THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT
April 2, 2023
In the dead of the night
The Passion of our Lord
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
In the dead of the night, off in the distance, as one carpenter prepares a cross for the soon to be executed, another carpenter betrayed and falsely accused is arrested and prepared for execution.
The story of Jesus’ passion is, while dramatically and divinely unique, an entirely mundane experience. Somewhere in the halls of power, a decision was already made: this man must die for his words. Jesus’ ministry, an intensely and undeniably political one that challenged the very heart of empire, had to be stopped. The ends were already determined. This man was too dangerous to be kept alive.
Jesus demanded justice for sex workers. Jesus taught that dignity of women and femmes was a divine truth. That the sexual “other” was as much a part of the story of God’s promise as any other part of God’s creation.
Jesus called for a new economic system that would free working folks from the oppressive constriction of the wealthy who extract capital at whatever cost to workers and the land. An economic system where everyone has more than enough and no one is lacking. A world where shared abundance was a lived reality and everyone is an active participant at the table of plenty.
Jesus exhorted religious leaders to stand not by the possibility of the consolidation of political power, but their true call to be prophets against the abusive and coercive systems of power that allowed for the subjugation of the disinherited.
Jesus promised that empire would fall and that in its place, the meak, the peacemakers, the activist, the organizer, the bleeding heart, the passionate, the courageous, the HIV positive, the working poor and the outright destitute, the forgotten, the child who crossed state borders in need of a safe abortion, the lonely, the woman of trans experience, the deported migrant and the asylum seeker, the depressed and mentally ill, the sufferer of long-COVID, the hopeful and the burned out, the person without health insurance, the single parent and the orphan child, the union organizer, the hungry, those with a lover and those with so much love to give – these and all the disinherited, hope seeking and justice longing would inherit the world left in the wake of empire’s collapse.
Jesus’ ministry was a call for a new political and economic reality, and thus a threat to the current one.
Fred Hampton’s life was a ministry calling for a new political and economic reality.
Dr. King’s life was as well. Was not also Malcolm X’s life? Or Viola Gregg Liuzzo? Or Harvey Milk? And Marsha P. Johnson? Was not the life of Bayard Rustin also a testimony against the empire? Is not Angela Davis’ legacy one of a future where liberation is not a rallying cry but the song we sing about the life we lead? Or Brittany Martin who, while pregnant, was imprisoned for her protests in the uprisings after the state-sponsored murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, Tony McDade and countless others.
In the dead of night, in the halls of power, in broad daylight, right on main street. Empire is indiscriminate in the setting within which is chooses to exercise extrajudicial imprisonment, torture, and execution against those prophetic voices who cry out for a future hope.
Jesus’ passion is more than just divine mystery of faith, it is the mundane terror of the work of empire to destroy any voice, any movement, and possibility of its demise.
In Matthew’s telling of the story, as Jesus gives up his final breath on the cross, the wooden beams affixed by a carpenter of death, creation cries out in grief for new life.
The sky had gone dark, the earth shook, the the curtain of the temple tore, and creation made way for a legacy of resistance, that no matter how powerful empire might be, no matter how many voices are imprisoned and lives taken by the state, even the land cries out in solidarity – death, perhaps, will not be the final word, and empire can not overcome the deliverance and the liberation of God.
Meet the Author
Michael Vazquez, a seasoned public theologian and organizing, communications and policy strategist, is the Founding Partner of The Maiden Group. Michael also currently serves as an Advisor at Public Private Strategies. Michael formerly served as the Religion & Faith Director at the Human Rights Campaign, Senior Communications Strategist at the USAID Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Founder of Brave Commons. Michael has served across civil society on a diverse policy agenda in pursuit of creating a more just and equitable society. Throughout all his work, Michael has supported secular civil society, faith-based organizations, and political and philanthropic leaders in understanding the growing threat of Christian Nationalism and other autocratic movements both in the U.S. and abroad, and helped craft strategies to combat extremism and defend democracy.