The Crucified One hangs on the Cross – centre stage.
He is nailed to the Cross, nearly naked, covered in blood and spittle and open wounds, exhausted.
Above his head is a sign which reads in three languages - Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. This is puzzling. How are we to understand this man on the Cross?
- Firstly we need to absorb and understand what the good thief says: This man has done nothing wrong.
From the moment of his conception in the womb of his mother this man has done nothing wrong; he has never committed a single sin. Therefore:
- This man is a victim. He is being treated most unjustly.
- He is a man of pain, of intense bodily pain, caused by his torturers. He is cold, thirsty, and needy.
- He is a man humiliated - stripped, pinned, spat upon, scorned, helpless.
- He is a man rejected - by his religious leaders, the civil leaders, the people, even, seemingly, by God.
- He is a man betrayed by one of his closest collaborators, his disciple Judas.
- He is abandoned by all but one of his disciples.
- He is a man of sorrows.
If he is King he certainly doesn’t look like one. He looks pathetic. A king is supposed to rule his kingdom and destroy his enemies.
This man seems to have attracted to himself every single one of 'our 'enemies, all the ones we are afraid of - pain, humiliation, rejection, betrayal, abandonment, injustice, cold, hunger, thirst, nakedness, loneliness, death. They are all attacking him - and they are winning. And not only this but he seems to have put aside all his weapons of defence - revenge, power, comfort, popularity, control. Instead he just forgives. Can you believe that?
Beside him hang two criminals, one on the right and one on the left. Around him stand the people, the leaders, the soldiers. The Apostles are absent except for John. His mother Mary and some women stand close by - agonising - a further source of pain for the Lord.
- The people watched him.
- The leaders jeered him.
- The soldiers mocked him.
- One of the criminals abused him.
What did they say?
- The leaders said: - let him save himself if he is the Christ.
- The soldiers said: – save yourself if you are the King.
- The criminal said: – save yourself (and us) if you are the Christ.
These words spoken so insistently to Jesus are important - save yourself. Come down from the cross and we will believe in you! The three temptations of Satan in the desert at the beginning of Jesus' ministry can easily be reduced to these same words - save yourself!
Now I think we have come to the heart of the matter. In our blindness and ignorance we sinners think that anyone who can, by his own power, escape suffering and death is powerful and to be admired. But Jesus had emptied himself of power. He hung on the cross totally powerless. Instead of making his will prevail over others he had said: Father, your will be done.
Jesus refused to save himself but instead he submitted humbly because he knew that the cry 'Save yourself!' is a lie, an impossibility, that in fact, the man who saves his life will lose it.
On the Cross Jesus was telling us that all power to save comes from God – that we cannot save ourselves - and so he submitted, becoming at the same moment the definitive and flawless icon of the power of God.
A king only becomes King when he conquers and Jesus, helpless on the Cross, conquered everything we most fear and run away from. He humbly submitted to death and therefore God raised him up. In this sense Jesus really became king the moment he died.
We have many difficulties in our life. Some just come upon us and some are our own fault, and there will usually be any number of voices calling out to us: 'Save yourself!'
- When you are hurt – take revenge, refuse to forgive.
- When you are wrongly accused - criticise others, justify yourself.
- When you are insecure - hoard riches, refuse to share.
- When you fear pregnancy – contracept, abort.
- When you feel threatened - shoot, destroy, eliminate.
We must remember the truth which kept Christ on the Cross - the man who saves his life will lose it. We must let God do the saving. We have only to keep still, to do his will, to keep his commandments and he will save us.
Christ is our king - our meek, humble, gentle, powerless King. May we be his true subjects.