As I read the story of Jesus’ Last Supper, betrayal, trial, persecution, suffering, and death last week, I couldn’t help but notice a few characters that escaped me before. You may be familiar with the main characters – Jesus and Judas, Peter and Pilate, the chief priests and the scribes – but did you know that in Mark’s gospel alone there are 7 bystanders who are complicit in the crucifixion of Christ?
These bystanders typically are spokespeople for the crowd. Though mere individuals, they speak for the masses. Through their inaction, they are witnesses to injustice. Through their questions, they fuel hatred. Through their comments, they demonstrate coldness and indifference.
While arguably not as evil as Judas the betrayer, Pilate who had Jesus flogged, or the soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’ robes, these characters are burdened with a more subtle form of sin – the sin of inaction and apathy.
My fear for God’s people today is that we have once again assumed the role of bystander. We watch injustice and do nothing. We see needs and wait for someone else to respond. We’ve taken everything God has asked us to do and we’ve entrusted it to someone else (usually the government). We’ve rendered ourselves useless and turned ourselves into spectators of sin rather than agitators for grace.
Today you may not betray Christ. You may not deny Jesus. You may not abandon faith. But you may find yourself being a bystander - watching evil unfold on the television, reading about systemic injustice in the paper, witnessing cruelty and evil at work or at home. In those times, at those difficult moments, may you find the strength to speak up, to stand up, and to be the voice of love and peace in this hate-filled, war-torn world.
In dying on the cross, Jesus did more than merely atone for our sin in the classical sense. He also shows us the way. He shows us that we don’t have to follow the hopeless crowds of this world. He sets an example of how to remain non-violent when confronted with hostility and how to speak truth in a world filled with lies. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. This invitation might seem daunting (the cross is not easy to bear), but remember how the story ends. Jesus’ story, which you are invited into, ends with life – an empty tomb, joyful mourners, and everlasting life.
We are bystanders to sin, but we are also bystanders to grace. We have heard the story of resurrection that transforms this broken world. May we who witness new life become a source of new and abundant life in our homes, workplaces, communities and the world.
Get in the Way,