I may have too harshly judged the disciples because they did not show up at the Crucifixion.
But now — watching the Derek Chauvin trial, looking on with horror and looking away with disgust — I understand. It is difficult to watch an act of brutal injustice. It is hard to focus one’s thoughts and eyes in the midst of such inhumanity and unfairness. It is profoundly disturbing to witness such acts of overwhelming abuse of power and privilege and be powerless to do anything about it.
The disciples would have had to watch their friend being killed by state-sanctioned violence. They would not have been able to stop the agony and pain. In their innocence they also would have seen themselves in the unjust torture of their friend, their friend who also was fellow human and Savior.
As a Black man, I get the intensity and pain of being connected to the unfolding, brutal miscarriage of justice.
Jesus’ death was a spectacle. It is what has come to be known as “violence porn.” The people who supported this system of sanctioned violence utilized the “justice apparatus” to lay upon their brutality a thin patina of legitimacy. Those who looked upon the crucifixion took pleasure in his torture. They celebrated his pain. These are the trials of Herod and the Sanhedrin. The function of their actions was justification, not justice.
Because his very being called into question their entire religious and social systems, Jesus, the target, was put on trial. The decks were stacked against him. To defend or witness the death of Jesus would have only added to the disciples’ feelings of frustration, futility and fury. So, the disciples simply gave up. They could not watch.
I share and understand their feelings.
My Facebook timeline and Twitter feed are filled with threads that contain videos of people being brutalized and unfairly treated by those who operate with the sanction of state authority. Heaped upon that are the accompanying comments that point to other videos that defy the reality that witness videos have repeatedly captured. Cable news and newspaper analysts are arguing about the interpretation of the overwhelming statistical evidence that something is wrong.
Unjustly, people are being brutally mistreated and even murdered with the permission of the state.
“As the system excludes consideration of Chauvin’s character, the character of George Floyd is being examined.”
So, George Floyd has become the penultimate expression of this orgy of violence and futility. As the system excludes consideration of Chauvin’s character, the character of George Floyd is being examined. Chauvin’s 17 incidences of police misconduct are seen as irrelevant, while Floyd’s drug use is game for consideration. The fear is — again — that the court’s mission is not to seek justice but to provide a justification for unjust actions.
So, I want to look away. But then I would miss out on what those who witnessed the Crucifixion gained.
Absence of witness is what has gotten us to this place. It has led to a lack of urgency and a passive acceptance of the status quo.
Yes, we will cry out with outrage. But this is short-lived. We should see the pain and brutality of the video. We must study and hear the lack of integrity of the trial and the defense. Even if this time there is some measure of justice in the outcome, we will still be outraged by the process. Laws need to be changed that excuse the police from accountability. We need to have more than a march about white supremacy and Black Lives Matter.
“Witness this spectacle and proclaim that this must change.”
The power of Jesus’ Crucifixion is that those who had the courage to witness it, those who mourned and walked alongside Jesus’ body to the grave, were changed by their witness. They demanded that the world act differently. They proclaimed the utterly miraculous message that love can come out of such hatred and injustice. They refused to participate in the system of retribution and proclaimed that all things must become new.
After they witnessed Calvary, they inspired the creation of the multi-ethnic community of the New Testament church where there was no division by ethnicity or geography. After their witness, they inspired generations to have the courage of faith to confront the apparatuses of injustice and puerile violence.
The old systems of beliefs and actions must change.
So, here is my request: Witness this spectacle and proclaim that this must change. We must change. Our world must change.
Floyd Thompkins serves as pastor of Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church Marin City in Novato, Calif. He also serves as chief executive officer of Foundation for Justice and Peace. He is a graduate of Bethany College and earned a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.
George Floyd’s murder: Knowing what cannot be unseen | Opinion by Wendell Griffen
To live into Easter, we need to keep writing a new song | Opinion by Laura Mayo
Why we must not look away in the current crisis | Opinion by Mark Wingfield