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Showing posts with label #Stations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Stations. Show all posts

29 March 2018

When Jesus made John responsible for his mother.

And why not any of his siblings.

John 19.25-27.

Only John has this story. Which has caused no end of speculation about Jesus’s family situation.

John 19.25-27 KWL
25 Standing by Jesus’s cross was his mother, his mother’s sister, Klofa’s Mary, and Mary the Magdalene.
26 So Jesus, seeing his mother and the student he loved standing by,
told his mother, “Ma’am, look: Your son,” 27 then told the student, “Look: Your mother.”
From that hour on, Jesus’s student took her as his own.

John doesn’t give everybody’s names in this story, so I figure I will.

  • MARY OF NAZARETH. She’s never once referred to as “Mary” in John, because the author was trying refer to as few Marys as possible, so as not to confuse everybody with how common the name “Mary” was. He stuck to two: Mary of Bethany, and Mary of Magdala. Whenever Mary of Nazareth comes up, she’s always “Jesus’s mother.” Jn 2.1, 3
  • SALOME OF KFER-NAHUM. Whom Mark mentioned by name. Mk 15.40 John only calls her “[Jesus’s] mother’s sister,” ’cause she’s his mom and Jesus’s aunt. Sometimes Christian tradition mixes her up with Klofa’s Mary, which is why some Christians refer to her as “Mary Salomé”—which’d mean all four women there were named Mary. Well it was a popular name.
  • KLOFA’S MARY. Klofa (KJV “Cleophas”) was her husband, which is why most translations insert the words “the wife of.” Klofa was Joseph’s brother. This was another of Jesus’s aunts.
  • MARY THE MAGDALENE. Tradition has it she’s one of Jesus’s financial backers, or even one of his students.
  • JOHN BAR ZAVDI. “The student Jesus loved” is the one who wrote this gospel, Jn 21.24 and most reasonably John bar Zavdi, Mk 1.19 Salomé’s son, Jesus’s cousin. For various reasons Christians figure John was the youngest of Jesus’s students—maybe 16, or even younger, at the time of Jesus’s death—and his youth might’ve been why he could get to where the other students wouldn’t dare go. Who’d suspect a kid? But it meant he could be an eyewitness to history, and record it in his gospel.

Other than the Magdalene, they were all Jesus’s family members, so of course they’d be by his cross, lamenting his death.

But you notice Jesus’s siblings weren’t. And there’s no reason they weren’t. Jesus was killed the day before Passover, Jn 19.30-31 and we know Jesus’s siblings regularly went to Jerusalem for the feasts, Jn 7.1-10 as required by the Law. Dt 16.16 They were in Jerusalem. They were still in Jerusalem 50 days later. Ac 1.14 They likely knew the Romans were killing their brother. But they weren’t there. Only their mother, her sister, and her sister-in-law had the guts to stand up for Jesus. They did not.

Oh, and John was there. So as the only male family member present, whom could Jesus call upon? Right: His beloved student.

27 March 2018

Falling down—and other false memories of Jesus’s passion.

Certain things in our passion plays aren’t necessarily in the gospels.

One of the odd things you’ll notice about the traditional 14 stations of the cross, is how often Jesus falls down. He does it thrice.

  1. Gets condemned, is given his cross, falls down.
  2. Encounters his mom, Simon of Cyrene, and St. Veronica; falls down.
  3. Encounters the daughters of Jerusalem, falls down.

Then he’s stripped and nailed to the cross, so he’s not gonna fall down anymore—unless we count when he’s taken down from the cross, and likely they didn’t drop him in so doing. Still: Three of the stations of the cross involve Jesus falling down. And in St. Francis of Assisi’s original list of seven stations, Jesus falls in the second and fifth stations, so when Christians expanded it to 14, they added a fall.

Yet in the gospels, he doesn’t fall down. Although we can certainly imagine he did, what with being weak from sleep deprivation and blood loss, and the fact he clearly wasn’t up to carrying his own cross. But the gospels don’t say he fell down. He might’ve, but the authors never said so.

So what’s with all the falling down?

Simple: A popular medieval tradition borrowed this verse from Proverbs, and claimed it was a prophecy about Jesus:

Proverbs 24.15-16 KWL
15 Don’t plan a wicked ambush at the home of a righteous person. Don’t ruin his resting place.
16 A righteous person might fall and rise seven times. A wicked person falls into evil.

The medievals claimed Jesus was this righteous person who fell seven times, and he did it in the course of his passion. So only falling three times in the stations of the cross was actually underdoing it. He should’ve been keeling over more often than a Pentecostal during a revival. Every other station should’ve been another fall.

Of course you know actors in the passion plays will fall down every chance they’re given. It’s an easy way to show weakness and suffering. So it stands to reason Francis and the Christians thereafter would make sure it got into the stations of the cross. But nope, doesn’t happen in the gospels.

