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The Shame of the Cross

by ervte

We know all too well what pure hate looks like.

We don’t have to look to history to see it. Bucha is located just 27 km west of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

A few weeks ago, when Russian troops withdrew from Bucha, they left behind a terrible scene. The victims’ families had to find the mutilated remains of their loved ones in and around their homes or hastily buried in mass graves. According to the BBC, at least 500 civilians have been discovered, many with their hands tied and showing signs of torture.The Shame of the Cross

It was shocking, but alas, in the annals of war and military occupation, unsurprising. War criminals and torturers are trying to exercise their physical dominance over their victims and dehumanize them. They deconstruct the humanity of others. They subject them to disgrace, tearing their bodies apart and trying to rob them of their dignity and honor. They know that suffering is much more than experiencing physical pain: the loss of a sense of yourself – your wholeness and integrity – makes suffering what it is. Shame is perhaps the most intense of all pain.

In order not to be tempted to think that only Russians are capable of this kind of behavior, let us not forget that amid our pride in Australia’s history, there are also episodes of equal horror and contempt for it—the humanity of others, both on this land and overseas.

Shame is perhaps the most intense of all pain.

But torturers and abusers have strange and perverse wisdom. They know that shame is something we can experience as victims and perpetrators. We can do things we are ashamed of, but we can have things done to us that also shame us, even though we are not guilty of what has been done to us. I have a friend who committed a minor crime for which a court rightly punished him – and of which he is ashamed. But because he has a rather unusual name, his shame in front of him has been kept fresh every time someone searches for him on Google. The guilt never seems to go away.

But I’ve also talked to victims of abuse who can’t shake their shame, even though they’re victims in every way and completely innocent. It’s the feeling that something has happened that belittled me – whether I did it to myself or not.

We might say the platoon of soldiers was doing their job, but they knew exactly what to do as occupied might say they enforced forced dominance. The executioners o to rob him of his humanity and personality—to put him to utter shame. After being sentenced to death, Jesus is not killed quickly and humanely, but the opposite. He is first flogged and then ridiculed. The execution team is laughing a lot at the victim they got.

And their sarcasm is biting. They dress him in a purple cloak; they put a crown on his head, not of gold, but of thorns. They call him ‘King of the Jews’. They bow to him in a sham of reverence. ‘He thinks he’s a king, doesn’t he? We’ll show him! This so-called King rules no one, commands no one, and owns nothing. He claims to be someone; let’s remind him he’s nobody.’

And then they took him out to be hanged in public so that his shame was there for all to see. This is the King of the Jews on his ‘throne’ – a throne made of two rough pieces of wood to which he is nailed.

As the American writer Fleming Rutledge puts it, ‘Degradation was the whole point of crucifixion. That it was excruciatingly painful was only part of it. It was a very public gesture of hatred and contempt. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: ‘The meaning of the cross lies not only in physical suffering but above all in rejection and shame’. Isaiah saw the horror and shame of the cross centuries before Jesus:

He had no shape or majesty that we would look at him, nothing in the appearance that would make us long for him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmities; despised, and we disrespected him in any way.

The cross is a very distasteful and ugly scene if you think about it – and it was intended that way by those who used it. For centuries we have forgotten this because we are used to associating the cross with divine love and hope and because we have made beautiful jewelry from it or used it on national flags.

The cross is a most distasteful and ugly scene.

But I’ve noticed that as our culture becomes more post-Christian, we begin to see again how cruel and shameful the cross is and how strange it is as a symbol of God’s greatest love. Perhaps we should issue trigger warnings for Good Friday – and perhaps rightly so.

So: the cross is much like the umpteenth deconstruction of a person by other people; another example of ‘the inhumanity of man towards man, as we continue to see it in our time.

And we can say, well, we remember an act of cruelty, an ashamed individual, but we may count others by their million. And yes – it’s proof that people have that evil and horrible power over others, but we could multiply examples from every era, couldn’t we? Is that, then, the only lesson of the cross—that humans are skilled and passionate haters?

But there is another layer to this story.

One of the things about God is that he likes irony – and it’s impossible not to read it in the scene of Jesus with the death squad. Because in their sarcasm, they spoke the truth. They mock him as King, yet that is exactly what he was. They intended the crown of thorns to be a bitter and vile sign of what Jesus was not, but that crown of thorns turned out to be a brilliant clue to who Jesus is—the King who rules by dying for the sake of his people.

In this act of utter hatred, God shows the depths of his love.

This moment of the most extreme wickedness in human history—the most terrible blasphemy—was the moment of God’s most intense presence. In this act of utter hatred, God shows the depths of his love. Though they meant this day for evil, God intended it for good. He has wrested the authorship of history from the hands of man.

The worst thing you and I can do is not to outwit or outwit the love of the eternal and holy God. This vile act is turned into the ultimate good. The unsavory scene becomes beautiful.

Why? Because here on the cross, when we say ‘no’ to God, God says ‘yes’ to us. The cross is a terrible and ugly symbol of how infernal we are – and how deeply ashamed we are and put each other to shame. But because God Himself was in Jesus Christ who bore our shame and disgrace, the cross becomes something beautiful—not a sign of guilt, but of honor, not of hatred, but of love.

They tried to humiliate Jesus, but we find his humble love here.

John says in his letter this: God’s love was thus revealed among us: God sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein lies passion, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 5: God proves his love for us by Christ dying for us while we were still sinners.

So yes: this is love. And that love means that we can come to Jesus Christ with all our shame, whether we have been ashamed or have been put to shame by others, and know the truth of God’s promise of Isaiah 45:17 – “He that believeth in him shall not be ashamed.” ‘.

For as the letter to the Hebrews says: It was for the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despised its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

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