“What was the Motive?” the news media asked when three Muslim university youth were shot in the head “over a parking space.” Was it a hate crime? In the intervening weeks, we’ve heard that question dozens of times. “What was the motive?” when someone “in a quiet neighborhood” (would a noisy one be different?) killed his wife and them himself? “What was the motive?” when a loyal employee of 35 years betrayed her firm by embezzling thousands of dollars. How do we make sense of “senseless” crimes such as a mom picking up her armed son to chase a young man with road rage who in turn shot her?
As Christians enter Holy Week, what was the motive for the arrest and crucifixion of Christ? The events from Palm Sunday to Good Friday happened quickly. Was it about Jesus being a threat to the empire? (At Jesus’ birth King Herod killed all the children around Bethlehem.) Was it jealousy of the Jewish leadership? Was it because Jesus associated with the marginalized and healed the outcast?
Or perhaps a single, clear motive is not the question. Maybe it never is. Sin can be subtle as well as blatant. Even the disciples denied and betrayed their friend.
A specific motive may be the tip of the iceberg. Beneath lay jealousy, threats, greed, fear, abuse, racism, classism, unjust systems which exclude and keep many people powerless.
Christ died for the sins of the world. Christ dies not just for my own personal specific sins, but for the entire entwined sins of rage, hate, suspicion, oppression of individuals and groups that build up and lead to the cross. This understanding of the nature of the human problem takes the focus away from “God’s plan to save me by killing his son.” That making sense of things can lead to my getting a gun to take revenge on people I label as “bad.” We do not have a revengeful God. We have a loving God who in the midst of the mess of humankind bore all the sin of the world.