I know; it regularly surprises Roman Catholics when they look for the falls in the gospels, and find nothing. But it doesn’t come from the gospels. Comes from Proverbs.

22 March 2018

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The heretic idea the Father abandoned the Son.

Mark 15.33-36 • Matthew 27.45-49.

Before he died, Jesus shouted out something in a language his bystanders didn’t recognize. And a lot of present-day commentators don’t recognize it either. We know it was Psalm 22.1, but some of us say Jesus quoted it in Aramaic; some say Hebrew. Which was it?

The reason for the confusion is that Mark and Matthew don’t match. Both of ’em recorded Jesus’s words as best they could—but they did so in the Greek alphabet, which doesn’t correspond neatly to Hebrew and Aramaic sounds. So here’s what we got… and if your web browser reads Unicode, you might actually see the original-language characters.

VERSEORIGINALTRANSLITERATION
Ps 22.1, Hebrew אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי Elí Elí, lamáh azavettáni?
Ps 22.1, Aramaic (Syriac) ܐܠܗ ܐܠܗܝ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢ Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtaní?
Mk 15.34, Greekἐλωΐ ἐλωΐ, λεμᾶ σαβαχθανί;Elo’í Elo’í, lemá savahthaní?
(Savaktaneí in the Codex Sinaiticus.)
Mt 27.46, Greekἠλί ἠλί, λεμὰ σαβαχθανί;Ilí ilí, lemá savahthaní?

Just based on how the gospels’ authors wrote the word for “my God,” Elí in Hebrew or Elahí in Aramaic, it kinda looks like Mark was quoting an Aramaic translation of the psalms, and Matthew the Hebrew original.

But it seems to me the most likely Jesus would quote bible in Hebrew. For three reasons:

  1. That is the language King David wrote his psalm in.
  2. It’d explain why the people who heard Jesus quote it, didn’t understand him. Judeans and Galileans spoke Aramaic; that’s what the New Testament meant by Evra’istí and Evra’ídi/“Hebraic.” Jn 5.2, Ac 22.2, 26.14, Rv 9.11 In the first century Hebrew was a dead language, only spoken by scribes like Jesus.
  3. It’s way easier to confuse Elí with Ilías, the Greek version of Eliyyáhu/“Elijah,” than it is Elahí.

Regardless, in my translation the words in Jesus’s mouth are Aramaic in Mark, and Hebrew in Matthew. ’Cause that’s what the authors were apparently going for.

Mark 15.33-36 KWL
33 When the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—came,
darkness came over all the land till the ninth hour.
34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtáni?
which is translated, “My God my God, for what reason have you left me behind?” Ps 22.1
35 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look: He calls Elijah.”
36 One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar, putting it on a reed, gave Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him.”
Matthew 27.45-49 KWL
45 From the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—
darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 Around the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Elí Elí, lamáh azavettáni?
That is, “My God my God, why did you leave me behind?” Ps 22.1
47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said this: “This man calls Elijah.”
48 One runner quickly left them: Taking a sponge full of vinegar, putting it on a reed, he gave Jesus a drink.
49 The others said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes, and will save him.”

Awright, now that we have the language sorta squared away, let’s get to what was going on here.

20 March 2018

The mourning of Jerusalem’s daughters.

And Jesus’s cryptic-sounding response to them, which ain’t all that cryptic when you know your history.

Luke 23.26-31.

Only Luke tells this part of the story.

Luke 23.26-31 KWL
26 As the Romans led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming from the fields,
and they put the crossbeam on him to carry behind Jesus.
27 Many crowds of people followed Jesus.
The mourning women among them were also lamenting him.
28 Turning to the women, Jesus said, “Jerusalem’s daughters, don’t weep for me.
But weep for your own. For your children. 29 Look, the time’s coming when they’ll say,
‘The sterile, wombs which never begat children, breasts which never fed, are awesome!’
30 Then they’ll start ‘to tell the mountains, “Fall on us!” and the hills, “Bury us!” ’ Ho 18.1
31 For if they do this when the wood is moist, what’ll happen when it’s dry?”

Some teachers never can stop teaching. Even when they’re being dragged off to be crucified.

Various Christians don’t know what to make of this passage, so they skip it. Which is easy to do when there are so many other horrors to focus on when it comes to Jesus’s death. Skip the message to Jerusalem’s daughters and focus on Simon having to carry Jesus’s crossbeam, or Jesus getting nailed up between two insurgents. Lessons can easily get lost in the shuffle.

But St. John Paul made this lesson its own station of the cross, probably ’cause he figured it was worth zooming in on this particular event. Meditating on what the women were feeling. Meditating on how Jesus felt about that. Meditating on what he told them, and why he said it.

So let’s get into why he said it.

13 March 2018

Vinegar to drink.

Even the Romans’ offer of something to drink was a form of torture.

