“Here is the man.” (From the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John 18:1-19:42) Pilate has spoken a truth beyond the words we hear and beyond the man we see. Who is this man? Who do you see? To whom is Pilate referring?
Yes, it is Jesus of Nazareth. He’s wearing a crown of thorns and dressed in a purple robe. He’s been whipped and beaten. But I wonder if this man might also be someone else – this man who is beaten and abused, this man who has been broken, this man who is mocked and ridiculed, this man who is cut and bleeding, this man who is the victim of violence and injustice, this man who is in pain and suffering, this man who has been abandoned, betrayed, and denied, this man who stands alone in silence.
Who is this man? Do you recognize his face, his pain, his brokenness?
Touch with his hands and feel your own pain. Look with his eyes and see your own brokenness. Listen with his ears and hear the silence of your own loneliness and abandonment. Taste with his tongue your own thirst and dryness. Smell with his nose the many ways the stench of death has invaded your life.
This man is the image and reflection of our own lives, our losses, our pain and suffering, our brokenness, our loneliness and abandonment. His story is the human story. We see him everywhere. Look in any room at a hospital or nursing home; “Here is the man.” Hear the cries of those who grieve; “Here is the man.” See the violence across our world; “Here is the man.” Wherever you find injustice, discrimination, or oppression; “Here is the man.” Look into the faces of battered women and abused children; “Here is the man.” The poor, the hungry, the needy; “Here is the man.” In the midst of fear, loss, or sorrow; “Here is the man.” In condemnation and guilt; “Here is the man.” Wherever there is pain, suffering, or death; “Here is the man.” In the brokenness of humanity; “Here is the man.”
If we are not able to see that, if we look at this man and see only the individual, Jesus of Nazareth, if we cannot see that this man is every man and woman, the Son of Man, the human one, the personification of all human beings — then the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is just another tragic story of humanity turning against itself, just another chapter in the book of humanity’s ability to be less than human, just another sad tale at which we shake our heads and wonder when and how any of this will ever change; and there is nothing good about this Friday.
“Here is the man.” The hidden meaning and truth in Pilate’s words are this. Here is the human being. Here is you. Here is me. Because Jesus is the Son of Man, the human one, “the man,” he is the mirror in which we see the truth and of our own pain, the suffering of all people, the brokenness of our world, the violence that destroys, and the tragic reality of death.
Let’s not, however, be too quick to assign blame or guilt. The only guilt that makes a difference today is this man’s guilt. Jesus has been charged and condemned for making himself equal to God, claiming that he is the Son of God. Of that he is guilty. Later in the gospel story Thomas will confirm the truth of the charges when he looks at Jesus’ wounds and proclaims, “My Lord and my God.” Here is the man. Here is the one who is truly and fully human because he and the Father are one. If we have seen him we have seen the Father.
Here is the man. See the dignity of the one who is charged, condemned, and guilty. Hear the peace that fills his silence. See the strength that lets him embrace and cling to the cross. Hear the compassion in the midst of his suffering as he unites his mother and the beloved disciple to become a new family. See the companionship that stands next to his loneliness and abandonment. Hear the victory in his words, “It is finished.” Receive the life he offers when he gives up his breath, his spirit.
That dignity, peace, strength, compassion, companionship, victory, and life are the very presence of God himself. God is not distant from this man, his pain and suffering, or his death — this man who is every man and woman. Here is God. Here is the man. Only by coming close enough to be entangled by and caught up in the cycle of human pain and suffering, human violence, human tragedy, and human death does God get near enough to break the cycle with divine healing, reconciliation, and restoration.*
“Here is the man.” He has embraced the cross of suffering and death for all people and transformed it into the Tree of Life. The hard wood of the cross now flowers with hope and possibilities for the healing, reconciliation, and restoration of our own lives. That’s what make this Friday good.
Today is Good Friday and “Here is the man.”
*This sermon, and this sentence in particular, were inspired by and modeled after Martin Smith’s meditation, “Embodiment,” in Love Set Free (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1984), 1-13.