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When My Pastor Became Clint Eastwood (5 Days in 4 Gospels: Day 1)

On Good Friday, my childhood pastor would become Clint Eastwood. He would basically tell us, “You are a know good-for-nothing-yellow-bellied-gizzard. You are a worthless worm. You killed Jesus! Feel guilty.” (And we wondered why people didn’t come to church on Good Friday.) What if we told the story like the gospel writers? In Jesus’ last moments, he teaches us the greatest lesson of all: how to love those who hate you. He teaches us how God suffers. The point is not guilt; it’s godliness—no matter what the circumstances.

T-Minus 2 Days until Jesus Dies. The chief priests and the scribes want to kill Jesus. Why? Power. They can’t have a rabbi around who teaches against their religious power plays. But wait: they can’t kill him during the Passover feast, because that would ruin the party and could create an uprising among all the peasants—Jesus’ main following—who were in Jerusalem for the festival. Matthew says the elders of the people also joined in. And where do they plan all this? The palace of the high priest (Matt 26:3). (Rich people oppressing poor people is nothing new.) They then recruit Judas. Judas acts on his own accord out of greed (they pay him off), but along the way Satan enters him. (Only Luke and John record this part of the story. [Luke 22:3; John 13:27].)

Villains, Villains, Villains. Pastor Clint Eastwood would say that we are the villain in this story. In many ways, he’s right: Jesus died for us. And it’s because of our sin that he had to die. Furthermore, aren’t we a lot like Judas, the chief priest, the scribes and the elders? Greed and power drives humanity. But there’s more going on here than just that. Satan’s involved. Luke and John seem to suggest that he’s the driving force behind all of it. The dichotomy between good and evil exists—in every event. This makes the point not guilt, or the guilty, but the dynamic between God’s actions and our actions. Will we suffer like Jesus? Will we join his team? Or will we just be spectators as the Son of God (and Son of Man) is crucified? And in the meantime, how will we fight? Will we fight greed with greed, power with power, and ultimately hate with hate? Or will we choose another way? When Jesus acts like the suffering servant—the topic of my first book—he shows us that evil should be fought with diligence, perseverance and an undaunted will to follow God.

Jesus Eats Grub with Judas, Peter and Us. Before he dies, Jesus eats. Who Jesus dines with teaches us that one of Pastor Clint Eastwood’s other messages is also wrong: Christians don’t eat bread and drink wine (share communion) with just Christians, they do it with everybody. Judas is at the table. And so is Peter, who will deny him three times before he dies. Jesus eats and drinks a holy meal with the worst kind of sinners. In doing so, he teaches us that we should share his broken body (the bread) and blood spilt (the wine) with everyone: Jesus’ death is for all of us. It is meant to be shared, not horded.

Good Friday is Meant to Be Good. Jesus’ crucifixion is a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking event. We need to understand how much pain and sorrow Jesus experienced for us. But we are not meant to feel guilty as a result. During the Passover meal, Jesus does not say, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out so that the sinners may feel guilty.” He says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” His blood is spilt for our forgiveness. We are meant to feel enabled to live a life like Jesus: to love those who hate us (and betray us) by eating and drinking with them. Recognizing our own sin and guilt is important, but it is a step, not a solution. The solution is forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice.

I am not suggesting you go put Pastor Clint Eastwood in his place. But I am suggesting that you consider doing what Jesus did:

Recognize that the battle is against the forces of darkness.

Reflect on the fact that Jesus did not intend for us to focus on our guilt, but on his grace.

Realize that Jesus fought greed, power and hatred with love.

Revitalize other people by acting like Jesus: share a meal with them.

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The Infinite God is everywhere, are you looking? I am dedicated to finding God in all aspects of life – the Bible, the news, and the arts. Because I find that the most fulfilling journey of all is searching for heaven here on earth.