Part 8 of the series “Lent and Easter with Game of Thrones
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
April 18, 2014—Good Friday
Luke 23:13–34

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Luke 23:13–34 • Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people. He said to them, “You brought this man before me as one who was misleading the people. I have questioned him in your presence and found nothing in this man’s conduct that provides a legal basis for the charges you have brought against him. Neither did Herod, because Herod returned him to us. He’s done nothing that deserves death. Therefore, I’ll have him whipped, then let him go.” But with one voice they shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison because of a riot that had occurred in the city, and for murder.)   Pilate addressed them again because he wanted to release Jesus.   They kept shouting out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”   For the third time, Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I’ve found no legal basis for the death penalty in his case. Therefore, I will have him whipped, then let him go.”   But they were adamant, shouting their demand that Jesus be crucified. Their voices won out. Pilate issued his decision to grant their request. He released the one they asked for, who had been thrown into prison because of a riot and murder. But he handed Jesus over to their will.   As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus. A huge crowd of people followed Jesus, including women, who were mourning and wailing for him. Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. The time will come when they will say, ‘Happy are those who are unable to become pregnant, the wombs that never gave birth, and the breasts that never nursed a child.’ Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.


A decade ago, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ burst onto movie screens. There were a lot of controversial things about the movie. First, it was acted entirely in Aramaic or Latin. Initially the movie was to have no subtitles, but pressure finally put subtitles in.

Second, it was really, really gory. Jesus is nearly flayed alive and his blood flows copiously, to the point where it is difficult to imagine how a person in that state could have lived long enough to have been crucified.

Third, there was a lot of criticism about how it portrayed the Jews. Many Jewish critics were concerned that it trotted out the old libel that Jews were Christ-killers.

Here on campus the United Methodist community and the Jewish community organized an outing to see the movie. Seventeen Christians and Fourteen Jews went to Georgetown to watch the film and then we had an after screening conversation at my house. One of the things that was apparent in the conversation was that the Jews and Christians had seen two very different movies. The Jewish students had seen a movie wherein they felt as though their people had been blamed for Jesus’ crucifixion. The Christians’ reaction was very different. Interestingly, they didn’t attempt to make differentiations like “Well, those people back then were guilty but we don’t blame you today.” Instead, they said things like, “You thought it was blaming Jews for the crucifixion? All I could think about was how I was to blame for it. How it was my fault.”

It came up in the conversation, that when the scene of Jesus being nailed to the cross was filmed, the hands holding the hammer and the nails were Mel Gibson’s. In effect, he was doing what most Christians saw themselves as doing: placing himself in the narrative, not blaming some third party religio-ethnic group.

This sentiment is found in one of the most beautiful hymns in the hymnal (in my opinion): Ah, Holy Jesus. The second verse of the hymn is one that I can barely make it through without choking up:

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone the!
’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

That feeling is a very powerful one in Christian circles. And it is an important one to remember. It is one of the reasons we enact a Passion Play on Palm Sunday in which the Congregation cries out: “Crucify him!”


We have been using Game of Thrones throughout Lent as a way to reflect on some deeply held Christian truths. In the very beginning of the saga, a deserter from the Night’s Watch, fleeing from some horror, is caught by Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark’s men. The men of the Night’s Watch take a lifetime vow and desertion is punishable by death. Ned Stark takes his sons out to a place of execution to carry out the sentence against this deserter. The man confesses that he deserted and asks only to have his family warned of what he has seen. Ned pronounces sentence and then swinging a great-sword, executes the man by beheading him.

Later, he asks one of his younger sons if he understands why he did it, and the boy replies, “Because he was a deserter.” It is then that Ned says, “Do you understand why I did it? … Because the man who passes sentence should swing the sword.” That is, Ned believes it to be wrong to be responsible for a man’s death if you are unwilling to carry it out yourself. I daresay our own experience with capital punishment would likely be rarer if jurors themselves had to do so.

But this is part of the Christian journey. We are not allowed to see ourselves as removed from Christ’s sufferings. And while I don’t know that we have to go all Catholic school and tell people that every sin they commit is driving the nails deeper into Jesus, our participation in the crucifixion is something that Christians need to be mindful of.

Indeed, one of the great wrongs perpetuated in the sin of anti-Semitism was that it so often blamed Jews for the Crucifixion of Christ, when in Christianity, there could only be one person responsible for it: ’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.

A recognition of our own sinfulness is essential in understanding the power of grace and mercy. It is not to create a culture of guilt for ourselves as much as it is to reflect honestly the part that we play in the brokenness of the world. The part that we have in the kinds of injustice that lead to the crucifixion of the righteous. One of the great problems that we have as Christians is our inability to see how we are often perpetuating the very systems we see ourselves as opposed to. Jesus winding up on the cross is not something that happened two thousand years ago caused by some other people. It is something that continues to happen every time we fail to live up to our obligations to justice and righteousness. We need to own that. The one who passes sentence should swing the sword.


Later on in the Game of Thrones books, Ned’s daughter Arya is reflecting on Ned’s instruction. And it is there that we encounter a fuller quote than previously seen.

The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.

“You own it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words…”

As we gather here on Good Friday, it is important for us to see our part in the suffering of Christ and in the ongoing suffering that Christ endures in the suffering of the innocent everywhere. Our role in the suffering of the poor and outcast, in the suffering of the marginalized and oppressed. Our role in the suffering of those that society ignores.

But it is just important to look into Christ’s eyes and to hear his final words. And though our words are words of judgment and violence, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus’ last words are full of mercy: “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”


On the cross we encounter one who is there because of the brokenness of the world that we all too often participate in. But if we are going to own our part in the guilt of his condemnation, then we have to be willing to look him in the eye and hear what he has to say. And in so doing we encounter one who embodies a love and a grace that overwhelms our guilt and our complicity. A love and a grace that is capable of transforming us and the very world itself.

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