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March 29, 2015

Posted on March 29, 2015 in category: Lent, Sermons
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Mark 15:1-39

“Mocking and Murdering”

We don’t do it every year, but it is traditional to read a good portion of the story of Jesus’ passion on this Sunday before Easter, known both as Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. The Revised Common Lectionary suggests that we might read all the way through Mark 14 and Mark 15. I chose a slightly shorter section for our reflection today, but if you want some scripture to study in your personal devotions during this Holy Week, Mark 14 and 15 would be a good choice.

There are a lot of things that a preacher could say about a section of the Gospel 39 verses long, but the thing that stood out to me as a reflected on this passage was the way that Jesus was mocked.

After falsely accusing him of blasphemy, the religious leaders determined that he deserved to die. They bound him, led him away, and turned him over to the Roman governor. In jest, the governor called him the “King of the Jews,” and the leaders stirred up the crowds to call for his execution.

Then the soldiers took Jesus away – not straight to a cross, but they had some fun with him first. They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. They saluted him, “Hail! King of the Jews!” Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before him to honour him. When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.”

When they nailed Jesus to the cross, they put a sign above his head: “This is the King of the Jews.” And it wasn’t just the soldiers who mocked him. Even as he hung there on the cross, people walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself and come down from that cross!”

In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him.

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Kenneth Weishuhn took his own life after being bullied by classmates at school and online, and with death threats by phone. The bullying began with an anti-gay Facebook group, created by Kenneth’s classmates. His mother said she knew her son was being harassed, and said that her son told her, “Mom, you don’t know how it feels to be hated.”

According to his sister Kayla, the abuse that started after he “came out” was from people he had trusted: “People that were originally his friends, they kind of turned on him. A lot of people, they either joined in or were too scared to say anything.”

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When she was in the 7th grade, Amanda Todd met a man in an online chat room who talked her into flashing him her breasts. A year later, the man contacted her on Facebook and asked her to ‘put on a show’ for him. He threatened to release a picture of her to everyone she knew if she did not comply with his wishes. He knew her address, her name, where she went to school, and who her friends and family members were. Amanda’s pictures were released and went viral. Other kids at her school saw the pictures and started to bully and tease her. She became severely depressed, developed anxiety and began to use drugs and alcohol.

A year later, after she changed schools and found a new group of friends, the man came back and created a Facebook page, using her topless photo as his profile picture. Her new friends started ignoring her, talking about her, and bullying her. She reveals her feelings in her video on YouTube, describing how she cried every night and lost all her friends. Amanda began cutting herself.

Again, Amanda changed schools, where a boy flirted with her. As a result, girls from the first school came to her new school and beat her up, while people watched and filmed it. She reveals, “I was left all alone and left on the ground.” She managed to find her way to the road, where she lay down in a ditch. Her father found her there.

When Amanda returned home, she tried to commit suicide by drinking bleach. Once again, she moved to a new city, but the bullying continued. Therapy, combined with anti-depressants, did little to help her depression and anxiety, and she continued to cut herself and attempted suicide again.

In September 2012 Amanda wrote her story on flashcards and recorded it on YouTube. Amanda’s body was found at her home on the 10th of October, 2012.

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Phoebe Prince was a 15-year-old Irish immigrant to the U.S. Phoebe hanged herself two days before the winter cotillion dance at her school. Phoebe, a newcomer to the school, was a victim of cyberbullying about her date for that dance, a senior football player.

Phoebe was subjected to an onslaught of bullying and was called “Irish slut” and “whore” on Twitter, Craigslist, Facebook and Formspring, and in person at the school. Even after her death, the girls left vicious messages on a Facebook page created in her memory.

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These are difficult stories to hear (and difficult stories to tell) because they are true stories of the mocking and bullying of young people today. Unfortunately, the stories of Kenneth, Amanda, and Phoebe are just a small sample from the many, many stories of those whose experience of being severely bullied led to their suicides. There are many more, as well as countless others who are similarly mistreated, but who manage somehow to keep living.

Mocking and bullying is nothing new. All through history, people with power have used it to belittle others, stealing their dignity and attempting to break their spirits. Jesus wasn’t the first person to be publicly insulted, and ridiculed, and taunted. And Jesus won’t be the last. Jesus wasn’t the first person to be crucified, or hanged, or beheaded, or raped, or stoned, or left to freeze on the Prairie. And Jesus won’t be the last.

