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Lenten Book Study - Chapter 1 - Bystanders and Scoffers

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

I have fallen significantly behind on a goal to offer a weekly Lenten reflection on our book study. Therefore, I will try and catch up, starting today with Chapter 1. I will keep this short, but I want those of you who cannot attend our Sunday Morning Forum (and perhaps some of those who do) to consider the passion and crucifixion from a fresh perspective. Our guide, in this case, is Amy-Jill Levine, professor emerita of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt and a well renowned biblical scholar. She brings a rich and often unique understanding of biblical languages, history, and social context, but with an overriding sense of humor and humility that helps bring the text alive.

One of the challenges of reading Dr. Levine’s book comes from the scholarly details she provides. Whether from the Old Testament textual resonances or the details and differences between the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, one can quickly be overwhelmed by both her pace and depth of knowledge. However, if you have some patience, the overall effect highlights the richness of the Gospels and fleshes out each witness found at the cross. Through this revealed richness, we are invited to witness again with those gathered at the cross and see our current times differently. This opens a new way to experience Good Friday and perhaps liturgical practices like The Stations of the Cross.

The first chapter invites us to explore the role of the bystanders and scoffers. One of the points that Dr. Levine immediately notes is that the Gospels do not expound on the physical torment of the cross but instead focus on the psychological sense of abandonment. From the scoffers and bystanders come words of ridicule, while, in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Jesus’ disciples and supporters are scarce. Perhaps we are invited to think of times when we have been bystanders. Maybe it was a case of bullying from our childhood or maybe something unfolding on a broader stage. Perhaps we have witnessed brutality, even brutality experienced on the evening news, and we have felt powerless. Or maybe we have ridiculed and gloated when others are abandoned. Maybe as we watch the unfolding of historic world events, we have felt like helpless bystanders, and our cry reflects Jesus’ from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken them?” I wonder if the abandonment at the cross is an invitation always to stand, make our voice heard, and draw attention to those that the powers-that-be seek to isolate or deride. I wonder if the abandonment and injustice of the cross encourages us not to abandon others, whether from bullying, abuse, or other forms of injustice.

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