You would think that Good Friday is only about Jesus. About his trial, his suffering, his death. Well, it is about those things. But he’s not alone. Far from it.
The gospel accounts all paint a crowded picture. There are Jesus’ disciples, but they’re splintering off. Judas, the betrayer. Peter, the control freak. John, the steady one. Mary his mother is there. Mary Magdalene, too: perhaps the one who most gets what Jesus is about. And then there’s the crowd, whose Palm Sunday cheers have turned sour. There are the chief priests and the scribes, who are clinging tightly to their power. The Romans represented by Pilate; the soldiers just doing their jobs. In one version of the story, a random man named Simon the Cyrene is compelled to carry Jesus’ cross for him. And then two criminals hang on either side, while the crowd waits with anticipation, because a crucifixion is a fine afternoon’s entertainment. They’re all there on Good Friday, and more besides. Each a point on a vast spectrum of innocence and guilt.
All this means that Jesus dies alone—and surrounded by people.
What are we supposed to make of this? I’m not sure, exactly. Except that I see the Bible’s perspective here. Genius serial killers might fill a Netflix queue, but the Bible is more realistic. Evil takes a village. A village of people with good intentions; or at least, justifiable ones. Everybody has their reasons, which is why this story will be re-enacted in passion plays all over the world this week. There’s no lone villain, working in isolation. There’s a whole crowd.
I assume this is so that by the time Sunday rolls around, the victory won’t belong to one person. It won’t belong just to the innocent; nor will it belong just to the guilty. It will belong to everyone. Every person who played her role in Friday will be redeemed by Sunday, whether they know it or like it or care.
It turns out we’re all bystanders to grace. A good thing to hold onto as we turn to face the cross…