by Gregory Anderson Love
From one angle, the news of the gospels is simply bad. Throughout his life and then ministry, Jesus, the truly human one, meets with the opposition, and consequent painfulness, of sinful humanity. He is misunderstood, mistrusted, and dismissed. He is called an agent of Satan, one filled with the demonic, or just plain crazy. He is tempted to abandon his way. Ultimately, what little success he has in drawing people to repent of their old ways of the flesh and to accept an alternate basis for life in the Spirit comes to naught in the last days of his life. He is abandoned by everyone.
On Good Friday he dies outside the city walls, as Reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann says, with the godforsaken. He dies the death of Israel’s Messiah at the hands of the Romans. He dies the death of God’s child, the Son of God. He dies the death of a Jew, one in the long line of persecuted, tortured, and murdered Jews in history at the hands of “the other,” at the hands of Assyrians and Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, those who carry out pogroms and the hands that put them in the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz. He dies the death of a slave. He was poor, and the Romans tortured, abused, and crucified him, as they did rebellious slaves. He dies the death of all the living, of everything that lives and wants to live but has to die.
Jesus’s last week shows the logical end of human history. That it is madness. We are humans ready to kill our neighbor, ready to kill God, in order to inherit that which does not belong to us. In killing the new human being and God, who is the very ground and meaning of all created life, we tear our lives asunder in the most irrational of acts. We are the ones who will become starving, diminished, timid, cannibalistic, and miserable.
This is the horrific news of the gospels.
And yet, Jesus is not merely a victim of human madness. He is not even mainly so. Rather, he comes into the homicidal madness not as its victim, but as its antidote.
For from the very beginning, enfleshed as all humans and surrounded by brokenness, Jesus breathes the “breath of the resurrection.” This “breath” is evident in his new way of being. He is filled with joy and the love of life, with fidelity and trust, with integrity. From the very beginning and comprehensively, he is the human being filled with the Spirit of life and new life. He heals, and he raises the dead. And the brokenhearted and the godforsaken, and even the godless, cannot get enough of him. For in him, the demons are cast out, and the homicidal madness is turned into sanity, peace, and life.
Going back, back, and back, the gospel writers finally realized that the power of the resurrection was not simply there on Easter Sunday. It was there when he was dying the death of a Jew, of a slave. It was there when he was opening the eyes of the blind. It was there when he fell as a boy, and was held by his mother. It was there in the stable in Bethlehem.
It is why the good news of the gospels trumps the horrific news.
Gregory Anderson Love is a Presbyterian minister who teaches systematic theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary. His most recent book, on the meaning of Jesus’s death, is Love, Violence, and the Cross: How the Nonviolent God Saves Us through the Cross of Christ.