Mark 15.23, 26 • Matthew 27.33-34, 48 • Luke 23.36 • John 19.28-30

Back when David was in deep doo-doo, Ps 69.2 he wrote Psalm 69. More griping about his enemies. But when he talked about his comforters, Ps 69.20 he commented,

Psalm 69.21 KWL
They gave me bitter food, and for my thirst, they made me drink vinegar.

It’s a memorable idea, and one which no doubt the authors of the gospels thought of when Jesus was getting crucified. ’Cause Jesus didn’t wanna drink what they provided.

Our culture might be unaware: Back then, you didn’t drink the water. You never knew where it came from, and rarely was it pure. Fastest way to get dysentery or cholera. So the ancients drank wine, either full-strength or watered-down. (Or beer, if your culture made beer.) The alcohol killed any bacteria. Ignore all those teetotalers who claim “wine” back then was actually grape juice: Grape juice was as potentially harmful as water. It needed to be wine.

The gospels aren’t consistent in how they describe the wine Jesus was offered. Mark called it myrrh-wine and Matthew called it wine with holís/“bile.” For Luke and John, it was really old wine, which both of ’em straight-up called óxos/“vinegar.”

Mark 15.22-23 KWL
22 They brought Jesus to Gulgálta Place (i.e. Skull Place).
23 They were giving Jesus myrrh-wine, which he didn’t take.
Matthew 27.33-34 KWL
33 Coming to the place called Gulgálta, called Skull Place, 34 they gave Jesus wine to drink—
with bile mixed in, and on tasting it he didn’t want to drink.
Luke 23.36 KWL
They mocked him. The soldiers who’d come were bringing him vinegar…

John states they added hyssop, but the KJV changes John’s account to “[a branch] of hyssop,” Jn 19.29 KJV to sync it up with Mark and Matthew’s account of putting the wine in a sponge, putting the sponge on a reed (or a hyssop stick, I suppose), and offering it to Jesus. But hyssop is also a bitter extract, and may be what Matthew meant by bile. I dunno.

Mark 15.36 KWL
One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar, putting it on a reed, gave Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let me do this; we might see if Elijah comes to take him.”
Matthew 27.48 KWL
One runner quickly left them: Taking a sponge full of vinegar, putting it on a reed, he gave Jesus a drink.
John 19.28-30 KWL
28 After this Jesus, knowing everything was now finished,
said to fulfill the scripture, “I thirst.”
29 A full jar of vinegar was sitting there.
So a sponge full of vinegar, with hyssop put on it, was brought to Jesus’s mouth.
30 When he tasted the vinegar, Jesus said, “It’s finished.”
He bent his head and handed over his spirit.

Yeah, the soldiers and their runners offered Jesus vinegar more than once.

Certain commentators claim the myrrh in the wine was meant to be medicinal. Supposedly the Romans, feeling a little bad for their victims, wanted to numb them just a little to the excruciating pain of crucifixion. Man, is that optimistic of the commentators. Ask your local supplier of essential oils: Myrrh is no painkiller. It wasn’t even a folk-remedy painkiller. The ancients used it as perfume—to keep wounds and medicines from smelling bad. From there, moderns leap to the conclusion it was kind of an antiseptic—it kept wounds from getting infected and gangrenous, right? But it didn’t do that at all: It hid the smell of wounds which were getting septic. It made you worse, not better. Despite your favorite websites, myrrh has no proven purpose in medicine.

So what was it doing in the wine? Myrrh is bitter. (So’s hyssop.) It made the wine taste like bile. And when people taste bile, what do they do? They gag: It tastes like vomit. They’ll frequently even vomit.

Yep, it was the Romans’ sick little joke. The victims got thirsty and begged for wine… so you gave ’em myrrh-wine, and watched ’em freak out. Arguably that was why they put the vinegar in a sponge on a reed: It wasn’t because the crosses were impractically tall. It’s because the soldiers didn’t wanna get puked on.

06 March 2018

The St. Veronica story.

Nope, it’s not in the bible. But it’s really popular.

One of St. Francis’s original stations of the cross was when St. Veronica let Jesus wipe off his bloody face on her veil. Some of you have already heard this story, or bits of it.

And others of you are going, “Where’s that found in the bible?” Well, it’s not found in the bible at all. It comes from Christian tradition. It’s a really old tradition, and a really popular story. So popular, it’s still in the traditional stations of the cross. And while I’m trying to discuss the biblical stations of the cross, I feel I still need to give a mention to St. Veronica… ’cause a number of Christians aren’t entirely aware this story’s not in the bible. Some of ’em even remember seeing it in a bible somewhere. But that’s a false memory. It’s really not there. I’m not kidding.

