Good Friday Reflection | Lionel Windsor | St Augustine’s Anglican Church Neutral Bay
Bible reading – Mark 15:16-20:
And the soldiers led [Jesus] away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
When we picture the events of Good Friday, the focus of our mind’s eye is often on the physical suffering Jesus experienced. The events of that day were indeed terrible, weren’t they? The binding, the blows from the fists, the gashes from the thorns, the nails in the hands, the agonising breathlessness of the crucifixion process.
Yet something always strikes me when I come to read the written accounts of Jesus’ final hours before his death. The Gospels do not dwell on the physical suffering in any kind of gory detail. Rather, what comes to the fore in these accounts, again and again, is Jesus’ shame and humiliation. Of course, these accounts do not shy away from physical suffering or pretend it didn’t happen, but at the same time they do not focus on it. Rather, what is paraded before us is the humiliation and degradation that Jesus experienced from those around him.
Jesus’ humiliation is certainly at the forefront in this awful scene, isn’t it? The soldiers’ actions towards Jesus are an act of ritual humiliation. Jesus has claimed to be the Messiah of the Jewish People, the Son of Man who has all the authority in the world given to him by God. It’s unlikely that the soldiers were familiar with the exact details of what this meant according to the Jewish Scriptures, but they do know enough to understand that Jesus was claiming to be a king. And so they take their opportunity to cut down this “King of the Jews”, to rub the imposter’s nose in the filth of his own stupid pretensions. They give this mock king a mock robe, a mock crown, and mock praise. They strike his head and spit on him while praising him and paying homage to him.
The soldiers’ actions are not simply random or thuggish. No, they are calculated and purposeful; indeed they are political. The Roman occupying forces are ritually rehearsing and reinforcing their own military conquest of the Jews. “If this is the King of the Jews, then look how we worship him! This man Jesus is nothing—smack, spit—the Jews are nothing—smack, spit—their God is nothing—we are the rulers, we are the conquerors, we are the masters of our own destiny.”
If Jesus’ suffering were something that was only physical, I would not feel so implicit in it. I did not inflict any physical pain on Jesus. I did not actually nail Jesus’ hands to the cross. I did not flog him or beat him.
And yet I have done what the soldiers did here. I have lived my life as if I am the king of my world, the master of my destiny. Each of my sins, each time I fail to do what God demands, each time I worship the created things rather than the creator, I am effectively saying to God: “You are not the king, I am the king! You don’t know what’s best for me; I know what’s best for me!”. I am just like these soldiers. I treat God as an imposter, not as a king. I shame him, rather than honour him.
If Jesus were truly the King, the Son of God, you would expect him to react to this treatment, wouldn’t you? It’s what we would do, surely? We spend so much of our lives trying to manage our image, to make sure people know who we are. We want to ensure that nobody takes advantage of us. From a personal or PR point of view, this is a complete disaster for Jesus. He doesn’t react to the shaming and the humiliation; he takes it all, the blows, the spitting, the mocking.
But we would want to say: how dare these people humiliate him like this! Shouldn’t he reassert his dignity? Shouldn’t he rise up in all his majestic glory and strike these wretched soliders with a rod of iron? Surely, it’s they who deserve to be shamed and humiliated and spat on and beaten and put in their place, isn’t it?
But of course, I deserve it too, don’t I?
What is Jesus doing? He is taking the shame on himself. Instead of striking out and defending his honour, as he has an absolute right to do as the king, the ruler of the world, he is bearing the humiliation and scoffing. The soldiers, of course, thought that just proved he was an imposter. But we know he was not, don’t we? The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead tells us that he is indeed God’s king. In fact, he is a king who is so powerful, so wonderful, so honourable, that he can take the shame on himself. He can bears it. And he does it for me. My shame, becomes his shame. The humiliation I deserve, is upon him.