When Ben Adam comes in his importance, and all the messengers with him, he will sit upon his weighty throne. All the nations* will be assembled before him. He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The chief messenger will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ The Tsaddik will answer him, ‘Kyrie, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ The chief messenger will reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me…
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus…, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me… The next line is in our Passion account. As we do to our neighbor, we participate in Passover, the Passion. We see this in several key scenes.
The first story is the story of Barabbas. Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus Son of the Father.” In Hebrew, Barabbas means Son of the Father. “Who do you want me to release to you, Jesus, Son of the Father, or Jesus, Son of the Father?” The two men have the same name and title. There is a difference. One wants to overthrow the Romans through peace and love, non-violence. The other chooses violence.
Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” The Cohenim Hagedol, with the grammarians and Presbyterians, mocked him said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
We hear the words, “He chose to be there. It is his fault. We disown the event. This has echoes of Exodus 1:10. Come; let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase.” How Pharaoh deals shrewdly, Exodus does not say, but it implies in the first verses of the passage where Exodus shows how the Hebrews chose to come to the land of Egypt. We are again presented with the idea that the other guys choices rationalize anything we might do to them.
We forget Exodus chapters 13-14, where God gives Pharaoh swimming lessons. We forget the beginning of our Passion story, Matthew 25:31-46. This passage addresses the nations, our nation included. How we as a nation treat the least of us is how we participate in the Passion.
God remembers our indiscretion if we voted for those who choose to cut funding for the poor. In the end, God hears the cry of the poor, and he recognizes in it his own cries on the cross.
The trial of Jesus gives us two lessons. First, Jesus says, “From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven…’” What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the slander; what is your opinion?” They reply, “He deserves to die!”
They do not say he is guilty as charged. These people are overly scrupulous with the law. One of the rules is that confessions are not admissible in court. What he says here is not admissible. No! They do not declare Jesus guilty. They say he deserves to die. There is a difference.
In US courts, when double jeopardy, that is the current legal term, comes up, lower state and local courts can and do appeal to federal courts for the filing of federal charges. The murder of African Americans in the south and subsequent acquittals because the killer was white resulted in convictions in federal courts for violations of civil rights. The same occurs in Jesus trial. Unable to get a conviction, the appeal is to the federal court, Rome. When we say the Jews killed Jesus, we speak in error. Their court resulted in a hung jury, not a conviction. It did not get them off the hook for the next two thousand years.
In particular, in Luke, we see the same in the two criminals killed with Jesus. One chooses the path of Barabbas, the path of violence. He dies angry, unrepentant, and arguing for Jesus’ death. The other becomes a follower of Jesus, a practitioner of non-violence. Jesus tells him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paradise is the Persian word for Eden, used in our Latin Vulgate, and in the ancient Greek book of Genesis. Today you will be with me in the Garden. When we get to heaven, their won’t be harps; there will be garden tools. If we cannot take care of this planet, why should God allow us into the next one?
The other little thing about Jesus’ trial. Jesus says, “From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven…” The Hebrew word for cloud is עַנְנֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם. Hebrew would say, “The great flow of the poor,” as עַנְנֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם. It is the same phrase. Jesus seems to be threatening social upheaval and the court views it that way. That is why they are so angry.
“As you treat the least of these my brothers, you do it to me.” There is a clear threat. Jesus will repudiate the violence of Bar Abbas. He is a different Bar Abbas, a different Son of the Father, but the result is the same. It does not matter how the poor became poor. It does not matter if we say they are guilty or if they deserve to die. The result is the same.
As we move forward past Easter, let us remember, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out. I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out. I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out. I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Hispanics. I did not speak out. I am not Hispanic. Then they came for the Arabs and the Muslims. I did not speak out. I am not Arabic or Muslim. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Martin Niemöller