Lost in the Crowd: Lenten Reflection (39)


Scripture for Today: Mark 14: 32-72, 15

Today’s post is guest written by Jesse Ortiz, Natalie’s former co-worker and blog editor. Jesse is currently a PhD student in Cultural Studies at U.C. Davis. All opinions and mistakes are their own.

Where do you see yourself on Good Friday?

On March 18, two Sacramento police officers shot 20 bullets — two rounds of ammo — into a twenty-two year old man standing in his own backyard. Stephon Clark wasn’t killed for a crime. The police were told that a black man in a hoodie had been breaking windows in the area. They claim that when they saw Stephon holding his cell phone, they thought he was carrying a weapon and they feared for their own lives. Stephon’s only transgression was blackness.

Who killed Jesus? Was it the executioner who nailed him to the cross? Was it the soldiers who led him through the city? Was it Pilate, the governor who sentenced him to death?

The crowd shouted: “Crucify him!”

The soldiers, the executioners, and Pilate were all following orders. Even the apostles, Jesus’ closes confidants, fell asleep in the garden, failing to assert enough agency to stay awake and accompany their friend. Only the crowd, calling for crucifixion, could demand and receive what they wanted.

The crowd is us. The crowd is you.

According to the chief priests, what what Jesus’ greatest transgression? They claim Jesus said he “will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands” (14:58). As the scripture insists, this is false. In John 2:19, when a group of Jews ask Jesus for a sign of his authority, he says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” In a sense, the people take Jesus too literally. They project their fears of instability and scarcity onto Jesus’ words, imagining that he would single-handedly raise that very same temple — violating their common sense. The people are thinking as fundamentalists, while Jesus is speaking metaphorically. And Jesus’ metaphors offer us so much more.

In the days following Stephon Clark’s execution, people across the country used their voices and feet to confront the injustice of his death. In Sacramento last week, protesters such down Interstate 5 and delayed the Sacramento Kings game to bring attention to Stephon’s death.

I was in that crowd. As the Good Friday story teaches us, a crowd has power. We don’t have to use that power to kill.

Like Easter, Good Friday isn’t just one day. Good Friday is the day a family has to mourn the death of their twenty-two year old son, father, partner, and brother. Good Friday is the day a black trans woman is murdered. Good Friday the day a U.S. military drone destroys human life. Good Friday is any day, and Good Friday is every day.

Every day, we are part of a crowd. Whenever we say “Blue Lives Matter,” we are saying “Crucify them!” Whenever we call the cops on harmless people, or call for more cops in schools, we are saying “Crucify them!” Whenever we celebrate the U.S. military, whenever we stand for the National Anthem, we are saying “Crucify them!”

As Jesus shows us, simply following the rules, taking things literally, is not enough. We must grapple with our actions and beliefs to be in right-relationship with God. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Silence, too, is persecution.

When you stand by as the U.S. builds more prisons to lock up more people, you are saying “Crucify them!” When you ignore the U.S. military action that isn’t covered in the mainstream media, you are saying “Crucify them!” When you don’t talk to your kids, your friends, or your siblings about racism, you are saying “Crucify them!” When you refuse to learn about mass incarceration, police brutality, or military violence, you are saying “Crucify them! Crucify them! Crucify them.”

Yes, every day can be Good Friday. But not every day should be. If we believe the Easter story, our world can be another way. On the day that Jesus died, his government, his community, and even his closest companions betrayed him.

Jesus died for us, and now we know so much better. Where will you be on Good Friday?

Pray: Grant me the heart that Jesus died for me to have.

Reflect: Where have you been passive in situations of injustice? What can you do when you recognize yourself as part of an oppressive crowd?

Art: From Jesse’s Instagram, an image from the #BlackLivesMatter protest in Sacramento following Stephon Clark’s death. Man holds rainbow Black Lives Matter sign in front of a gym.

Further Reading: