Matthew 27:27-31 Jesus is Beaten and Mocked
The Passion of the Christ (2004) was a huge success, and seen as an important opportunity for churches who wanted to use this cultural moment to deepen their own faith and witness. Many ministries and congregations rented out theaters, filling them with the faithful or those they hoped to reach, to watch together a vivid portrayal of Jesus’ suffering on the road to crucifixion.
This may seem strange, but I didn’t go. I still haven’t seen it, although I’ve been exposed to plenty of the visuals over the years since. At the time, I was a little afraid of the power of these images to define the Gospel message for viewers, for me; a story I feel is meant to reach us in different ways across our lives. Like the flannel-graph Jesus many of us have to escape, ingrained in our childhood memories, would this be a graven image to capture and limit my conception of God-with-us?
It’s been an interesting process, watching my fears not come to fruition. I have some thoughts on what contributed to the short-term impact of that film, at least in my experience. But, what I think about in regard to today’s passage – this stop along the way of the cross – is the visceral power it holds over me. I don’t want to think about it too much.
I’m a little weak-stomached when it comes to gore and horror. There have been times in my life when I had to stop watching medical dramas simply because there was enough stress in my life already. The image of Jesus, lover of my soul, tortured and laughed at, is not a place I want to pause.
But when I stand here, I see something too familiar in the spirit of this mockery. Clothed in symbols of power and empire, these soldiers feign homage to the King of Kings. There is no mistaking where their own allegiance lies. There is no confusion about what kind of power they trust, and wield, and to what ends. And on these lips are these true words that hardly a disciple had courage to speak, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
It is horrifying. I don’t wish to see it. And perhaps it’s best if I not put the powerful images of Jesus, distanced from me by flannel-graph or celluloid, between me and the reality of this event. Because, in truth, if I take in this story and find myself in it, I am too quickly aware that it is very present, real, and within me.
I, too, wear the uniform of my role, my race, my gender, my nationality, my station in life. I, too, mouth these words of allegiance, though every sign and action I project says where my true trust is.
If I begin to insert myself into this story in some shameful, self-pitying way, going on about how I am responsible for God’s pain, it simply becomes ridiculous. It makes me the center of the story, when this is absolutely God’s story. If I can come to terms, however, with my impulse to trust in the fading forces around and within me instead of Jesus, I might be saved. If I can recognize in my heart and on my lips the ways in which I offer God the appearance of loyalty, without any true willingness to surrender my will to God’s, I may be found. If I can look past the measures and weights of my impulse to distance myself from the human brothers and sisters who call for an end to Jesus in these scriptural moments of fear and anger, I might see my own world clearly.
Here is grace. Amazing grace. As I consider this Jesus, whose way of surrender so threatens my delusions of empire, I can look past the terror that my humanity might do this and discover, inward, that I must bind up my humanity to this beaten man, rather than these brazen warriors.
This is not just a spiritual discipline, but a matter of common sense at a safe distance. Because it takes millions of dollars and hundreds of artists to resurrect a semblance of that punishing empire; yet here with me, by no human power, stands the resurrected Lord.
Hail, King Jesus. May I invite those around me to witness the masterpiece premiering today, as you walk this Passionate way with us and for us.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.