Holy Week 2019


When I directed Romeo and Juliet I came in for a good deal of stick because I confined Juliet to her balcony and Romeo to the garden three storeys below for the famous "balcony scene" because, if there is any evidence in the text at all (and Shakespeare famously wrote very few stage directions, embedding actor movement instructions in the text), it points to such a separation; there is certainly no evidence that Romeo was either admitted into the house at that point nor that he climbed to the balcony. But once a prejudice gets hold it is very difficult to dislodge.

Much the same can be said for two aspects of the Passion. In the first place, we frequently read that the crowd which cheered Jesus on what we call "Palm Sunday" turned on him and called for his crucifixion on Good Friday. But we know quite enough about crowd manipulation, of dictators organising marchers, to know that these might have been two totally different crowds, not least because Luke 19.37 says that the celebratory crowd was the "multitude of the Disciples" who might have been cowards on Good Friday but certainly would not have been in the crowd calling for the death of Jesus; not even Judas wanted Jesus to die.

And, secondly, what of these cowards on Good Friday who notoriously abandoned Jesus. Well, they didn't: Luke 23.49 clearly states that "All his acquaintances ... stood at a distance".

Now it could be argued that Luke has his particular, rather lenient, point of view but that does not invalidate his account any more than Mark's severity invalidates his. But the critical point is that tradition has overwhelmingly opted for the Mark account over the Luke account. Why?

I suspect that the critical point is our tendency to see the worst in people, to confuse proper scepticism with chronic suspicion. We are not really lovers of the law who think people are innocent until they are proved guilty; rather the reverse. We almost always assume guilt on the basis either of surface appearance or our own prejudices. We fear the worst, we expect the worst and we assume the worst.

Quite clearly, in spite of the differing details of the Gospel accounts, Jesus was the victim of a mistrial where the verdict was reached in advance of the evidence, a stance which we will find ourselves condemning this week; but how often do we do it ourselves?

In spite of the fact that we live in the age when there is more higher education than at any time in history, we have fallen into lazy and vicious prejudice, confusing legitimate difference with conspiracy and treachery; and legitimate standpoints with incompetence at best and malice at worst. We have lost patience with evidence and are too certain of our own point of view to bother to listen.

And what started out as a cultural defect is now threatening our approach to the Bible and to our faith, luring us into antagonistic positions: but because we should see Jesus in all our sisters and brothers, we should not just love the ones with whom we agree or who are like us; and, no matter how difficult it is, we should love not just in theory but in practice; and we should assume good intentions, in spite of appearances, until the evidence proves otherwise. Finally, we should note the restraint of Jesus throughout this trying week: not the restraint of the coward, but the restraint of the man whose final act was to forgive