29. Mark 15:16-20
Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
These are the difficult scenes, this one and the ones to come. The scenes of Jesus’ humiliation, beating, and crucifixion. They are difficult to read or listen to and difficult to image. The suffering is intense, even inhuman. But why? Why, that is, does Jesus suffer so?
Some have argued – relatively recently in the long history of the church – that Jesus is taking the punishment for sin that we – all humanity – rightly deserve. God, from this point of view, is like a just king who though he loves his servants yet must punish them for breaking the law of the realm lest the king’s justice be mocked. For humanity to take this punishment would be death, now and for all eternity. In fact, according to this theory, it would be worse than death – it would be eternal torment. And so Jesus – wholly innocent and blameless – stands in for us and take the beating we deserve. Each lash of the whip, each mock salute, each nail driven through hand and foot was intended for us.
I understand why this theory is popular. It’s logical – we’re used to thinking in terms of debits and credits, of who owes what to whom. But it’s a cold, calculating logic that portrays God ultimately as victim to God’s own rules, incapable of genuine forgiveness or love until punishment has been ladled out and blood has been shed.
That’s not a picture of God, finally, that I can stomach. Nor, quite frankly, is it biblical. We’re talking after all, about the God who calls light out from darkness and gives life to the death but who, suddenly, is incapable of genuine forgiveness?
So let me offer another picture of why Jesus is treated in this manner: because that’s what happens in the world. Each and every day, people suffer torment – sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, and sometimes spiritual. And so God comes in love in order to live not only with us but also as one of us, taking on our lot and our life and experiencing all that we experience so as to understand us and stand with us completely and fully.
In the person of Jesus, therefore, we discover not only that God understands us, not only that God loves us enough to take on our lot and our life, but also that all of this suffering, and even death itself, cannot put an end to God’s love. So that as Jesus is raised on the third day, we have hope that our suffering and even our own deaths will not define us or defeat us but that we, too, will be raised by God’s love.
This view of the cross takes a little getting used to. It doesn’t operate by the same clear, cold, and simple logic of the other theory. But then again, love rarely does.
Prayer: Dear God, when we look to Jesus let us see your love for us and all the world laid bare. And when we see him, remind us that nothing – not suffering, defeat, or even death itself – can keep you from us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.