Which character(s) in the passion narrative do I most identify with?
Every Palm Sunday for 4+ decades I have sat through the reading of the Passion Gospel. Different people act out the different parts, and we the congregation take on the role of the crowd who cries, “Crucify him!” That’s always a particularly painful moment of mirror holding. For years, I have also identified with the disciples who fall asleep when they are supposed to be on a critical night-watch mission for their friend and savior. I would definitely have been snoozing on my shift. But the more times I hear the Passion read, the more characters I begin to notice, and they all start to feel, frighteningly or hearteningly, familiar:
…There is Judas who sees an opportunity for personal gain among the “in crowd” of chief priests. We might ask ourselves: Have I ever turned in, or turned on, a friend to gain favor with others?
…There are the Chief Priests themselves who fear the loss of their own power and hear what they want to hear. Have I ever wanted to take someone else down to preserve my own superiority, perhaps cloaked as righteousness?
…There are the disciples arguing over who is the greatest and then falling asleep while they are supposed to be keeping prayerful vigil. Have I ever fancied myself the best only to slack on a critical job, like prayer or service?
…There is Peter, all talk and no walk. Have I ever talked a big game and then buckled under true pressure?
…There is Pilate, for whom popularity and power are the bottom line. Us, too, ever?
…There is Barrabas, who is guilty of sin and imprisoned. Jesus takes his place, and he is freed. Are we not also the beneficiaries of the ultimate bait and switch this event foreshadows?
…There is the crowd, complicit in Jesus’s arrest and death. Have we ever been swept up in the mentality of the mob and failed to think rightly for ourselves?
…There are the Daughters of Jerusalem who weep for Jesus. Do we, too, weep when we see wrong and feel powerless to stop it?
…There is Simon of Cyrene, who was minding his own business and boom—he was made to carry the cross, which no doubt changed his life. Has this ever happened to you? When?
…There is Criminal 1 who remains nasty and cynical to his death. Have we felt this way?
…There is Criminal 2 who finds hope in the impossible and asks not to be forgotten. Have we ever felt this way?
…There is the Centurion who recognizes the truth and speaks it, maybe too late or maybe not too late at all. Have you ever had an Aha moment with the power to change your whole worldview?
…There is Joseph of Arimathea who refused to go along with what he knew was wrong and did what he could to bring justice and goodness back into the world? Have you been the one good and righteous person amidst a drama of hate?
…And there is, of course, Jesus, who says of all these other people: “Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Are we—am I—remotely capable of this kind of forgiveness?
I love a good self-help book as much as anyone, but literature and scripture are excellent tools for helping us see who we are. The characters we read about are the characters inside us. Who in this story feels most familiar to you for where you are right now in your life? What is there to be learned from that?