Re-posted from my devotional written for #pictureLent, a collaboration between the Rio Texas and Michigan conferences of the United Methodist Church to provide daily devotionals throughout the season of Lent. See the original post here or find more information about #pictureLent at picturelent.com.
First, read John 18:1-19:42
Who are you looking for?
One afternoon in college, a group of my friends burst into my dorm room insisting I drop everything and come with them to see someone who looked exactly like me. They didn’t know who it was, they had only spotted them halfway across the campus commons and were stunned by the similarity.
I followed them with interest, expecting to be similarly stunned. But when they pointed to my doppelganger from a distance, I didn’t think he looked anything like me. I said as much to a friend and they insisted, “He has the same awkward facial structure as you!”
And with an embarrassing rush of blood to the face, I watched as my apparent lookalike turned and suddenly became a mirror image of me. In profile, I could see that we shared the same gentle jawline, the same preposterous balance of head on angled neck, rolled shoulders on scrawny frame.
I never actually sought out my doppelganger after that. There was something too disconcerting about finding the most unsettling parts of myself captured so perfectly in the face of another person.
But could that be what Good Friday is for?
While the other gospels move us quickly through the arrest and trial and on to happier things, John invites us to linger a while and look closely. Jesus is not found with a quick kiss of betrayal but seeks out the band of soldiers. He steps from the shadows into the flickering light of their lanterns and torches, but no one brandishes a sword at him. They don’t know the face of the accused, only the name on the arrest warrant.
When Jesus asks whom they seek, they answer obliviously: “Jesus the Nazarene.”
Perhaps Jesus looked too much like any common person enjoying a late-night walk among the trees. No doubt they expected someone dressed like a king, not someone wearing clothes they themselves might change into from their imperial garb at the end of shift.
But after his twice-told insistence, the soldiers arrested him. They took him to the high priest Caiaphas, who looked and saw a blasphemer rather than a king. He was struck and sent to Pilate, who was puzzled by the migrant teacher and saw a political quandary rather than a ruler. At the bidding of the crowd’s insistence, Jesus was given back to soldiers who mocked him for how little he looked like royalty.
When eventually they came to the hill for his crucifixion, the soldiers quibbled over how to divide Jesus’ clothes. The next day, his shirt and shoes would be worn by four everyday men throughout the city without any indication their former owner was anything other than ordinary.
In the years since, artists have frequently seen the extraordinary and crowned Jesus’ thorn-ridden brow with a gleaming halo. They remember that Jesus responded to the soldiers in the garden with the ancient name of the divine, “I Am.”
But hidden in the extraordinary is the discomfort of familiarity. The face on the cross looks disconcertingly like mine, baring to heaven and earth the most unsettling parts of myself. Sometimes God steps from the shadows into the flickering light of my lantern looking more like me than any king I’ve ever known.
For in Jesus’ kingdom, rulers go to the grave to save those they love and prove their place in the image of God.
Look closely on him whom they have pierced. Who are you looking for?