I’m struggling to come up with a different paradigm for the suffering of Jesus. Or to put it another way, “Why did Jesus have to be tortured and murdered?” Was it necessary for Jesus to suffer in order that I might be “saved”?
The prevailing theory about Jesus’ death and torture is sometimes referred to as “substitutional atonement”. That is, God is angry with humanity (because of the sin of Adam and Eve) and someone had to pay the price. Jesus, being the perfect, “Lamb of God” without sin or blemish was the only one who could pay this price. Now, God can love and embrace us because of what Jesus made possible. This is the biblical, and especially, Pauline understanding of why Jesus had to suffer. And I thin I’ve made it pretty clear how regularly I disagree with Paul.
But, if we get rid of that theory, what are we left with? Let’s start with the facts, especially as laid out in the Gospel of John:
- Jesus upset the church-state powers of Israel. He turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple complex. There is no more certain way to challenge a powerful institution, than to interrupt it’s money making endeavors–just ask Martin Luther, who questioned the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences.
- Jesus states plainly in the Gospel of John that God wants to institute a new way of relating to people. The temple isn’t going to work, we don’t need a priest between us and God, we can access God directly, even call God “Daddy”. God’s word has become flesh and has moved into the neighborhood. We can know God without: temple sacrifices, priests, tithes, or any religious institution. In fact, according to Jesus, religion is over. Jesus boldly states that HE forgives people their sins, and tells his followers to do the same.
- Jesus demonstrates a part of God who would come to us and celebrate with us when we are filled with joy, and mourn with us when we are sad and depressed.
I believe it was for these reasons that Jesus was killed. He was murdered by an occupational army which cared more about peace, or lack of disturbance, than it did about truth. These powers were encouraged by the religious leaders of the day who felt threatened by Jesus and wanted to have him out of the way. They had a vested interest in keeping things the way they were.
I’m captivated by the Roman soldiers in this story. They are bullies by profession. You get the sense that they take pleasure in tormenting Jesus. It’s easy to look down on them and judge them. But how are we similar to them? Most people if placed in the right situation with someone in authority telling them it’s OK will participate in similar actions. To stand up to power when it is being abusive is not easy. I don’t do it well. I like to go along and to keep the peace (until it gets so bad that I totally lose it and become as abusive as the abusers!)
Jesus has come down to earth to show us a new way to know God. Daniel Erlander in his book, “Baptized We Live” says that when Jesus said yes to suffering he was saying yes to: Absolute trust in God; Dedication to human liberation; Solidarity with human pain; and Freedom to be human, weak, and vulnerable.
Quotes for the Week
“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hands of (another) . . . There are just some kind of men who–who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results” Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
“Humanity is a cross. Most people on earth suffer from hunger, poverty or oppression. The few societies which are ‘well off’ are plagued by an emptiness never filled by frantic grasping for more and more or by futile attempts to keep what they have.” Dan Erlander, “Baptized We Live”
“The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you’re talking about because she experienced that thing too cannot be overestimated.” Cheryl Strayed
“I saw that you can’t do anything for anybody. We can’t save each other. Or ourselves. “What have you left, then? Isolation and despair! You’re denying brotherhood!” “No–no I’m not. I’m trying to say what I think brotherhood really is. It begins–it begins in shared pain.” Ursula K. Le Guin
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Questions for the Week
Where in your life are you suffering right now?
How are we called to be in solidarity with those who are oppressed in this world?