Most Disgusting Penalty
Some Christian teaching can be grasped and understood by those without faith.
The social teaching of the Church immediately comes to mind. Much of it is based on natural law, and natural law is really the gift of human reason – the ability to affirm and deny.
But some Christian teaching is not easy to grasp:
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly’ (Luke 6).
Even those who have faith find these words difficult.
What might help us?
We can try contemplating Christ Crucified.
The crucifixion of a man in ancient times was horrific – reserved for slaves, insurrectionists and violent criminals.
Cicero thought it ‘the cruelest and most disgusting penalty.’ Josephus – a first-century Jewish historian – called it ‘the most wretched of deaths.’
The sentenced man carried his own crossbeam to his death. It was nailed to the upright beam. A saddle was placed behind his buttocks to stop his body slumping. This would prevent suffocation and thus prolong suffering.
There he would hang, sometimes for a week, just a few feet off the ground. His persecutors would torment him and he would often scream at them and curse them – a real theatre of violence and violent dialogue. Often the tongue would be cut out so that people could sleep at night.
This is all very hard to imagine, but it is true. Hard to imagine Jesus was crucified, but true.
But he transformed this violent act into an act of love.
He did exactly what he taught. On the Cross, he loved his enemies, blessed them, forgave them.
Is this beyond us? Yes – and no.
Paul prays in Philippians 3:
All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, so that I might imitate him in his death.
Yes, we can imitate Jesus on the Cross – we can forgive – but only by relying on the grace, beauty and power of his resurrection.