As for whether St. Veronica herself is in the bible… she actually is. She’s traditionally identified as the woman in this story:

Mark 5.25-34 KWL
25 For 12 years, a woman had a bloodflow, 26 and had suffered greatly under many witch-doctors,
spending everything she had, and never improving. Instead she was much worse.
27 Hearing of Jesus, joining the crowd behind him, she grabbed his robe,
28 saying this: “When I grab him—even his robe—I’ll be cured.”
29 Instantly her bloodflow dried up, and she knew her body was cured of its suffering.
30 And instantly Jesus recognized power had gone out from him.
Turning round to the crowd, he said, “Who grabbed my robe?”
31 His students told him, “You see this crowd swarming you, and you say, ‘Who touched me’?”
32 Jesus was looking round to see who’d done it,
33 and the woman, in fear and trembling, knowing what was done to her,
came and fell down before Jesus, and told him the whole truth.
34 Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith saved you.
Go in peace. Be free from your suffering.”

Christian tradition named this woman Vereníki/“victory-bearer,” which in English becomes Bernice, but in Latin becomes Veronica.

01 March 2018

Jesus confuses Antipas Herod.

Jesus takes a little side trip to get mocked by the ruler of his province.

Luke 23.4-12

All the gospels tell of Jesus’s suffering, but only in Luke do we find this bit about Jesus being sent to Antipas Herod. The other gospel authors skipped it ’cause it didn’t add anything to their accounts. Doesn’t add much to Luke either. But it’s interesting.

It begins right after Pontius Pilatus, at the time Judea’s Roman prefect, was presented with Jesus for crucifixion. Pilatus didn’t see any reason to crucify him, ’cause as John related, he figured Jesus’s kingdom wasn’t any political threat to Rome. (But it did take over Rome all the same.) So he didn’t feel like crucifying Jesus… and a loose comment the Judeans made, gave Pilatus the idea to hand off the problem to Herod.

Luke 23.4-7 KWL
4 Pilatus told the head priests and the crowd, “I find nothing of guilt in this person.”
5 The crowd prevailed over Pilatus, saying this: “He riles up the people,
teaching throughout Judea—having begun such behavior in the Galilee.”
6 On hearing this, Pilatus asked whether Jesus was Galilean,
7 and realizing Jesus was under Antipas Herod’s authority, sent him to Herod,
Herod himself being in Jerusalem on that day.

Now let’s be clear. There was no rule in the Roman Empire which said if you had the subject of another province under arrest, you had to extradite him to that province’s ruler. No custom either. In fact, knowing Romans, they wouldn’t wanna extradite their prisoners, lest it be considered a sign of weakness. So there were only two possible reasons for Pilatus to send Jesus to Herod:

  1. Passing the buck.
  2. Making nice with Herod.

Because they hated one another, Lk 23.12 and we’re not told why. Possibly because Herod figured he oughta be Judea’s king; possibly because Pilatus treated him less than royal, because Herod’s official title tetra-árhis/“tetrarch” Mt 14.1 doesn’t mean “king,” but “ruler of a fourth,” namely a quarter of Israel. Or maybe it was some other silly reason. Whatever; they didn’t get along. But Herod had always wanted to meet Jesus, Lk 23.8 and if Pilatus knew this, it was a significant gesture on his part. More likely, I’m guessing, Pilatus stumbled into this gesture by a combination of dumb luck and procrastination.

27 February 2018

Jesus gets flogged.

Beaten for our transgressions.

Mark 15.15 • Matthew 27.26 • Luke 23.16 • John 19.1

Jesus’s flogging was definitely part of his suffering. But it’s actually not one of the traditional the stations of the cross. I know; you’d think it was, considering how much time Mel Gibson spent on it in The Passion of the Christ, where they beat the hell out of Jesus—as if there was anything of hell in him. But nope; traditionally the stations of the cross began with Jesus getting his cross, ’cause they’re the stations of the cross, not Jesus’s pre-cross sufferings. They’re part of St. John Paul’s list though.

And no, there’s no historical evidence that the Romans beat Jesus more than usual. The only details we have about his flogging is that he had a flogging. Takes up only a sentence in all four gospels.

Mark 15.15 KWL
Pilate, wanting the crowd to stop it, released bar-Abba to them.
He handed over Jesus, who’d been flogged, so he could be crucified.
Matthew 27.26 KWL
Then Pilate released bar-Abba to them.
He handed over Jesus, who’d been flogged, so he could be crucified.
John 19.1 KWL
So then Pilate also had Jesus flogged.

Fraghellósas/“who’d been flogged” Mk 15.15, Mt 27.26 is in a verb tense called aorist: It happened, but it’s not past tense, so we don’t know when it happened. It didn’t necessarily happen after Judea’s prefect Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to his death; it might’ve happened before. Probably did, considering John records Jesus getting flogged and crowned with thorns before he was sent to be crucified, not after.

Jesus doesn’t actually get flogged in Luke, but Pilate implied that was the plan:

Luke 23.16 KWL
“So, once punished, I will release him.”

