There are many ways in which the Cross and the death of Jesus have been interpreted and understood over the centuries of Christianity. This reflection offers a new reading that is deeply scriptural and at the same time resists triumphalism and overemphasis on personal sin and salvation. It draws us back to an understanding that there is something profoundly cosmic happening and fundamentally earth shattering… something that rocks the power structures of the world giving centre stage to the most marginalised, ‘the least of these’ and a voice to the worlds victims.
Jesus accused The power of the world
John 18:28-38 Jesus before Pilate
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
Reflection from the Weakness of God
The strong point about weak theology is that it is the theology of the cross. In Christian tradition the force of the event that calls to us and overtakes us in the name of God arises from the cross were all the lines of force in Christianity intersect. The life and death of Jesus are interwoven with defeat and death, and not just simply death, but a humiliating public execution reserved for the worst criminals. Gods mark is upon an accused man, suffering an agonizing death, taunted as a King and dressed mockingly in purple, his Kingdom being from a Roman point of view a joke, which is not to say that Rome did not want to cruelly crush it all the same. God crossed out by the cross, the kingdom of God is the kingdom of the crucified.
What are the Powers of this world, the ‘imperial forces that crush and occupy’. What is the ‘kingdom of this world’ in the 21st century against which the victims and poor struggle to find life? Is the church part of this power and authority or is it positioned with Jesus in opposition?
Song ‘The Yellow Triangle by Christy Moore
Reading from ‘Darkness Yielding’ by Rowan Williams p 274
Music from the film Schindlers List
Jesus crucified Power against power?
36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”38 There was also an inscription over him,“This is the King of the Jews.”
38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’”
Reflection from the Weakness of God
The question is, when it comes to that defining scene of the crucifixion, how Christian are we willing to be and how radical our theology of the cross will be. How genuinely, how seriously are we to take this central Christian vision? Is Jesus really unable to come down from the cross, or does he only seem to be? Remember the world is what is there, in all its violence and strength. Are we to think that behind this helpless mortal frame he is holding his infinite power in check? Are we to think that he can come down but he is just there because he wants to make a point? Is he really nailed there, or is it just and appearance? Is his weakness voluntary, in which case it is a mask for strength, an even greater show of strength? In the world there are real (Roman) nails and real (Roman) crosses and real imperial power. The Romans are the real. If the kingdom Jesus preached were the kingdom of real power he could by a might roar from his mouth spring the nails from his hands, thrust away the spears from the hands of the soldiers… but his kingdom did not belong to this world, to the realm of meeting power with power. His strength was the weak power of the powerless, not the power of the world, and so he was killed, quite against his will and against the will of his father. But in the powerlessness of that death the word of God rises up in majesty as a word of contradiction, as the Spirit of God. In the classical account of strong theology, Jesus is just holding back his divine power in order to let his human nature suffer. He freely chose to check his power because the father had a plan to redeem the world with his blood. But if the father had changed his mind, those Roman soldiers would rue the day they were born, they would certainly rue it in eternity. On my accounting, that is to misconstrue this scene solely in terms of POWER, mundane power pitted against celestial power….. But Jesus approach to to evil was forgiveness, not paying of a debt to the father or the devil with suffering or anything else. His suffering was not a coin in the realm of the economy of the kingdom, the kingdom is not an economy and God is not in attendance as an accountant of divine debt, or as a higher power watching the whole thing from up there and freely holding in check his infinite power to intervene. That is more rouged theology, weakness fantasising about the potency of power – if not power now then power later, then we will get even with those hateful Romans.
Surely there is as much askew in an unnuanced celebration of Gods power in our Christian understanding as there is in gold and diamond studded crucifixes worn by corpulent clerics and the luxuriant lifestyles of televangelists. That is so much rouged theology, the notion that Jesus could come down from the cross had he wished belongs to the uncomprehending Romans who taunted him, as if Jesus was a magician; whereas the genuine divinity of Jesus is revealed in his distance from this request for magic, in his helplessness, his cry of abandonment, and above all on his words of forgiveness he utters.
What does it mean for you that Jesus can’t, won’t or doesn’t defend himself or retaliate, that he does not resist evil? What if he never said that his would be the POWER and the GLORY for ever and ever? What if this is about laying down our lives for justice and peace… the living example of his shocking teaching in the Sermon on the Mount? Who are the worlds victims?
Anthem 2 followed by Song, ‘No Bravery’ by James Blunt
Jesus dies Weakness subverts power
Matthew 27:45-46 The Death of Jesus
45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
‘Ave verum corpus’ by Mozart
Reflection from the Weakness of God
Here is … the awesome weakness of God, of God, the event, the happening harboured in the name of God, present at the crucifixion as the powerlessness of Jesus and the protest against injustice that rises up from the cross, and in the words of forgiveness, not a differed power that will be visited on enemies at a later time.
God is in attendance as the weak force of the call that cries out from Calvary and across all epochs, that cries out from every corpse created by every cruel and unjust power. The logos of the cross is a call to renounce violence, not to conceal it and defer it and then in a stunning act that takes the enemy by surprise to defeat them with power from on high.
The effect of situating God on the side of the vulnerability and unjust suffering is not, of course, to glorify that suffering and misery, but to prophetically protest it, to give divine depth and meaning to resistance to unjust suffering, to attach the coefficient of divine resistance to unjust suffering. The call the cry, the plaint that rises up from the cross is the great divine NO to injustice, an infinite lamentation over unjust suffering and innocent victims. God is with Jesus on the cross and as such he is standing against the imperial power of Rome. God stands with the innocent persecuted and calls the powers that be to task.
The name of God is the name of the divine NO to persecution, violence and victimization.
God pitches his tent among beings by identifying with everything the world casts out and leaves behind.
By this I mean that God withdraws from the worlds order of presence, prestige and sovereignty in order to settle in those pockets of protest and contradiction in the world.
God belongs to the air, the call, the spirit that inspires and aspires, that breaths justice.
God settles into the recesses formed in the world by the little ones, the nothings and the nobodies….
God breaks the power of status and privilege of arms and wealth, handing the Kingdom to the least of these…
God chose what is weak in this world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not to reduce to nothing things that are. (1 Cor)
Let us open our hands
open our hearts,
open the hidden places of our being,
and into our deep soul-self let there enter the heartbeat of those we love;
the lifeblood of our villages, towns and cities,
the lifestream of the tides and currents and seasons,
the pulsing of our planet and the stars:
let there enter all the joys and pains of the cup we bear,
let us be nourished by the new life that comes through what is broken,
and in and through it all,
to transform it to glory,
let us receive the Body the Living Presence,
the blood the very self of Jesus,
and let us feed and live and love in Faith.
‘Gabriels Oboe’ from the film, The Mission.
Exerts and prayersfrom ‘The Weakness of God’ by John Caputo and ‘Darkness yeilding’ Jim Cotter and Martyn Percy