Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Today’s Passage: Luke 23
My childhood saw a lot of messages emphasizing the brutality of the crucifixion. Some of these details one probably shouldn’t share with, say, kindergartners, but I’m guessing that by as early as age ten, I had a pretty good idea from sermons and event speakers what Rome’s best-known method of execution entailed. I remember one message from a Saturday event while I was in junior high that particularly impressed upon me the physical suffering and torture that Jesus was willing to endure for my salvation. Beatings, floggings, nails, slow asphyxiation: I heard it all. And I came out of high school with a strong conviction that understanding what Jesus physically suffered was crucial to appreciating the gospel.
Perhaps, then, you will be surprised to learn that, when I read through today’s chapter and asked myself what to write about, I initially didn’t even consider treating the physical details of the crucifixion.
I was certainly surprised to realize I’d read through Luke’s account of Jesus’ death without a thought for what he’d suffered in the flesh. But when I read back over it, I got a second surprise: compared to other gospels, Luke is remarkably spare about the physical abuse Jesus endured. Herod and his soldiers merely treat Jesus with contempt and make fun of him (11); the verbs here are ἐξουθενέω (exoutheneo), “to despise,” and ἐμπαίζω (empaizo), “to mock.” They’re both about attitude and verbal abuse, not beatings or inflicting bodily injury.
Then, in the same breath that Luke sets Jesus and his captors on the trip to Calvary, he tells us, “They laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene…and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus” (26). If Luke’s account were the only one we read, we might assume Jesus hadn’t carried the cross for a single step! And when it comes time for the soldiers to fix him to the cross, Luke simply says, “They crucified him” (33). It’s as if he’s saying, “You folks know Rome. You know what crucifixion means.”
And those moments, along with a spot where the soldiers offer Jesus some nasty wine, are about all Luke has to say about Jesus’ bodily suffering in his last hours. But it occurs to me: Luke seems far more concerned with the emotional abuse Jesus suffers. Let’s cut to the chase and give it a list-style rundown:
- The religious authorities “accuse Him vehemently” while Herod and his soldiers “treat Him with contempt and mock Him” (10-11) by clothing him in a stately robe
- Pilate can’t find any guilt in Jesus, but even though he tries and tries to let him off with a token cursory punishment, the crowds demand crucifixion for Jesus, forcing Pilate to instead release a convicted insurrectionist and murderer, Barabbas (13-25)
- The rulers deride him: “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God” (35)
- The soldiers gamble for his clothes, which may suggest he was crucified naked (34), and as noted before, they offer him sour wine (36)
- He’s crucified between two criminals, one of whom is spitting abuse at him (39)
- And let’s not forget, he was crucified (the whole chapter)
Crucifixion isn’t just death. It’s a suffering that stretches beyond bodily wounds, through a person’s social world and into his soul. It’s a public execution, and in this case, it’s the death of a Jew at the contemptuous hands of Roman authorities. It’s the Jewish authorities refusing to stain their hands to bump off their enemy, instead convincing the Empire to do the dirty work. It’s Jesus’ enemies getting what they wanted, crowing triumphantly at their helpless opponent, and it’s soldiers and gutter-trash rebels joining in on the mockery.
It’s demoralizing. It’s shameful. It’s emotional salt in the literal wound, and it’s a complete severing of Jesus from his community, the community of God.
It’s not just scars in the skin. It’s emotional brutality. And it ends with Jesus dead on a cross.