’Cause flogging was how Romans “punished” criminals… unless their crime was considered so grievous, the Romans would just crucify them. And they were pretty quick to crucify people too. Yep, flogging was the lenient punishment. Whereas in our culture, flogging is illegal, for obvious reasons.

22 February 2018

Jesus given a robe and crowned with thorns.

When the soldiers had their sick “fun” with Jesus.

Mark 15.16-20 • Matthew 27.27-31 • Luke 23.11 • John 19.2-3, 5-6

People became Roman soldiers for all sorts of reasons. Some because they wanted to become Romans, and serving in their army was a path to citizenship. Some as punishment: It was either military service, or slavery and prison. Some for the adventure, or to get rich, or because they couldn’t imagine any other job options. Some because how else are you gonna get to crucify barbarians?

So it’s safe to figure the soldiers under Pontius Pilatus weren’t there to make friends with the Judeans. On the contrary: They likely grew more and more tired of the Judeans all the time. Especially any self-righteous Judeans who figured Romans were inferior because they were gentile, or illiterate, or stole. (Soldiers tended to abuse their power so they could steal and extort. Lk 3.14) Plus since the Caesars had exploited Herod 1’s death so they could seize Judea for themselves, the Judeans really didn’t like the Romans… so the Romans returned the favor, and the hostility.

So given the opportunity to abuse one of the Judeans, and have some evil fun at his expense, they took advantage of it. That’s why they beat the crap out of Jesus. Wasn’t enough that they were gonna crucify him: First they had to play a little game they called “the king’s game.”

Mark 15.16-20 KWL
16 The soldiers took Jesus inside the courtyard, called the Prætorium,
and called together the whole company.
17 They dressed Jesus in “purple,” and placed a woven crown on him—of thorny acacia.
18 They began to salute Jesus: “Hail, king of Judeans!”
19 They struck Jesus’s head with a staff, and spit on him,
and bending their knees, “worshiped” him.
20 Once they ridiculed Jesus enough, they took the “purple” off him,
dressed him in his own robe, and sent him away to crucify him.
Matthew 27.27-31 KWL
27 Then the governor’s soldiers, taking Jesus into the Prætorium, called the whole company to him.
28 Undressing Jesus they draped him in a scarlet jacket.
29 Weaving a crown of thorny acacia, they put it on Jesus’s head,
and a staff in his right hand.
Kneeling before him, they ridiculed him,
saying, “Hail, king of Judeans!”
30 Spitting on him, they took the staff and struck Jesus on the head.
31 Once they ridiculed Jesus enough, they took the jacket off him,
dressed him in his own clothes, and led him away to crucifixion.
Luke 23.11 KWL
Considering Jesus worthless, mocking him, dressing him in bright clothing,
Herod with his soldiers sent him back to Pilatus.
John 19.2-3 KWL
2 The soldiers, weaving a crown of thorny acacia, put it on Jesus’s head.
They put a “purple” robe on him.
3 They were coming to Jesus and saying, “Hail, king of Judeans!”
as they gave him punches.

20 February 2018

Stations of the cross: Remembering Christ’s suffering.

One of the ways we remember, and appreciate, Jesus’s death.

In Jerusalem, Israel, Christians remember Jesus’s death by actually going down the route he traveled the day he died. It’s called the Way of Jesus, the Way of Sorrows (Latin, Via Dolorosa), or the Way of the Cross (Via Cručis). When I visited Jerusalem, it’s part of the tour package: Loads of us Christians go this route every single day, observing all the places Jesus is said to have suffered. Really solemn, moving stuff.

But most of us Christians don’t live in or near Jerusalem, and some of us can’t possibly go there. For this reason St. Francis of Assisi invented “the stations of the cross.” In his church building, he set up seven different dioramas. Each represented an event which happened as Jesus was led to his death. The people of his church would go to each diorama—each station—and remember what Jesus did for us all. And pray.

Yeah, this is a Catholic thing, ’cause Francis was Roman Catholic. But it’s not exclusively a Catholic thing: Many Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists use stations of the cross too. Be fair: If a Protestant invented it, you’d find Protestants doing it everywhere. ’Cause it’s not a bad idea.

So it’s why I bring it up here. The stations of the cross are a clever way to meditate upon Jesus’s death in a more visual, tangible way. And lots of Catholic churches (and a growing number of Protestant churches) keep the stations up year-round. Could be paintings, carvings, or stained-glass windows. Christians can “travel the Way of Jesus” any time we wanna contemplate his death, and what he did for us.

If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, he made sure to include all the stations in his movie. As do Catholic passion plays, reenactments of Jesus’s death. Protestant passion plays too, though we tend to skip the events we don’t find in the gospels. ’Cause as you’ll notice, some of Francis’s stations came from the popular culture of early 1200s Italy. Not the scriptures.

03 April 2017

What became of Judas Iscariot.

His death… however it happened, since the scriptures don’t match.

