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You would think that after nearly 2000 years, we would have said all we could say about that world-changing event, Christ’s crucifixion. And yet, upon re-reading it, I still found some new things hidden within that story. But then, that’s the beauty of sacred scripture, the wonder of the Word of God: There is always more to find.
Sometimes, probably most times, those new things you discover you realize were there all along. The light that illuminates your life now shines in a new direction, revealing those things to you for the first time. As I became more aware of certain issues in my study of the crucifixion story, my eye was drawn toward those signs that I had never recognized before.
1. Free-will and the Independent Investigation of Truth and Mystery
When we speak of the crucifixion, we aren’t merely talking about those few hours during which Jesus hung upon the cross. The story begins long before that. It includes Christ’s trip into Jerusalem and the Last Supper, his betrayal and his tests, his time with Pontius Pilate and the Jewish priests, and all the way to his resurrection. The story takes time, and reveals the many and varied reactions of a number of people.
Throughout the story of the crucifixion, we find many people asking Jesus about who he is, what his mission was, and what they should do in response to him. But surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t tell people what to do. If anything, he encourages people to do what they feel is best. Judas, for example, is told to “Go ahead and do what you are going to do.” Judas had been the most trusted disciple, as evidenced by his being in charge of the funds, and yet eventually betrays Jesus. During this time, Jesus doesn’t try to persuade him otherwise. He has made his decision, and Jesus allows him to act on it, freely.
Others, such as Caiaphas, ask Jesus who he is, but receive no answer.
The two criminals crucified alongside Christ, in the Gospel of Luke, make their observations and choices, and Jesus informs them of the effect of their decisions.
Time and again Jesus allows people, during this terrible episode, to act as they will and ask what they want. To some he answers, but to others he remains silent, as is often the case when we try to plumb the divine mysteries.
The story reminds us that while the investigation of reality may be one of our duties, we are never compelled to believe. As Baha’u’llah says, “Whosoever desireth, let him turn aside from this counsel…” Jesus gives people this absolute freedom to express their free will, and watches in silence as they face the effects of their choice.
2. Reliance on God
Even approaching his own death, Jesus continually relied upon God. Look at Judas, and compare him with Peter. Jesus obviously regards Judas very highly, trusted beyond all others in this inner circle. Jesus dearly loves Peter, showing him special favor.
And yet at this time of ultimate trial, both betray him.
Judas turns Jesus over to the authorities and Peter denies him, not just once but three times. Judas turns away from God, feeling isolated in his grief, and kills himself. Peter turns his back towards God, but as a forgiven sinner, comes to be regarded as the leader of the church. By demonstrating a reliance on God, Peter rises to such heights of spirituality that he is often called the “head” apostle.
But Jesus never wavers. Although he makes his own desires known, he always trusts in God. While Jesus has his near and dear friends, he only relies upon God. The night before his crucifixion, when he is in the garden praying, he leaves his disciples behind while they sleep and communes with God alone. His example is the ultimate expression of that truth:
The source of all good is trust in God, submission unto His command, and contentment with His holy will and pleasure…
The essence of religion is to testify unto that which the Lord hath revealed, and follow that which He hath ordained in His mighty Book.
The source of all glory is acceptance of whatsoever the Lord hath bestowed, and contentment with that which God hath ordained.
The essence of love is for man to turn his heart to the Beloved One, and sever himself from all else but Him, and desire naught save that which is the desire of his Lord. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 153.