Caiaphas had in mind. His death on the cross would be a peace that would reconcile you to God in a way that you could never do on your own. With Jesus hanging on the cross, and dying, God says to you very clearly, very definitively: “I see your hate, your anger, your insults, but I put them all on Jesus. I love you. I forgive you. Through my Son, Jesus, I save you… for the needs of the many… outweigh the needs of the one!” And Jesus died, and you live!!

Jesus’ death on the cross is also to reconcile us to one another in a way that we could never do on our own. Ephesians 2 is a chapter dedicated to reconciliation – starting with our being reconciled to God by grace, through faith, but then continuing with reconciliation with others for we are truly one in Christ.  When it comes to reconciliation in our homes, or in our church, or between churches, we want to have the self-sacrificing attitude that Caiaphas spoke and that Jesus lived – the needs of the many outweighing our own personal needs and desires. Look for ways in your life, in your relationships with others where you can sacrifice your own preferences in order to bring about peace and reconciliation.

The plans of evil are always active, always stirring in the hearts of so many. Jesus called the devil a murderer, but the murder begins with a lie – a lie about who we are, and most importantly, whose we are. While his critics could not see the love of God at work in Jesus, it did not mean that Jesus gave up on them. He did not give up on anyone. He does not give up on any of us. We are not consigned to the judgment of being abandoned, even though he was abandoned on the cross.

The wounds of Jesus, the wounds of his death, are borne so that murder and death do not receive the last word. Love, reconciliation, everlasting peace, life – these are the last word of the cross. We look at the world and all of humanity cross-eyed – through the lens of the cross. That is how we hear the challenge of discipleship when it comes to our relationship with our brothers and sisters – brothers and sisters in faith, and even brothers and sisters in creation.

The ministry of reconciliation, love and peace is entrusted to us; our trespasses are not counted against us because of the wounds of Christ. Yes, we are like “clay pots” carrying out this mission, and our own foibles and failings are going to show. But it was and is never really about us. It is about the One who gave his life for the sake of the people­ – for the sake of the whole world. We come to our brothers and sisters with this gift in the clay pots of our lives – ­even if it wounds us; even when it kills us; but love­ – yes, God’s love – will be heard over all the terrors of this world. And the wounds of Christ will be all the more visible for all to behold in the way that we love. Amen.


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