My prayer on this dark day is that we would truly begin to take seriously our identity as the human family, confess our condemnation before God as such, and repent of the artificial boundaries that we self-righteously create to separate ourselves in order to point away to a more wretched type of sinner than we. We must admit that our hands can never be completely washed of any man’s blood, lest we find ourselves sharing the basin with Pilate rather than Jesus. I’ve never heard a sermon preached on the story of Pilate in the Passion narratives. I think I know why. If we wrestle honestly with the central role that Pilate plays in the Passion of Jesus Christ, we will be confronted with the dismal truth that our attempts to wash our hands of any man’s blood, much less the blood of these children, amounts to a baptism in it.
Pilate had the power to stop what was happening, but he did not have the obligation. The state cannot oblige compassion, cannot command love. As the crowd grew restless, it created more discomfort for Pilate to stand up for his conviction about Jesus. Eventually, he compromised. He would wash his hands, transfer the guilt, and hand the Innocent One over to his accusers. Pilate is the one who “sits on the judgment seat” (Mt. 27:18). He thinks that he has the power to escape judgment by the word of his own declaration of innocence. He washes his hands feverishly, trying to convince himself that he is getting all the blood off. The Innocent One is executed. He pulls his hands from the basin–dark red.
Jesus fills the basin to wash his disciples’ feet. He tells them to do the same. We turn on the news…”O God!” We run to the basin. We wash…we scrub… “For God’s sake, these were just children!” “We hate it for the families.” “Did you hear?” “Lift up the people in…” “What an evil…”
Now we are ready to declare our innocence. Hands clean. Conscience appeased. Now we are free. There’s nothing to get excited about, no reason to react, no sense in thinking we need to make any changes now. No need to consider any form of repentance that might be necessary for us. This was just one evil man with a couple of guns.
And then someone asks Jesus about the greatest commandment, and he says to love God and neighbor, a category which, for Jesus, included enemy…and the water thickens…warms…darkens.
Jesus’ haunting distillation of the commandments of God into something fundamentally proactive (you shall love), rather than prohibitive (you shall not…), means that our obedience is located ‘out there’ in the world of violence we are willing to condemn but unwilling to love, a world that has a desperate need for the love of Christ demonstrated by his body, precisely as his body. This is only possible for the confessing body of Christ; for we are a people who destroy artificial human boundaries that seek to divide the human family in pride–whether political, national, racial, whatever–and unite the human family in humility. “Take up your cross” is not a nice principle of trying not to be selfish. It is the confession that human guilt is shared guilt. That is what the cross was for Jesus and that is what it is for us. If God shares Pilate’s guilt (“Father forgive them!”), we can share any man’s.
Jesus is not called the second Adam arbitrarily. He is called the second Adam because we are all “in Adam,” his family sharing his guilt, and ever recapitulating it. If our guilt is not shared in Adam, neither is our salvation shared in Christ. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). We are the people who see, as Alexandr Solzenitzen look out from his prison window in communist Russia, that the line dividing good and evil is a line that runs straight through the heart of every man. We never fail to draw the line elsewhere, however, in order to locate guilt anywhere but ourselves. Our self-righteous categories whether with reference to myself, family, interest group, nation, or even religion, are categories that mock the Christ whose death is the center and circumference of all human righteousness, and apart from which there is only the abysmal void and the outer darkness.
Christ commands that his followers’ first confession is that they are unrighteous. And if a community will actually unite on the basis of their unrighteousness, then they can become the community that truly celebrates the grace of God in Jesus Chris. This community alone will be a place where nobody has to hide, a place where nobody has to pretend, a place where nobody has to cover themselves with fig leaves and point away to another or the devil, because we can celebrate that “God has proven his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
This is the only kind of place where a murderer might find salvation…before he murders.
For all of us who could have expressed love to some wretched sinner in the name of Jesus Christ and didn’t, no matter how clean our hands and how dirty theirs, we have only proven that their guilt is our guilt. A man who massacres elementary school children is one member of one very negligent body. People do not get to that point without the help of high school bullies, absent fathers, heartless mothers, impatient teachers, unwelcoming peers, and law abiding Christians with squeaky clean hands. We have all contributed to the death of those children. It takes a village to raise a monster.
We are all under condemnation tonight. We all need repentance tonight. The Church has dirty hands and it better not wash them. Dirty, honest, humble hands are the only kind that a monster will ever respond to. So if we are serious about declaring war on evil and preventing this kind of thing from happening, we will no longer pretend like it is some other parent’s problem, some other school’s problem, some other activist’s problem, or Washington’s problem. We will think corporately about how we can better reach out to the unloved–as Christ reached out to us–and we will declare with all sincerity that: “Those children were God’s children. That family was my family. Their blood is on Christ’s hands, and I’ll be damned if it’s not on ours.”
Lord, have mercy.