By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)
April 8, 2023
Christians obsess with the cross: both the literal symbol of the crucifix and the message behind it. After all, it is the most prominent and universally understood mark of Christianity. The crucifix is a prominent feature in just about every Christian church regardless of denomination.
The centrality of the cross in the Christian faith is sacrosanct among most believers throughout the history of the Church. The Apostle Paul made the cross the foundation of his message (cf., 1 Cor. 1:18; Gal. 6:14).
The cross still resonates with millions of Christians in this century. The 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ, grossed $612 million U.S. dollars and fifth highest-grossing movie of that year.
Yet, I often wonder why, in this week of solemn reflection, we focus so much on torture and execution instead of the risen and eternal Christ. Without the resurrection, it could have been merely a story of martyrdom at best, something most people would forget after a few decades.
Many say that we reflect during this penitential time of Lent and especially during the Holy Week we ponder on Jesus’ path to the cross because doing so reminds us of our own sins. “Jesus Christ died for your sins,” preachers often say.
But more precisely, Jesus Christ died because of our sins. We, the humans, did this. God did not commit this act of cosmic child abuse to satisfy some sort of divine ego. Even if that were the case, God could have killed Jesus directly with fire from heaven or something.
The point a lot of people miss is this: As with most events in history, this happened by means of humans, either in spite or, or because of (in this case), our collective imperfections.
Roman Empire executed Jesus of Nazareth as a national security threat. A potential insurrectionist or a terrorist. A dissident who seriously undermined authority. Jesus was sent to the cross, a punishment reserved for the worst of all criminals, terrorists, and mafia kingpins — an equivalent of the USP Florence ADMAX.
Rome, like the United States of America today, was the world-class superpower of the day with many colonies spanning multiple continents. Judea, the historical homeland of Jewish people, was a colonized and occupied territory, populated by people who did not follow the Religio Romana — hence the suspect class in the eyes of Rome. The religious leaders for the most part, together with puppet ruler Herod, capitulated to Rome with a naive hope that doing so would allow them to keep at least some of their customs, traditions, and culture; an officially tolerated ethnic and religious minority under a hegemonic rule, not unlike the modern ethnic and cultural policies of Communist China toward Uyghurs, Mongolians, and Tibetans today.
Rome represented the rule of brute force, the “Might Makes Right” paradigm in which a consolidation of militaristic violence conquered territories and imposed its will.
Rome was also the epitome of human hubris when rulers pursue their unsatiable greed and hunger for power. Caesar and his henchmen lived in luxury and wealth while ordinary people suffered.
Jesus came to a world that chose hubris and greed over the Gospel.
He could not have died if not for
Today we often speak of police brutality and mass incarceration. Behind them are actual businesses that profit from knowingly manufacturing weapons that are being deployed against unarmed civilians that can and will inflict suffering on, maim, and kill them. Behind them are publicly traded corporations and their shareholders who make billions of dollars incarcerating immigrants in an inhumane and brutal environment although most of them have not even committed crimes.
Hannah Arendt speaks of the banality of evil. State violence, which is a culmination of human sin nature, is tolerated and even supported by the citizenry and given legitimacy under the guise of "democracy." Businesses that make money from selling to police, military, and prisons have offices where receptionists, HR administrators, secretaries, and even janitors go on with their own lives when they clock out at 5 p.m. Cops and prison guards inflict violence (that is otherwise felonies) on a daily basis while looking forward to the end of their shifts so they can go home to their loved ones. It's part of their jobs, that they signed up for, and they appreciate their paychecks and their union membership. They are even proud of being “patriots” and “upstanding citizens.” Human sins are banal and sometimes even given a veneer of self-righteous justification. Jesus was executed because of state violence inflicted by a world-class colonial superpower, an inevitable product of human political and economic powers being concentrated into one man, Caesar. Everyone has a capacity for evil and the temptation to do evil. But it is the unquestioned and unaccountable concentration of political and economic powers that makes human sins extremely dangerous. This was the story of the Tower of Babel and the story of the cross.
To overlook this leads to a sort of spiritual bypassing that gaslight individuals for their shortcomings while excusing the systemic social sins.
Spiritual bypassing is not an exclusive property of white middle-class hippie-wannabes. The original spiritual bypassing was the emergence of the Fundamentalist movement within American Protestantism: Fundamentalism grew largely as a reaction to the Social Gospel movement at the turn of the 20th century.
The story of the Holy Week and Easter is about the contrast: the contrast between our tendencies toward hubris, destruction, and evil, versus the goodness of God that overcomes even the worst of our collective human behaviors.
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