"save yourself!"

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Jesus. And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments.

And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"

...And one of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (Lk 23.32-39)

I think we'll use this passage for our retreat next weekend (including the part where Jesus tells the other criminal, "Today you will be with me in paradise"). Looking it over yesterday I noticed the repeated taunt, "Save yourself!" That seems important.

Isn't that the temptation for Jesus on the cross? And isn't that the human measure of a worthy king, or a great man? "Save yourself and us!"

Much of my criticism of Christian community has also been that we prefer to save ourselves, and attempt to use the gathered power and wealth of a group to do that. Or use the techniques that seemed to save other communities in the past. Even when hard circumstances demonstrate how truly helpless we are, as soon as things settle down a bit we quickly move to establish control again. To maintain the illusion that through our structures and cooperation we can save ourselves from future calamities. We feel secure in that illusion.

"Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." The rulers actually thought that they were saving themselves (and their community) by getting rid of Jesus. This drive for self-salvation, this pride, works directly against God's purposes.

Jesus offended the rulers, the crowd, the soldiers, and even one of the criminals, by not saving himself. Instead, he trusted God to save him. And God did.

In their attempts to save themselves, however, the rulers and crowds and soldiers were not so successful.