Matthew 27.3-10 • Acts 1.15-26

Technically Judas bar Simon of Kerioth, the renegade follower of Jesus whom we know as Judas Iscariot, isn’t part of the stations of the cross. Whether St. Francis or St. John Paul, neither of ’em figured his situation is specifically worthy of a meditation for Good Friday. Although we should study him some, ’cause he’s an example of an apostle gone wrong—an example we don’t wanna follow. Nor repeat. But Jesus was too busy going through his own suffering to really focus on what was happening with Judas.

So Judas came up when he turned Jesus in to the cops… and in three of the gospels, that’s the last we hear of him. The exceptions are Matthew—and since the author of Luke also wrote Acts, it’s kinda in another gospel, ’cause Acts is about how the apostles started Jesus’s kingdom. But that’s a whole other discussion.

Here’s the problem: For the most part, the Matthew and Acts stories contradict one another.

Not that inerrantists haven’t tried their darnedest to sync them up, and I’ll get to how they’ve tried it. But first things first: The passages.

Matthew 27.3-10 KWL
3 Then Judas, who turned Jesus in, seeing the Senate condemned him,
feeling greatly sorry, returned the 30 silvers to the head priest and elders,
4 saying, “I sinned; I turned in innocent blood.”
They said, “What’s that to us? Look out for yourself.”
5 He threw the silver back into the shrine, left, and hanged himself.
6 The head priests took the silver, saying, “It’s wrong to put it in the offering,
since it’s a payment for blood.”
7 Taking it, the Senate bought a field with it from a potter, for the burial of foreigners.
8 Thus this field was called Bloodfield to this day.
9 This fulfilled the prophet Jeremiah’s word, saying, “They took 30 silvers.
The penalty payment which they paid for Israel’s children.
10 They gave it for the potter’s field, as the Lord instructed me.”
Acts 1.15-20 KWL
15 In those days Simon Peter stood in the middle of the family.
He said, “The crowd is more than 120 people I can name.
16 Men, family: We have to fulfill the scriptures the Holy Spirit foretold through David’s mouth
about Judas, who became the guide of those who arrested Jesus.
17 Judas was counted among us.
He received a place in this ministry.
18 He thus got himself a plot of land from his unrighteous reward,
and was found face-down, burst open, his innards all spilled out.
19 All Jerusalem’s dwellers came to know it,
so the plot’s called in their dialect Khaqal-Dema” (i.e. Bloodfield).
20 “It’s written in the book of Psalms: ‘Make his house desert, and don’t let settlers in it.’ Ps 69.25
And ‘Another person: Take his office.’” Ps 109.8

27 March 2017

Jesus sentenced to death by the Senate.

What Jesus was actually convicted of.

Mark 14.61-64 • Matthew 26.63-66 • Luke 22.67-71

I’m discussing the three synoptic gospels because if you read John, the way it’s worded makes it sorta look like Jesus didn’t even have a trial before the Judean Senate. First Jesus went to the former head priest Annas’s house, Jn 18.13, 19-23 then he went to the current head priest Caiaphas’s house, Jn 18.24, 28 then he went to Pilate’s headquarters Jn 18.28 with the death penalty already in mind. Now, it may have been that in between stops at Caiaphas’s house they went to trial, but John neither says nor suggests so. John was probably written to fill in some blanks in Jesus’s story, but every once in a while like this, it creates whole new blanks.

Anyway, back to the synoptics. My previous piece was about Jesus testifying about himself. Today it’s what Jesus was guilty of, and why they sentenced him to death.

Mark 14.61-64 KWL
61B Again, the head priest questioned him, telling him, “You’re Messiah, the ‘son of the Blessed’?”
62 Jesus said, “I am. You’ll see the Son of Man—
seating himself at the right of God’s power, coming with heaven’s clouds.”
63 Tearing his tunic, the head priest said, “Who still needs to have witnesses?
64 You heard the slander. How’s it look to you?”
Everyone sentenced Jesus guilty, and to be put to death.
Matthew 26.63-66 KWL
63B The head priest told him, “I put you under oath to the living God so you’d tell us:
Are you Messiah, the ‘son of God’?”
64 Jesus said, “As you say, but I tell you: From this moment you’ll see the Son of Man—
seating himself at the right of God’s power, coming with heaven’s clouds.”
65 Then the head priest ripped his robe, saying, “Jesus slandered God.”
Who still needs to have witnesses? Now look! You heard the slander. 66 What do you think?”
In reply they said, “Jesus is guilty and deserves death.”
Luke 22.67-71 KWL
67B They were saying, “If you’re Messiah, tell us.”
Jesus told them, “When I told you, you wouldn’t believe.
68 When I questioned you, you wouldn’t answer.
69 From now on, the Son of Man will be seating himself at the right of God’s power.”
70 Everyone said, “So you’re the ‘son of God’?” Jesus declared, “I’m as you say.”
71 They said, “Why do we still need to have witnesses?—
We heard it ourselves from Jesus’s lips.”

