Meditation on a crucified Messiah

March 19, 2008

Below is a meditation I’m giving this week at our Oakley Community Good Friday service. The service is based on eight Stations of the Cross, this being Station 6 where Jesus is stripped and nailed to the cross.

Mark 15:24-32  24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 28  29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

“Let the Messiah come down from the cross so that we may see and believe.”  There’s no question that our ability to believe is bound together with our experience of seeing.  We are constantly taking the world in through our senses of sight and sound and taste and touch and making interpretations about what we perceive.  We see a colorful sunset and we are reassured of the beauty and wonder of creation.  We hear news of deaths and rising numbers of refugees as a result of wars and violence and we take note that the world is not a safe place.  We smell and breath in polluted air and we are reminded that we are not taking good care of this planet we’ve been given.  We touch and hold a child and, for that moment, all is well in the world.

We see, and upon seeing, certain thoughts and attitudes and beliefs come to us.  What are we to make, then, when we see a Messiah on a cross?  How are we to interpret such a sight?  Messiah, by definition, means one who is anointed by God to deliver us from evil.  One who faces the darkness and is not overcome by that darkness, but rather emerges victorious.  Jesus hanging on an instrument of capital punishment with his life ebbing away from him is not the picture we would choose for what a Messiah would look like.  We know the kind of Messiah we want.  We are drawn toward the superstar figures who are clean and beautiful and put on a good show.  We like powerful, well armed warriors who kill the enemy – not physically weak, unarmed warriors who are killed by the enemy.  We prefer the kind of Messiah who would instantly make everything right.             

If our confession of Jesus as Messiah means that we restrict Jesus to our desires of who a messianic figure must be, then we are sadly mistaken, because the Jesus story simply doesn’t fit that mold.  If our faith is based in Jesus’ power to magically come down from the cross and escape unharmed, we will be disappointed, because this is not what he does.  If our belief in God depends on God saving us from suffering and trials and death, then our belief will be constantly wavering, because there continues to be much suffering in our world, around us and within us.

It is the bizarre, perhaps even foolish, confession of the early church that through his public outpouring of crucified love, Jesus is the one who has saved humanity from its evils, by shining so brightly in the darkness, that all peoples will be drawn to this light — the Messiah who heals our blindness and helps us to see the victory of Christ crucified.          

Jesus is stripped and nailed to the cross, and everyone who sees him is mocking him and hurling insults at him.  What do you see, and what do you say, of such a Messiah? 

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