4 min. to read.
We’ve arrived at the 30th day of Lent. I’m reading Brian Zahnd’s Lent devotional, The Unvarnished Jesus. I journal on the scripture he’s selected and his reflection, then I post daily (or near-daily) meditations in response.
Mark 15:15-20 is the scripture reading today. Jesus is stripped and mocked by the Roman soldiers.
Pilate gave in to the crowd’s demands. He released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to the soldiers. Full of their power over and contempt for the Jewish people, they acted out a hideous role play. Every part of their game was a twisted mockery of respect due to a king. A royal robe, a crown, a scepter, even sarcastic displays of homage, all followed by a procession.
If they didn’t take Jesus seriously, this scene would never have happened. There’s no point in torturing and mocking a powerless crazy person. No, this was intentional humiliation, a visceral reaction to Jesus’ claim to kingship. They set out to show him exactly what kind of power he really had. He’d get crowned, all right. They’d give him the homage he was due. He would see, and all the people would see, that no one can stand against the power of Rome!
This is how power behaves. Whether it is vested in an empire or an economic system, whether it emerges from guns or money, power is most offended by that which challenges its sovereignty. Don’t believe me? Then suggest out loud that America isn’t a righteous country or that capitalism requires exploitation to function. Say these things in mixed company, and watch the fireworks. There’s no need or emotional motive to react defensively if these things are not in some measure true.
When the system we are invested in is challenged, when someone else suggests they have a higher claim to our loyalty, it gets under our skin. When the threat is too strong, the inevitable response is violence, the kind of violence that not only removes the challenge but makes a point about who really is the strong one around here. The same dynamic can be seen, with less violence but just as much an intent to dominate, in some parents, bosses, boards, and organizations.
The supreme irony is that the Roman soldiers thought they were showing Jesus’ claim to be empty, but in fact, they validated everything he had said. Their angry scorn demonstrated the superiority of gracious humility. Their vengeance illuminated the brittle pretension of human power. Their hatred revealed the nobility of neighbor love. They were acting as if they were gods, and in doing so, proved that they knew nothing of God. They were children of wrath, born into a system shaped by wrath, enacting wrath as a means of self-justification. When Jesus claims to be lord, all other lordships must either bow in recognition or fight back to protect their illegitimate claim.
Their violent reaction to Jesus’ claim to kingship shows exactly why Jesus must be King. What else can save us from the cycle of violence necessary to prop up the lies of power and self-justification?
Jesus invites us to leave all of that behind and follow. He calls us to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile. He tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. He commands us to love others as He has loved us.
The early Christians understood this love was more than just affection and required the sacrifice of self. Before Jesus, the most common human understanding of deity was absolute power. In Jesus, we learned that God’s character is absolute love. The Apostle Paul explained what they had come to understand about God: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Lent invites us to surrender power in exchange for love. This way is life.