As Mark and Matthew make obvious, Caiaphas was absolutely sure the whole room just heard Jesus commit slander. Mk 14.64, Mt 26.65 Luke only indicates the stuff Jesus said was illegal in some way. Lk 22.71

Problem is, whenever I tell this story to Christians, the idea of what Jesus might’ve done wrong goes right over their heads. They figure, as we do, that Jesus never did anything wrong. Never sinned. 2Co 5.21, He 4.15, 1Pe 2.22, 1Jn 3.5 Therefore any verdict which convicted Jesus of sin was wrong. Which is absolutely right. But they think the wrong verdict wasn’t because the Judeans had misinterpreted the Law, or misunderstood who Jesus was: They think this was a kangaroo court, trying to get Jesus by hook or by crook—by legal trickery, or by breaking the Law themselves. And many a preacher claims exactly that: The priests broke all the Talmud’s rules about how courts were to be held… and never mind the fact the Talmud wouldn’t yet be written for centuries. Really, they’ll accept any evidence this was a sham trial.

But other times it’s because Christians believe the Judean Senate was the old dispensation, and Jesus is the new dispensation, so they were trying him by an out-of-date Law. As dispensationalists they believe Jesus broke the Law all the time. On Sabbath, fr’instance. But thanks to the new dispensation, these acts of willful defiance towards God’s Law no longer counted. Freedom in Christ, baby!—Jesus could’ve straight-up murdered and robbed people had he chose (although they’ve got various explanations why the Ten Commandments, despite being the very heart of the old covenant, still apply somehow). The Senate weren’t aware God was no longer saving them under the old rules anymore, and executed Jesus anyway.

Fact is, Jesus’s trial was perfectly legal under existing law. They got him on slander. Had it been any other person in the universe who said what Jesus did, it totally would be slander. Had the Senate believed Jesus is as he says, they’d have correctly set him free. They didn’t, so they didn’t. So it was a miscarriage of justice. Wrong verdict.

24 March 2017

Jesus testifies about (or against) himself.

The head priest got to the meat of it: Did Jesus consider himself their king?

Mark 14.60-64 • Matthew 26.62-66 • Luke 22.67-71

Messiah means king.

Christians forget this, because to us, Messiah means Jesus. So when the ancient Judeans wanted to know if Jesus was Messiah, to our minds their question was, “Are you the guy the Prophets said was coming to save the world and take us to heaven?” and there are so many things wrong with that statement. One of ’em being that’s not what anybody in the first century meant.

If you know your American (or British) history, you’ll remember a tory is someone who prefers the status quo, and a whig is someone who really doesn’t. (I’m not gonna use “liberal” and “conservative,” ’cause the United States is such a mess, everybody’s a whig.) Regardless of how you like or hate the status quo, “Messiah” means one of two things:

Tory: You’re a traitor. ’Cause the Romans and Judean senate are in charge, and you’re here to overthrow ’em, and we can’t have that.
Whig: You’re a revolutionary. (So… whom do you want us to kill? Lk 22.49)

This is why Jesus, though he totally admitted he’s Messiah, didn’t just stupidly walk around Israel telling everybody he was their king. Instead he told ’em what his kingdom looks like. Tories may still hate and fear it, and whigs may (and do) entirely disagree with Jesus about the sort of fixes to make on society. But if they really listen to Jesus’s teachings about the kingdom, they’ll know what Jesus means by “Messiah”—as opposed to what popular culture, including Christian popular culture, claims.

To Joseph Caiaphas, the tory head priest who ran the Judean senate in the year 33, it didn’t matter what Jesus taught about his kingdom. Caiaphas’s whole deal was if Jesus in any way claimed to be king, that was treason. Only the Romans could appoint a king—and in the absence of a king, the title functionally fell to Rome’s emperor, Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti filius Augustus. Jn 19.15 Appointing yourself king without Caesar’s authorization: Big big trouble. Jn 19.12 Which is precisely what Caiaphas wanted Jesus to get himself into. The Romans would kill him for it, and no more Jesus problem.

So after a couple hours of a shambles of a prosecution, Caiaphas put a stop to all that and got to brass tacks.

10 March 2017

Jesus accused with false testimonies.

The best his accusers could bring against him were perjurers.

Mark 14.55-59 • Matthew 26.59-61 • Luke 22.66 • John 2.18-22

All my life I’ve heard preachers claim Jesus’s trial wasn’t just irregular, but downright illegal. What basis do they have for saying so? Next to none.

It’s because they interpret history wrong. They point to rulings in the second-century Mishna and the fifth-century Talmud. They assume the first-century Jewish senate actually followed those rulings. That’d be entirely wrong. The Mishna consists of Pharisee rulings and traditions. The Talmud is a Pharisee commentary on the Mishna. Now, who ran the senate in Jesus’s day? The head priests. Who were Sadduccees. And the Sadducees believed Pharisee teachings were extrabiblical, and therefore irrelevant.

