One of the most beautiful, and exhausting, times of the Church year is Holy Week.
During this time we remember the days that lead to Christ’s resurrection. Though we remember the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper, the most significant thing we remember is the crucifixion of our Lord.
As Orthodox Christians we don’t want to miss a thing.
In fact, we have two services in which the story of the trial and crucifixion are retold: Holy Thursday evening, where we have 12 readings (YES! TWELVE!); and Holy Friday morning (only four readings, this time, from the Gospels).
One question that always seems to come up is this one: why did Jesus have to die? Why was he crucified?
JESUS’ CRUCIFIXION IS A PART OF A LARGER STORY
There are many answers to this question, and all of them illuminate a bit more about the gospel message.
Here, though, I want to talk about Christ as the wronged brother.
So, why did Christ have to die? Because his crucifixion is a part of a larger story. It’s a part of the story of Israel, which has been told for centuries.
This is the story of how salvation comes about through a wronged brother.
JACOB WRONGS ESAU
The story begins with an old Sunday School favorite: Jacob and Esau.
Jacob and Esau are twin brothers. However, instead of acting brotherly towards each other, Jacob tricks Esau and steals Esau’s birthright.
As a result, Jacob ends up fleeing into exile, where, ironically, he himself is tricked.
When Jacob decides to return home, he fears that Esau will try to take revenge on him. The night before Jacob meets Esau, Jacob spends the night wrestling with God. As a result, Jacob’s hip is injured.
JACOB DISCOVERS THAT ESAU FORGIVES AND HELPS HIM
The next day, Jacob discovers that Esau has brought 400 men with him, and Jacob fears the worst. However, instead of striking and wounding Jacob, as God had done the night before, Esau offers forgiveness, and even assists Jacob with his journey home!
The message is clear. Jacob considered Esau to be the same sort of person his was: vengeful. But instead, he learns that he ought to truly fear God. Esau, despite being the wronged brother, proves to be the true brother by offering salvation through forgiveness.
JOSEPH IS WRONGED BY HIS BROTHERS
This story is repeated in the story of Joseph.
Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, so they decide to get rid of him. Instead of having brotherly love, they sell him into slavery!
Joseph eventually makes it down into Egypt. Despite being a slave, he eventually becomes the second most powerful person in Egypt, so when he is warned in a dream that a drought is coming, he is able to gather Egypt’s resources to build storehouses to keep everyone fed.
JOSEPH FORGIVES HIS BROTHERS AND FEEDS THEM
Once the drought hits, Joseph’s brothers, on the verge of starvation, go down into Egypt looking for food; however, they don’t immediately recognize Joseph, now a powerful Egyptian leader. Joseph, on the other hand, does recognize them.
In the end, Joseph forgives his brothers, and he is able to provide the food they need to make it through the drought. He proves to be the real brother, and becomes their salvation, despite having been wronged.
JESUS IS OUR WRONGED BROTHER
The story of Jesus, and the story of his trial and crucifixion, is told in the same way.
Jesus is like Esau and Joseph. He is the wronged brother, who was innocent.
Jesus is accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. This death sentence is carried out through crucifixion, a painful and humiliating death.
In the stories above there’s a twist; instead of revenge, the guilty brother finds forgiveness and salvation through the wronged brother.
In the same way, we find forgiveness and salvation through Jesus, the wronged brother. Just as Jacob found forgiveness and salvation through Esau, and Joseph’s brothers found it through Joseph, we now find forgiveness and salvation through Christ.
P.S. LET US CALL BROTHER EVEN THOSE WHO HATE US
One of the most beautiful hymns of the Orthodox Church has these words,
Let us call ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ even those who hate us, and forgive all by the Resurrection
This is what the story of the wronged brother is all about. This is what the crucifixion story is all about. It’s about finding forgiveness and salvation, despite what we’ve done, and who we’ve wronged.
I now invite all of you to come and participate in this continuing story of forgiveness and salvation this Sunday at St. Elias.
I’ll see you then! (10:30 am, 2001 Asbury Rd, Dubuque).