the death of Jesus
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. (Mark 11:15)
the cost of discipleship
To a group of followers, Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” These were strong words meant to open people’s eyes to the reality of what Jesus was about, what he was proposing, and where he was going. Following Jesus could place people into strong opposition by their families and could cost them their lives.
According to the synoptic gospels, sometime in his third year of healing and teaching in Galilee, after building the core of his movement, Jesus set his sights on Jerusalem in Judea. He decided to go here to confront the Sadducees, the rich and powerful rulers of the people, at their symbolic seat of power—the Jerusalem Temple.
It was in this context that Jesus began to teach his disciples about the ultimate cost of following him and the need to count that cost before they began. He told the parables of the tower builder and the warring king:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. (Luke 14:25-33)
Jesus clearly understood that death is always a potential and likely consequence of the pursuit of justice in an unjust society. He cautioned his followers that in order to follow him, they must be willing to risk public execution on a cross—the penalty for civil disobedience and insurrection by common people.
It was a time of decision. Jesus was heading towards a confrontation with power and risking his life.
resistance and the cross
For Jesus, the cross was not a symbol of divine sacrifice or the taking on of unmerited suffering—it was the price of resistance to the social destruction of empire. And Jesus was willing to pay the price.
confrontation in Jerusalem
Jesus and his followers marched on Jerusalem to confront the Sadducees at the seat of their power. His entry into the city was a noisy nonviolent demonstration that attracted wide attention. He was hailed as a messiah with palm branches. He entered the city riding on a donkey—a powerful contrast to the image of a conqueror riding on a charger. He timed his entry for the festival of Passover, a celebration that was rich in imagery of freedom from slavery, of resistance to empire and armies. To nervous Roman and Sadducee authorities, it was difficult to tell if Jesus was a peaceful prophet or a potential warrior king.
Jesus then went to the Temple and created a disturbance in full view of the elites and the Roman garrison. A demonstration at the Temple was a demonstration against the people who managed it and benefited from it—the Sadducees. Jesus challenged the economic system that propped their unjust society by turning over the tables of the money changers.
As a result the powerful Sadducee families quickly arrested him under the cover of darkness and squashed him like a bug. He was severely beaten, summarily tried, and executed on a cross as a dangerous peasant insurrectionist alongside two violent revolutionaries. And his followers fled in fear that they would suffer a similar fate.
It wasn’t the “Jews” who killed Jesus (although John’s gospel would lead you to believe this). He was murdered by a repressive government of religious and political conservatives backed by the most powerful military force in the world. They knew that his teachings and his movement were a direct threat to their privileged way of life. So they eliminated him. And the cross was their instrument of political suppression.
The wealthy and powerful thought that would be the end. But the movement Jesus created continued. And he was resurrected in the people who believed in his message of justice and who followed his example. They felt his presence among them – and this presence gave them the courage to transform their lives for the sake of the world.