Good Friday in Nuremberg

From a Homily on Good Friday

Befehl ist Befehl. Translated: ‘I was only following orders.’ That is the plea known as the "Nuremberg Defense," used by the Nazi officers convicted of crimes during the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946. Hermann Goering and others claimed they were only following orders; they did not know of the atrocities that were occurring within the Reich. The Final Solution was all the work of Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels, they argued. The judgment of the International Tribunal upon the ex-Nazis? Guilty.

Shirking responsibility did not occur only at Nuremberg. It occurred in Jerusalem. We could label it the "Good Friday Defense."

  • Judas, the Jews, the religious leaders, Pilate, and the Romans all attempted to offload their responsibility, and they are all guilty. Judas gives the 30 pieces of silver back. He commits suicide instead of facing a resurrected Christ. Guilty.
  • The Sanhedrin refuse to take Judas' money and buy a plot of land with it. Then they refuse to execute Jesus themselves, but send him instead to the Romans. Finally they too refuse to believe in a resurrected Christ. Guilty.
  • Herod refuses to execute the condemned man, under the grounds that Jesus is crazy, and returns him Pilate. Herod could have freed Jesus himself. Guilty. Pontius Pilate is convinced of Christ's innocence, yet scourges him, issues the decree of execution, and then wipes his hands clean. Guilty.

No one on Good Friday wanted to be responsible. Befehl ist Befehl, they all say. It is in their cowardice that they are all guilty.

Not owning up to one's sins and seeking forgiveness is one of the great crimes of Good Friday; one of the great crimes of today. If we cannot acknowledge that we have crucified Jesus, then our story will end on Good Friday instead of two days from now.

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