Last year I had the Junior School in church learning about what we did in church at Easter. We went through the Easter story, dressed the kids up as priests and even washed one lad’s feet. In the questions part one kid asked ‘Why did the same crowd cheer for Jesus on Sunday and shout crucify him on Friday?’. This is the question that I wondered about as a kid and everyone wonders really. What is it about people that makes us do things like that? The disturbing thing about the Easter story is that everyone in it is very ordinary. The things that they do are commonplace in some ways, especially in their society. There are no super evil people in the story just ordinary people where events get out of control. Below are some interviews with the people in the story and a take on why they behaved the way they did. Also a short biography of who they are.
Annas the High Priest’s Father in Law
Annas is a religious leader who wants to keep the peace with the Romans. He spent most of his life serving in the Temple and is old enough for his father to have suffered in the conquest of Judea by the Romans. The Temple is his life really, the centre of his faith and his culture. For the Jewish people at the time the Temple was Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral all in one. About 600 years earlier the first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jewish nation almost wiped out in genocide. So Annas and most Jews still fear that this may happen again, the cultural scars are still there. As Judea is ruled by the Romans he is particularly fearful at this time. Annas is an intellectual who has publicly challenged Jesus in debate a number of times and each time been made to look foolish. Having spent all his life studying being upstaged by a working class carpenter from a poor northern town is more than humiliating.
The question: ‘Why did Jesus get executed?’ is put to Annas
He may have answered: “Because he was stubborn and dangerous Jesus said that he was going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. The man was delusional, but dangerously popular. What if the people following him decided to start smashing up the Temple? Remember that Jesus and his followers did throw out all the legitimate money changers. Good people with good businesses ruined by this uneducated northern rabble. We just wanted him to stop his trouble making especially at the festival when everyone is hyped up. His only justification for all his teaching was that he was God. If he had just said publicly that he wasn’t God and that the Temple was not to be destroyed then he could have gone back north to whatever slum he came from and be forgotten. He brought it on himself because he would not stop making his ridiculous claims. After all we did hold a trial and he was found guilty. Finally don’t forget that I did not order his execution it was Pilate”.
Annas is at heart a politician, not even a very bad one. He is trying to protect civil order and the centre of the nation’s life from a dangerous fanatic. At heart he doesn’t want to kill Jesus he simply want him to go away. After all if someone said that they were going to destroy Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s what would we do? Annas is proud and doesn’t listen to Jesus’ message. He doesn’t listen because what can a northern carpenter tell him about anything, least of all faith. If he had listened he would have known that Jesus was talking about the Temple of his body not the literal Temple in Jerusalem. Do we ever not listen to people and go off with half a story to paint them in a negative light?
The Passover Festival was massive in Jerusalem a national holiday with religious and community contexts. A bit like Christmas today, yes religious but mostly a big party too. The crowd are hyped up just like crowds are hyped up at Christmas time today. Let’s face it people do things at Christmas that the rest of the year they wouldn’t dream of, it’s the same at Passover in Judea.
The question: ‘Why did Jesus get executed? is put to a person in the crowd
“Well last week we all thought that Jesus was great, that’s before we found out what he was really like. I thought great at last someone is standing up for us against the Romans. He is going to finally sort them all out, no more getting squashed under their taxes. So yeah I cheered for him. I thought great he’s going to walk straight up to those Roman bastards and get them out. After all we’d heard that he’d done all these miracles, even raised this bloke from the dead. So if he can do that sort of thing sorting out the Romans no problem. I was chuffed when he threw all the money changers out. I hate them they rip you off every year. But then he just talked for days, no ‘Let’s go and sort out the Romans follow me’. No just talked and talked. I liked it when he showed that Annas bloke up he’s a right prat, nice one Jesus. But no action just talk. Then I saw him on the Friday morning all beaten up. There with that bastard Pilate saying ‘here is your king’. Jesus was supposed to kill the Romans and set us free not get beaten up by them. If Jesus was as powerful as everyone said he could have blasted Pilate, but no. It was all bull and I was so angry because Jesus let me down, I screamed ‘Crucify Him’. Can’t believe how stupid I was to fall for it all. I suppose that’s our lot really to get humiliated time and again. Everyone just screamed and screamed, we were so angry. You see that bloke was us as a nation, beaten up time and again by foreigners. Then someone comes along who we think will set us free and look what happens. He humiliates himself and us as well. But it wasn’t me who executed Jesus it was the Romans. I didn’t nail him up, that’s the Romans not me”.
The Jewish nation had been humiliated for centuries. Their history is a bit like Poland’s a country who is always getting battered. For hundreds of years they have been conquered by different kings and emperors. In the heightened emotions of a festival people dared to hope that Jesus would get rid of the Romans. When they saw a physically broken Jesus their disappointment turned to anger and crowds get very angry. Have we ever got angry and said or done something in the heat of the moment. Have we ever been disappointed with someone who we think has let us down?
The two examples above show us that the intentions of people at Easter are not pure evil. They are just ordinary, things just got out of control. Next month I’ll do an interview with Pilate, the High Priest and the soldiers that executed Jesus.
Fr Hywel Snook, Parish Priest.