As we enter into Holy Week this Sunday by contemplating the passion of Jesus, it’s time to think about what that really means.
There have been some deeply erroneous theological ideas around in the popular culture for at least a few hundred years which have, I think, hurt our understanding.
We have talked about the death of Jesus as though he experienced something far above what anyone else ever suffered. Here’s something you need to know. Crucifixion, though a horrible way to die, was frighteningly common in the Roman empire.
The Persians probably invented crucifixion as a punishment for people considered criminals. Alexander the Great used it in the Greek empire, but for slaves only, and the Roman Republic restricted crucifixion by law to slaves and aliens. Some governors ignored the restriction and used crucifixion against freedom fighters. There were mass executions by Rome in Judea, including some 800 at one time. Crucifixion as a form of execution didn’t end until Constantine, some 300 years after Jesus.
What’s my point? Rather than seeing something Jesus endured that was far beyond the suffering of any other human being, what we have is just the opposite. What Jesus experienced was a very common form of undignified death. And, I think, that is exactly the point of the death narratives.
What the gospel writers would like you to know about Jesus’ death was that it was no different from, no worse than, the human suffering that goes on every day. Jesus entered into our human condition and joined us right in the thick of it. He didn’t have to go beyond our suffering to see the really ugly stuff; it already is really ugly.
We don’t have to say, “No matter how bad this feels, what Jesus went through is so much worse.” No, we can say instead, “Jesus has been in my place.”
His suffering was the same as that experienced by the cancer patient. Alienated from others; shamed; exposed; in pain.
His suffering was no different from that of an American soldier or Iraqi police officer or civilian maimed or killed by a bomb.
His suffering was no different from that of a parent who sits awake night after night at the bedside of a sick child, or who wonders when the wayward child will return.
His suffering was no different from that of the person who is at the end of her rope with depression, or who can no longer stand the pain of grief over losing his spouse.
As we await the hope of Easter, we do it in the somber face of death and suffering. We stand with each other and with Jesus, longing for the light.
© 2017 Melissa Bane Sevier