Good Friday, March 30, 2018

Who We Hear and Who We Don’t
Mark 15:21-39

The plot to kill Jesus was no less than a willful state-sanctioned murder of a man who presented a threat to systemic power. In the minds of the Romans, Jesus had to die. In his movement towards execution there are a few people that are mentioned in a somewhat perfunctory manner in this Markan depiction of the crucifixion. The first is Simon of Cyrene; a pilgrim who found himself thrust in the midst of a social and political battle was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross. Simon bears the burdens of another without the author giving him any words to speak. The second are two thieves to be hung on their own crosses on the left and right of Jesus. Here, these men are given no words to speak as they fall victim to institutional violence. These three men remind us of all the ways that societies choose to see and hear certain victims. We often read the text and we see Jesus. We are sympathetic to his pain. We valorize his pain and his sacrifice. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging Jesus’ pain.

But why doesn’t the author of Mark give Simon any words? Why does the author of Mark not allow the two thieves to speak? Is it because Simon was from Cyrene? Is it because Simon was immigrant? Why doesn’t the author of Mark let the two men speak? Why doesn’t the author give them names? Is it because they are to be defined by their crimes? I want to acknowledge Jesus, but I wonder why we don’t hear the other three victims in this narrative.

Maybe the reason that we don’t hear these three men is the same reason that we hear the victims of the Parkland shooting but not the countless Black and Brown victims of gun violence. Maybe the reason that we don’t hear the other three men is the same reason that #Metoo became a movement when Alyssa Milano used it 2017 and not when Tarana Burke started it in 2006. Maybe it is the reason that Mark Anthony Conditt is a “troubled young man” and Faisal Shahzad was a terrorist. Maybe it is the reason why we know Caitlyn Jenner and not TeeTee Dangerfield. In every story we choose to listen to some people and not to others.

We are not comfortable sitting with Jesus in the crucifixion. We rush to resurrection because it is more comfortable, but we do equal amounts of violence to the salvific work of Jesus when we fail to understand that his death was a part of a larger ecology of state-sanctioned violence. We cannot ignore the voices of all those who suffered that day. We must not ignore the voices of all those who suffer today.

Rev. Yolanda Norton
SFTS Associate Professor of Old Testament