Donald Trump’s Good Friday, and ours
For most Christians throughout the world who celebrate Good Friday, the reading of Christ’s Passion will play a central role in that commemoration. Whichever gospel your church chooses to read from, you will hear the familiar story of Christ’s arrest, trial, torture, death and burial.
The reading of Christ’s passion is not simply a retelling of the story. We ourselves play an integral role. Each of us plays the role of Judas who betrayed him, the Pharisees who arrested him, the apostles who hid in shame, the officials who tried and condemned him, and the soldiers who tortured and killed him.
Like these, we turn our backs on Christ when we sin and like them, we often stubbornly refuse to admit our fault. If we fail to see ourselves in these roles, we fail to understand the full meaning of what Christ did on the cross.
Yet we also see ourselves in Peter’s shame over his denial of Christ, in Simon as he helps Christ carry the instrument of his execution, in Mary as she sees her son bear the cruel weight of sin. We also see ourselves in the beloved disciple who stands with Christ throughout and weeps with Mary at the foot of the Cross. While most traditions believe that John is the beloved disciple, it is fitting that he remains anonymous: a formless figure in whose place we might imagine ourselves when Christ tells him “Here is your mother.”
If you are a Republican, you might see yourself in another role this Good Friday: that of the crowd at the announcement of Pilate’s verdict.
Pilate allows the crowd to choose one of two prisoners for release, both of whom have political implications. Barabbas is a revolutionary who fought in a rebellion against the Romans and believes that Israel’s return to greatness depends on military might and the return of government control to the Jews. He defines greatness in terms of power.
Christ, on the other hand, preached that in the Kingdom of God, “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” For Jesus, Israel’s greatness was never dependent on power, but on her faithfulness to God’s covenant with them. He calls not for violence, but repentance. Power is meaningless to Christ.
The crowd at Jesus’ trial is faced with a choice between the arrogant bluster of power and humble, loving repentance. With a resounding voice, they choose power. “Barabbas!” they cry, demanding their revolutionary, and breaking their souls just a little more each time they cry out his name. “Not this man, but Barabbas!”
Republicans find themselves facing a similar choice of identity with Donald Trump. The billionaire believes that he will “make America great again” through power and wealth. For him, greatness is dominance over others, whether that means physical force or personal attacks. Trump believes that greatness is achieved by trampling others.
But how will America achieve greatness if Trump sets us upon each other like thieves? This is not the way of Christ, but an outright rejection of his message. American greatness ought to be defined by virtue, wisdom, and humble service to others.
America’s greatness is not, and never has been, defined by power and wealth. If we choose Trump, we are crying out “Barabbas!” And like the crowd at Jesus’ trial, our souls will break when we call his name.
Steven Magnusen holds a master of arts degree in historical and systematic theology from the Catholic University of America.