Art: “Crucifixion of Jesus” drawn by Gustave Doré, engraved by J. Gauchard Brunier. Scanned by Michael Gäbler with Epson Perfection 4490 Photo., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gustave_Dor%C3%A9_-_Crucifixion_of_Jesus.jpg
Written by Matthew Benton, Pastor, Bethel United Methodist Church, Woodbridge, VA
They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him.Mark 15: 22-24a
It’s the broken body of our Lord Jesus that dominates the foreground of this nineteenth-century drawing by French artist Gustave Dore, but it’s what’s in the background that captivates me. The background of the painting is so littered with Roman military personnel and insignia that it could be photoshopped in from the opening scenes of Gladiator. We see multiple Roman soldiers. We see weapons of war. And we see the famed SPQR staff, the sign of the Roman republic and the virtues Rome was bringing to the world. The backdrop to the crucifixion is the symbol of the peace and civilization that Rome claimed to bring to the world and the manner by which they brought and protected it.
Jesus wasn’t the only person crucified that Friday nearly 2000 years ago and he certainly wasn’t the only person crucified in the Roman Empire. Crucifixion was the preferred method of public execution by the Romans. It was how they tamped down dissension. It was how they maintained law and order. It was how they kept the peace. The difference with Jesus on Good Friday is that this time they did it to God.
In the name of peace they killed the Prince of Peace. To keep lawful order they tortured the One who ordered the cosmos. To preserve their power they murdered the One whom God anointed with power.
And somehow, nearly 2000 years later, these are still things we fight for. These are still things we kill for.
We believe we live in peace all the while that peace is maintained by the largest and most well funded military the world has ever known. We continue to accept that broken bodies are an acceptable cost for maintaining order. We work to preserve our (economic) power while the status quo leaves countless families (economically) oppressed and hurting. We like to think that we are somehow different from those who killed Jesus – that we would have made different choices. But our lives are not so different from theirs. Our society is not so different from theirs. We still all too often choose comfort over justice, power over liberation, our own self-gratification over caring for those who are in need.
And so it is that the impulses, the forces, the reasons that led the Romans to (reflexively) kill Jesus the Christ are still alive and well today. Alive and well in each and every one of us.
“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
Find previous “Picturing God” entries here:
Art: “Resurrection Icon” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Resurrection_(24).jpg Written by Brian Johnson, Pastor of Haymarket…
Art: “Madonna and Child with St. Anne” by Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Available online…
Art: “The Flight Into Egypt” by Ki-chang Kim Written by Hung-Su Lim, Associate Pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Richmond, VA “The Flight Into Egypt” by Ki-chang Kim “When the magi…
Art: “The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Taking_of_Christ-Caravaggio_(c.1602).jpg …
Art: “The Crucifixion” by Matthias Grunewald, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Available online at:…