God’s way is different. It is different from anything we can understand or relate to. Throughout our religious history, God has been trying to tell us this. Don’t do it like that. Do it with love, do it with forgiveness and compassion and the courage to care for everyone – even those who don’t care for us, even our enemies, even those who hate us. We didn’t listen when the prophets told us this, and when we could not live it based on what God said to us through scriptures and stories and people and history, finally Jesus came. God sent Jesus to show us this other way, this different way. Jesus came, the ultimate king, who acts nothing like we expect or understand rulers or leaders to behave. He doesn’t walk around with body guards protecting his every step. He doesn’t insist on taking from the poor to feed himself or his family or his profession or the services he offers us. He doesn’t build a strong defense system or walls. He doesn’t push anyone out, push anyone away. He shows us something very, VERY different. He feeds anyone who comes to him hungry. He heals anyone who comes to him sick (and sometimes even dead such as Talitha and Lazurus). He listens and allows even the most rejected, the least “acceptable”, the least “worthy” to physically touch him. He includes children, women, people of different nationalities and backgrounds such as the Syrophoenicians and the Samaritans, he includes tax collectors and prostitutes. He doesn’t reject them because they aren’t “the chosen ones” or part of his nation, or part of what we deem acceptable. He doesn’t take their wealth and live in a big mansion. He lives poorly, simply, and asks for nothing in return. He relies on the kindness of strangers and does not worry about his own survival or well-being. He leads with TRUTH rather than threats or bribery.
And when THIS king, this king that we cannot understand, this king who acts completely differently from what we want or expect or demand from our human rulers, when this king is killed, as of course he would be for teaching such a radical, outrageous, different way of being; this king still, on the cross, in his dying moments, behaves completely differently from any king we can imagine. He doesn’t send for his troops to rescue him. He doesn’t call for war or seek violence or revenge in any way. He doesn’t threaten to end or kill or even incarcerate or punish those who did this to him. He doesn’t shout out “you will be sorry”, “You will pay for this”, and he doesn’t fight back. He does not jump off the cross to save himself, despite the pain, and the inevitable death that he faces. He does not “negotiate” or play politics. He does not play numbers games, he does not lie, he does not try to scare everyone or do what would inevitably boost his popularity.
Instead, as he hangs there on the cross, as he dies, as he suffers the deepest pain, he continues to think about others, others who are suffering. And again, it isn’t the “good” people he worries about in that moment. It isn’t those who support him, those who love him, those who are kind to him. It isn’t those who believe in him or who send money to his cause. It is anyone, anyone at all who is suffering. He is hanging on the cross next to two people who have done wrong, who are being killed as criminals for some atrocity or another. Maybe they were both murderers. Maybe they killed children. We aren’t told. What we are told is that in that moment Jesus doesn’t ask. He doesn’t care what they have done. What he cares about is that they are scared and suffering. And in that moment, this king, who does not “rescue” them or himself, even when he is goaded on to do so, instead, in that moment, as he suffers, hanging on the cross – he offers to the criminal crucified next to him the promise of paradise. He reaches out with the strength of knowledge and love that goes beyond any personal suffering, and he offers life beyond life to the scared and dying person next to him. He also prays. And his prayer, too, is not the prayer we would hear out of the mouths of earthly leaders. It is not a prayer for victory. It is not a prayer of revenge. It isn’t a prayer of “show those people what they’ve done!” His prayer is not one of anger or hate. Instead, he asks God to forgive the people who are torturing him to his death.
This is the man who shows us who God is. He lives life following God to the fullest, and he pays for it with death, a death he accepts even while he loves and cares for those around him, even those whom, like this criminal next to him, we would probably not deem worthy of that love or care.
This is the man who shows us who God is. More, this is the man who calls us to go and do likewise. Can we be so forgiving? Can we put aside our need for vengeance, for revenge? Can we put aside anger and hate? Can we put aside our need for others who have hurt us to hurt as well? God shows us what to do. Jesus shows us what leads us into life. All we have to do…all we have to do…is choose love.