It was an ordinary event. People being beaten at the hands of oppressors, occupying forces in a middle-eastern land. Sure it was bloody, but what wasn’t? Pilate must have hated the place, hated what it meant in his life, hated how it played havoc with his ambition. And now this, this Jesus person that the mob of thousands was pestering him about. Who knows what Pilate had on his mind that day before Jesus showed up? Normal things, I’m sure. His marriage to his dreaming wife, his place in the Roman political arena, his plans for his next vacation. Then this, this problem to wash his hands of. Crucify him and be done with it. Folks nailed to crossbeams was a nuisance, but necessary. Get him up there and let me get back to work.
How does cruelty ever get normalized? I speak from the comfort of my office, no soldiers to come barrelling in any minute. I have not been brutalized day in and day out as is the case in many parts of the world, so my question is naiive at best, ignorant and condescending at worst. But still, I ask it. From innocence to brutality there must be a terrible journey. Jesus hated the thought of children being seduced and trapped and corrupted, and warned that if you’re going to be in that business, the business of destroying young lives, then you might as well go jump in the ocean with as much weight as you can find strapped on.
So he’s hanging there, barely conscious with the pain. He can’t breathe, his bones are tearing against the joints, his flesh is torn apart, grotesque and raw. He pushes down on the nail at his feet to breath, then sags against his shoulders.
Eye to eye, the observers exchange glances with him. The mind of Christ…what was it just then? What I’d give to have a running ticker tape of this thought life in those moments. What images are flashing through his mind? The early days with Mary and Joseph and James and his other brothers and sisters? The young stirrings of his heart toward some girl he often saw in the market? The first completed piece of woodworking his father praised him for in front of the other carpenters? The first time he saw the power of God working in his life in a way that could only be called unusual? The first dawning of the consciousness that he was who he was, which had to be much closer to a long remembering than a first-time discovery?
Or as Nikki suggested about the Last Supper, was he running images of the hundreds of lives he’d touched, faces that loved him, and that he loved. Were there beings he knew in Heaven before he came that he might have been looking forward to seeing again? Abraham, Moses, a few angels who he especially enjoyed?
Love. He told us that this was the greatest love, to lay down your life for your friends. It is the most God-like of things to do. Good Friday is good because on that day, we got the clearest view yet of God’s face on earth. He’s a difficult and confusing God, but somehow, I can’t help but believe that’s our fault, that it is we who cannot see his simplicity and clear vision. That afternoon, for those who stood on the hill watching, like that centurion, it seems as if awareness dawned on them, perhaps the first real understanding of human beings about the deepest and truest nature of God.
To see God–and I’ve heard it said for years–you must look at the cross. To follow him is to pick it up and shoulder alongside him. It is the yoke and the burden that is light to bear. If I were filming the moment when Jesus said that, that “all who are weary and heavy-laden should come to me for rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” I would have the cross in the background, Jesus speaking with full awareness of what he faced.
How can it be so cruel and barbarous, and how can it be born so lightly? Don’t misunderstand, by “lightly” I don’t mean frivolously or easily or without the measure of pain such horrors must exact, but there was something in this man that let him move through injustice and murder like a swimmer moves through water.
God, if we could grasp this…
…forgive them, they don’t know what they do…