I think that’s why the passion story is so difficult for us to hear as well. At least, it’s difficult to open our hearts to hear the story of Jesus’ passion and to let ourselves feel his pain. Maybe that is why there are always so many more people at church on Easter Sunday than there are on Good Friday.

The resurrection is such a joyous story of God’s triumph over hatred and evil and pain and death! But on Friday we come face to face with those terrible part of our human nature – the parts that quietly back away when things get tough, the parts that look the other way when bad things are happening, the parts that join in the crowds’ taunts or get caught up in putting someone else down.

Biblical commentator, Michael Battle, reminds us that we cannot leap straight from the Palm Sunday Hosannas to the Easter Alleluias: “Even though it may be painful, we must stay conscious of Jesus’ passion. We must do this in order to stop abusing the image of God revealed in the dignity of every human being.”

It’s not just about remembering that people 2000 years ago mocked and murdered a loving, generous, forgiving, and innocent man that we believe was God’s very Son. But it’s about acknowledging that each and every day people (including us) keep on mocking and murdering each other – bullying and burying the children of God today.

Margaret Farley explains our Christian understanding of Jesus’ passion and death very well: “The cross of Jesus, we believe, signifies the suffering of all human persons – that burden that Jesus identified with and took upon himself. Insofar as this is true, Christians are called to stand in solidarity with all those who suffer across time and space. And while the cross signifies every form of human suffering (sickness, tragic accident, aging, and diminishment), there are certain kinds of suffering that are central to its meaning.

“Given the context and nature of the final sufferings of Jesus, there is little doubt that the centrally signified form of suffering is suffering that is the consequence of injustice – the kind of suffering that does not have to be; that cries out for an end not in death but in change.”

You know how it’s easier to say something bad about someone behind their back, when the person isn’t there to hear your honest judgment, exaggeration, or even cruelty? Well, unfortunately, the internet (with all its helpful tools and resources) has also created an environment in which people feel much more free to criticize, insult, and belittle other people online.

It’s odd… because often the person’s real name is right there on their Facebook account. Everyone knows who is writing those terrible things! But there’s something about the medium of social media that makes it easier for us to be hateful to each other. Cyberbullying is a very real and very significant problem.

The problem, of course, isn’t the technology, but it’s the “haters” as they say today, who participate in the culture of shaming and belittling others online. Just a few weeks ago, I noticed a comment on Twitter from a well-known Presbyterian minister in the U.S. – a very progressive female minister whose views are radical enough to get some other Presbyterians upset at times.

She pointed out that her mother was also a fairly outspoken editorialist for a major newspaper, and she got quite used to receiving very critical letters from her readers. But it was nothing like it is today – the hateful, belittling, and cruel comments this Presbyterian minister regularly receives online go way beyond anything the previous generation had to deal with.

As we journey through Holy Week once again this year, we could consider as we often do, where we might place ourselves in the story of Jesus’ passion. Are we among the religious leaders, sacrificing others to protect our power and authority? Are we among the crowd, getting caught up in a wave of anger? Are we among the disciples, running away when things get dangerous? Are we like Peter, trying to stay strong, but buckling under the pressure when we have to stand alone? Are we like the women, standing by and watching in horror, feeling helpless to stop what is happening?

For all the ways that we are like those biblical characters – participating in the mocking and belittling of others, or standing by and doing nothing to stop it – the resurrection story assures us of God’s power both to overcome evil and God’s desire to forgive us and set us on a new path.

Perhaps we can commit ourselves today to say nothing behind someone’s back or on the internet that we would not say directly to that person. Perhaps we can commit to temper our comments and our criticisms with kindness and compassion, treating each other as we would hope to be treated ourselves.

Perhaps we can commit ourselves today, not to avoid participating in online communities, but to use every opportunity to post, comment, and press that “Like” button only for encouragement, inspiration, and for the sharing of the good news in word and deed.

And perhaps we can commit ourselves today, to open our eyes to what is happening around us… online, in our community, in our workplaces and schools… and to see the face of Christ in every human person. Maybe if we can begin to do that, we can be a part of the change we want to see in the world, as we determine not to participate or to stand by as God’s children are crucified.