This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.
2 I cry to God Most High,
to God who fulfils his purpose for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me,
he will put to shame those who trample on me.
God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.
I’ve selected just a few verses of this Psalm for its use of a phrase found in other psalms also: ” I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” The writers were thinking of he behaviour of chicks running to the mother bird when faced with danger. Such a feminine image of God reminds us that our ordinary use of the pronoun “He” for God is merely conventional, as it is in these blogs.The God who is beyond gender has revealed traits of character which are both masculine and feminine-and perhaps also neuter, when the pronoun “It” would be appropriate. The psalmist attributes a motherly protectiveness to God, which Jesus attributed to himself when he lamented the refusal of Jerusalem to find shelter under his wings.
The mention of Jesus reminds us that although the sheltering wings are an ultimate truth about God, there are nevertheless times when the divine mother leaves us to cope on our own, sometimes in our moment of greatest need, and we cry out in our abandonment.
<!– 24 –>
Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified
24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood;* see to it yourselves.’25Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’26So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. <!– 27 –>
The Soldiers Mock Jesus
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters,* and they gathered the whole cohort around him.28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’30They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.31After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Just as Pilate cannot be held innocent because he washed his hands of Jesus, so the Jewish people cannot be held solely guilty of killing Jesus: Rome held the power of execution and used it ruthlessly to further its own interest, as Plate does here. We should notice the gospel writer’s bias towards exculpating Rome (who still had the power to benefit or disadvantage the Christian community) and blaming the Jews (who had already expelled believers in Jesus from their synagogues). The use of the words that Matthew (and only Matthew!) attributes to the Jewish people, “His blood be on us and on our children” by anti-Jewish persecutors down the ages, should give pause to those who tell us that every Bible word comes from God.
Jesus was subjected to the casual brutality of professional soldiers employed by an imperial power. Documents have just emerged revealing just such brutality by British forces in Kenya and Cyprus in the nineteen fifties. Bullies everywhere and at all times should remember that they are twisting the crown of thorns into Jesus’ head. Doubtless at such a time Jesus would have been happy to hide under the shadow of God’s wings, but for him there was no comfort, not even that of feeling spiritually close to God. The sober accounts of Jesus’ agony allow us say that the Son of God fully understands the victims of torture and offers the possibility of forgiveness to torturers who turn away from cruelty. These are uncomfortable deductions from a gospel story which continues to challenge and disturb.