If Jesus came back and walked among us in 21st century America, would we crucify him again? I think the answer is yes, without hesitation. And it wouldn’t take three years of ministry to get to that point. I think it would sound similar to the Gospel of Mark.
When you read the Gospel of Mark from chapter 1, verse 1 all the way through chapter 16, you have this sense of urgency. You don’t get the feel that Jesus did ministry for three years. It feels as though Jesus is doing ministry for just a couple of weeks before going to Jerusalem.
In Chapter 8, halfway through, Jesus predicts his own death. In chapter 9, he is transfigured. In chapters 9 and 10 there are fights about who is greater among his followers and he predicts his death again. And it is chapter 11 when Jesus enters Jerusalem. But it’s not like the other gospels. It’s a mockery of triumph. Jesus doesn’t enter in on a trusted war horse after battle with his bloody sword, but rather on a colt that has never been ridden. People are there waving palms yelling save us! But they are thinking — save us from Rome! And then he goes to the temple, but doesn’t do the normal sacrifice that a conquering general would do — he does some sightseeing and leaves. It’s all very anti-climatic. You can often count of Jesus doing the exact opposite of what is expected.
And that’s why I think we would crucify him again.
I can hear the crowds gathered at his “trial.” The witnesses, especially those that claim to be his followers, would be offering testimony of how Jesus isn’t living up to expectations and doesn’t fit into the culture. The cries of Jesus being unpatriotic or unloyal to the established norms of society or either one of our political establishments would be loud.
Jesus would be asked which side of the political landscape he owes his allegiance and loyalty to. And he would be silent. The outcry would be great. People would be repeating Pilate’s question to Jesus — “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” (Mark 15:4).
Jesus, are you a Democrat or Republican? Jesus, why aren’t you wrapping your message in the flag? Jesus, why aren’t you worshiping the Constitution? Jesus, why are you not protecting yourself with the second amendment? Jesus, why aren’t you more vocal in support of the troops? Do you not think that America is blessed by God? Jesus, why aren’t you more like us?
Jesus, is your ideology left or right oriented? Jesus, why aren’t you more vocal in support of unrestricted abortion and the freedom to do what we want, when we want with our bodies? Jesus, why aren’t you fighting the tax cuts? Jesus, why aren’t you proclaiming the necessity of larger government? Jesus, why aren’t you lobbying for more government regulations? Jesus, why aren’t you more like us?
I envision Jesus’ “triumphant” entrance into Washington, DC would be similar to the Gospel of Mark’s account of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. People would try to claim Jesus for their own agenda. They would misunderstand who he is and what he was about. We already do this. The problem is we can’t claim Jesus — he claims us. But that’s awfully uncomfortable and inconvenient. We prefer to have a Jesus, a savior, that doesn’t demand we change our lives, our beliefs, our actions, our loyalties. We prefer a Jesus, a savior, that looks like us, thinks like us, supports the same policies and politics as us, and has the same allegiances and loyalties as us. We want to claim Jesus for us.
Once in the city, he would make his way to our modern-day temple — the capitol building. It takes the center stage and is the center of all of life in the city. The business of politics consumes our attention. The high priests of politics tell us what we can say and do and how to offer sacrifice and who our enemies are.
Once he enters this modern-day temple, he would look around and decide it was late, and leave, unimpressed. He would show that our ways are flawed. He would show that what we fight about is flawed and broken — often a distraction. He would show that our loyalties are misplaced. He would do all of this without saying a single word.
And when people realized that Jesus wasn’t going to play by their rules, that he wasn’t going to advance a broken system that flops between left and right, they would rise up in anger. They would do this because they couldn’t claim Jesus any longer. And so, he’d have to be removed. He would make life too uncomfortable. We can’t have a savior who makes us question our priorities and beliefs. We can’t have a messiah who calls on us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him. But no worries, we have plenty of other “messiahs” to take his place. They have their own slogans. They are the hope and change we believe in. They are the ones who are going to make America great again. We elect a messiah-like figure every four years. One that we can shape and mold as we see fit. One that can be a perfect scapegoat for all our failings when things don’t go our way.
Jesus would probably be found with outcasts — proclaiming Good News to them. He would be in the streets with the homeless, the drug addicts, the prostitutes, and the poor. He’d be in the hospitals accompanying people in sickness and on their journey towards death. He’d be visiting prisoners on death roll and maybe even telling some of them that today they would be with him in paradise. That’s probably where they would find him when they came to put him on trial.
Would we crucify Jesus again? Have we really changed in 2000 years?
This is why Jesus came. To bring Good News. To comfort the afflicted. To afflict the comfortable. This is why he contended with Death and Sin. To conquer them and to begin the unfolding of God’s reign. It’s a slow unfolding for us in time — or so it seems. Death and Sin continue to wail. But their time is coming to an end.
As we approach the passion of Jesus — his suffering, death, burial, and ultimate resurrection — let us remember that Jesus didn’t just come for a sinful and broken people some 2000 years ago. It wasn’t just the crowd 2000 years ago that screamed a vengeful, angry scream of “Crucify Him!!! Crucify Him!!!” It wasn’t just Pilate who attempted to wash his hands of the blood of Jesus. It wasn’t just the soldiers who hammered nails into Jesus wrists and feet. It wasn’t just the criminals who were crucified with him that mocked him. It wasn’t just the people who observed and the leading authorities that openly mocked him.
They are us. It is us who are standing in the crowd yelling “Crucify Him!” with our anger and fear. It is us who are attempting to wash our hands of his blood. It is us who put the nails into Jesus. It is us who mock him. It is us who want to manipulate and craft Jesus into our own image. We are no better.
Get ready to be uncomfortable and inconvenienced. Jesus has a tendency to do that when he claims us. But it is only in experiencing the death of something that we truly appreciate and understand what resurrection is all about. Jesus didn’t answer the criticism and accusations because it would have been a waste of time. Instead, he was focused on something far more important. Something that still impacts us today.