This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
LOUVRE GARDENS OVERRUN BY RATS DUE TO DISCARDED TOURIST FOOD
32 As they were on their way out, they came upon a man from Cyrene of the name of Simon; and they compelled him to go with them to carry the cross. 33 On reaching a place named Golgotha (a place named from its likeness to a skull), 34 they gave him some wine to drink which had been mixed with gall; but after tasting it, Jesus refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down, and kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they fixed the accusation against him written out — ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ 38 At the same time two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right, the other on the left. 39 The passers-by railed at him, shaking their heads as they said: 40 “You who ‘destroy the Temple and build one in three days,’ save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, with the Teaches of the Law and elders, said in mockery: 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the ‘king of Israel’! Why doesn’t he come down from the cross now, then we will believe in him. 43 He has trusted in God; if God wants him, let him deliver him now; for he said ‘I am God’s Son.’” 44 Even the robbers, who were crucified with him, insulted him in the same way.
The brute fact of Jesus’ crucifixion is foundational for Christian faith. For the first believers it was a disaster which any continuing faith in Jesus would have to reckon with. There had never been any suggestion in Judaism that a Messiah could be rejected by his own people and killed by foreigners. How could there be any hope in such a failure? There is no doubt that only faith in the resurrection of Jesus could have led people to see divine purpose in an ignominious death. This divine purpose is suggested in the narrative by details and quotations from Psalms 22 and 69 which identify Jesus with David, the supposed author of the Psalms.
Believers identified Jesus as the true Messiah so the Roman description of his crime “King of the Jews” hadfor them an ironic truth. The words given to passers-by remind the reader that Jesus himself is the true temple of God, rebuilt in three days. Matthew saw that the crucifixion was the expression of Jesus identity as God’s son, not a denial of it.
Behind the various scriptural references and theological hints, the narrative simply otlines a typical Roman crucifixion. Unhappily many of its first readers would have seen crucifixions as it was widely used in the Empire to punish any serious opposition to Roamn power. Apart from the appalling pain, constriction and thirst, which led to death by suffication or heart failure, there was the shame of being exposed for hours to public disgrace, writhing in agony, losing control of bodily functions, in the sure expectation of death. It is a barbaric torture recently revived by the holy warriors of ISIS in Syria / Iraq.
The whole notion of God’s deliverance is profoundly counter-intuitive in Christian faith. Jewish faith imagined it as a clearly identifiable event in the world: the defeat of God’s enemies and the rescue of his holy people. In the crucifixion the very agent of God’s deliverance is himself apparently abandoned to the powers of evil and death. The deliverance of God comes via this atrocity and not in spite of it. Those who believe in Jesus, of all people, know the extraordinary danger of praying, “Your will be done on earth.” Martin Luther summed it up memorably: “In the teeth of life we seem to die; but God says no: in the teeth of death we live.” And yet Christians call this stuff, “good news”?