Continuing my speculative reflection on what might have been going through Jesus’ mind the week of his crucifixion…
Jesus crossed a crucial point-of-no-return by his actions in the temple. He became not just a nuisance, but an enemy of the Roman empire. It was just a matter of hours or days until he would be arrested and punished. This meant that Jesus had to act quickly, and in the run-up to the Passover observance, Jesus took every opportunity to insult the Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees, the priests, and even his disciples. Almost every encounter is a form of confrontation. Every action is a metaphor for aggression. The fig tree, the temple, unprepared, the unwatchful — bad things are going to happen. Jesus is downright rude in his replies to authority, and he delights in making them look stupid and ignorant. He appealed to the poor and marginalized, but not so much to lift them up as to insult the rich and powerful. He flouted social and religious convention — to the horror of the Jewish leadership and to the delight of the cultural riff-raff. Jesus literally makes fun of those in authority and ridicules them. Jesus is not an unkind man. His whole message has been about a different way to live. Suddenly he becomes not merely confrontational, but in some cases cruel. What’s up with that?
My conjecture is that Jesus is doing everything toward one end: to force an ultimate confrontation that allows no escape. For Jesus to fulfill his mission and to carry out God’s will, the time has come for the final act — death at the hands of the powers of the world so that there might be new life at the hands of God.
But, this course was fraught with risk. If Jesus did not make himself enough of a threat, he could be treated as a nuisance — jumped in an alley and dumped in a hidden grave. His loyal followers — not the sharpest tools in the shed — might try to “save” him, or through misunderstanding might sabotage his plan… but to let them in on the plan would be even more risky. Conspiracy could get them all killed and nip the movement inspired by a martyr in the bud. There is no evidence that Jesus had confidence in the disciples that they would “get it” and trust him, no matter how many times he repeated that everything that was happening had to happen exactly the way it was rolling out. In fact, there is obvious division in the ranks — otherwise, Judas might not have attempted to force Jesus’ hand through an act of manipulative betrayal. (What was going through Judas’ mind is a topic for another time…)
I imagine Tuesday and Wednesday to be a period of extreme anxiety and worry. Jesus had to keep moving, and to hit as many targets as possible. To be visible yet not be arrested and silenced was a mighty challenge. So, Jesus took to the streets on a brief tour of challenge, denouncement, criticism, and outright assault on the status quo. Each time he spoke, I am sure ripples and shock waves thundered through the city. As each incident arose, more and more people would be insulted, angered, annoyed, and moved to action. A growing number of people joined cadres devoted to Jesus’ utter annihilation.
Much of what happens in this last week seems out of character for Jesus. His words are harsh. There is an undercurrent of doom and gloom. Pronouncements, judgments and denunciations abound. Sharp rebuttals chastise the disciples. It is easy to believe that Jesus’ nerves were stretched to their limits. The human side emerged in outbursts, irritation, pique, indignation and downright rage — some calculated, some natural and immediate. I cannot help but believe that Jesus is almost beside himself wondering if everything is truly ready. Are the disciples prepared adequately for what will come? Will the rural poor and city tradespeople who welcomed him with “Hosannas” have what it takes to stand up to the indoctrinated city supporters of the religious order (who in a few days will call for Jesus’ blood) once Jesus is gone? Will Jesus himself have the courage to carry through death in order to get to resurrection? The very basic question: is this going to work? must have been constant and nagging. It was only the grace of having so much going on that could have kept doubts from becoming overwhelming.
Jerusalem at Passover was chaos to the extreme. Population exceeded capacity for food, lodging, waste disposal, and simple common amenities. Thieves and robbers capitalized on the chaos, and some scholars note that crime and mayhem increased so much that the law-keepers simply made themselves scarce or looked the other way. A carnival atmosphere built through the week, and offerings and sacrifices changed hands in an unending stream. Jesus would have been just one attraction among many, so it makes sense that Jesus would do everything in his power to be controversial and outrageous. He set himself apart from lesser attractions — all to the betterment of his mission.
The brief respite at the home of Simon the leper was not a “time-out,” but another opportunity to push the limits. Jesus preferenced the fringe element outcasts over his own friends — embarrassing them and insulting them (driving Judas to act?). This is a cool, calculated action designed to push the disciples. It is reasonable to imagine the twelve pulling back, asking, “What the hell was that?” This could have been a real “burning the bridges” act — rejecting close friends for the company of lepers and women of questionable conduct. What possible benefit could there be to alienating the twelve at this critical juncture? Perhaps, those with hurt feelings might focus more on themselves than on Jesus. Perhaps those with hurt feelings might not rise to defend Jesus quite so readily or quickly. Perhaps it would create a coolness that might distract them from the conflict to come. My conjecture is that Jesus was cutting ties and creating distance to insure God’s will would come to pass. Jesus’ mind must have been racing and his heart heavily burdened as the observance of the Passover arrived.