As we move deeper into the Easter Triduum, with the most solemn day of the liturgical year, I continue with some links to Kittredge Cherry’s series on the Queer Passion, in Art – her reflections on the extended series of paintings by Douglas Blanchard. Today, I cover the events of the Agony in the Garden, the arrest, and the appearance before the priests, before Pilate – and before the people.
“If this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.” — Matthew 26:42 (RSV)
He knew that his actions — even his very existence — brought him into inevitable conflict with authorities who wanted him dead. His extravagant way of loving challenged the power structures, the status quo. But he couldn’t deny who God created him to be.
In our struggles to live lives that are authentic and true, to ourselves, to our communities, and to our faith, it often seems that we too are alone, especially when young. It is too easy to be conscious only of the hostility and discrimination that we experience, from the state, from the churches, and from public prejudice. We must remember though, that we are not alone. Jesus was alone in that he had no human companions, but he was able to join in prayer with God the Father. We too, are never alone. Developing a strong prayer life will help us to be aware that we are likewise never alone. Humans may abandon or persecute us because of who we are: God never will.
“Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Human One is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” – Matthew 26:45
Authorities tend to pick on the poorest, queerest and most marginalized in any society. This time they came out in force, like a small army with bright lights and far more weapons than necessary.
“Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy.’” — Matthew 26:65 (RSV)
The police arrested Jesus and took him straight to the priests — the ones that Jesus had often accused of hypocrisy. They rigorously enforced minor laws, while neglecting the purpose of the law: justice, love and faith.
“And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation.’” — Luke 23:2 (RSV)
For Jesus, the only law was love — outright love for God and for people. He kept quiet in this alien place where loveless laws led to injustice. They used the legal system to force an uneasy “peace” on the local people, suppressing their culture and their very identity.
“But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’” — Mark 15:14 (RSV)
How quickly the people turned against Jesus! A week ago the crowds adored him. Now a mob was outside the government headquarters demanding his death. Pilate, the magistrate, wanted above all to maintain security. He made Jesus stand before the angry throng. They shouted with increasing frenzy: “Crucify him!” The chief priests stirred up the crowd, vehemently accusing Jesus of all kinds of sins. “He’s a traitor! Burn in hell!” Their words still echo today when hate-mongers tell ruthless lies: “God hates gays! Death to fags!”
What strikes me most about this group of posts and paintings is how they stand together as a set, which is how I treat them here. Like Jesus, we in the queer community often find ourselves under attack by the law and civil institutions that should be protecting the weak and marginalised in society, by churches that should be promoting love but instead preach hatred and exclusion, and by communities that insist on forcing conformity to heteronormative patterns on all minorities.
Neither Pilate nor the Sanhedrin were faced with any actual evidence for the supposed crimes of Jesus, and nor have the defendants of discrimination been able to produce any evidence in court to support their claims that legal equality for all would harm either marriage or families. Jesus’ response was not to fall into the trap of arguing with them on their terms, but simply to reflect their own words – and to be true to himself.
And so must we.
20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”