So when the Mishna declares trials shouldn’t take place at night (although Luke actually says it took place during daytime Lk 22.66), and declares there shouldn’t be same-day rulings, preachers nowadays declare, “Aha! This proves Jesus’s trial was illegal!” Just the opposite: It proves Sadducees did such things. The Pharisee rulings were their objections to what they considered Sadducee injustice.

Since Jesus’s trial convicted an innocent man, of course we’re gonna agree with the Pharisees’ rulings. But they’re from the wrong time, and the wrong people. They don’t apply, much as we’d like ’em to. The Sadducees followed their own procedure properly. Hey, procedure is no guarantee there won’t still be miscarriages of justice.

Well anyway. On to Jesus’s trial.

Luke 22.66 KWL
When it became day, the people’s elders gathered with the head priests and scribes.
They led Jesus into their senate.

In the temple structure on the western side, the Judean synédrion/“senate” (KJV “council,” CSB “Sanhedrin”) met in a stone hall arranged much like the Roman senate: Stone bleachers were arranged in a half-circle so they could all face the emperor’s throne—though here, there was a head priest instead.

For a trial, the Pharisees dictated two scribes should write everything down, though there’s no evidence the Sadducees did any such thing. Scribes and students sat on the floor. Plaintiffs and defendants stood. The Pharisees declared the defendant oughta go first, but in all the trials in Acts, it looks like the reverse happened. Ac 4.5-12, 5.27-32, etc. Either way Jesus didn’t care to say anything, so his accusers went first. And they committed perjury. Yeah, perjury was banned in the Ten Commandments. Dt 5.20 Well, perjurers still show up in court anyway.

06 March 2017

Jesus getting abused by his guards.

And how this should provoke us to get rid of prisoner abuse… and why it doesn’t.

Mark 14.65 • Matthew 26.67-68 • Luke 22.63-65 • John 18.22-23

I’d already mentioned Jesus getting slapped by one of his guards:

John 18.22-23 KWL
22 Once he said these things, one of the bystanding underlings gave Jesus a slap,
saying, “You answer the head priest this way?”
23 Jesus answered him, “If I speak evil, testify about the evil. If I speak good, why rough me up?”

The other gospels likewise tell of how the people in charge of him began to abuse him. In Mark it was after he’d been found guilty. But in both Matthew and Luke, it was before his actual trial before the Judean senate. They didn’t care to wait for a trial; they’d already judged him guilty themselves.

Mark 14.65 KWL
Certain people began to spit on Jesus; to cover his face and punch him,
to tell him, “Prophesy! Which underling gave that punch?”
Matthew 26.67-68 KWL
67 Then they spat in Jesus’s face and punched him.
Those who hit him 68 were saying, “Prophesy to us, Messiah: Which of us hit you?”
Luke 22.63-65 KWL
63 The men surrounding Jesus mocked him,
roughing him up 64 and covering Jesus’s face, saying, “Prophesy: Which of us hit you?”
65 Many other slanderers said such things to Jesus.

This sort of behavior offends many people nowadays. Irritatingly, not all.

Our laws have declared prisoner abuse illegal. Rightly so. Even when a person is guilty, we’re not to punish ’em in ways they’ve not been properly sentenced to. The judge sentences a person to five years, and that person should determine community service or prison, hard labor or solitary confinement. Not the sheriff, nor the warden. Separation of powers, y’know.

Of course there are a number of people who take a lot of perverse glee in the idea of convicts experiencing worse in prison. Jokes about prison rape are a little too commonplace, considering this is a crime that needs to be exterminated. But some people love the idea of murderers and rapists experiencing especially rough treatment in prison. Serves ’em right, they figure. Thing is, violence doesn’t discriminate. Someone incarcerated for fraud or theft can be attacked, same as someone in prison for lesser crimes. People won’t make rape jokes when it’s a beloved family member serving time. And definitely won’t find it amusing if it were them who, thanks to some mixup, found themselves in a holding cell with some angry, rapey thugs.

To hear such people talk, if it were up to them, we’d go right back to the bad old days of beating confessions out of suspects. Some of these folks even claim to be Christian. So how come Jesus’s experience at the hands of his accusers, never convinced ’em otherwise? Never made ’em realize “innocent till proven guilty” is always the way to treat suspects?

03 March 2017

Jesus’s pre-trial trial.

Before his trial, Jesus had an audience with the previous head priest.

John 18.12-14, 19-24

In the synoptic gospels, right after Jesus’s arrest, the crowd took him to the head priest’s house. But John stated they actually took him to the former head priest’s house; that of Khánan bar Seth, whom historical records call Ananus, and whom the KJV calls Annas.

There, the Gospel of John relates, the courtyard was where Simon Peter denied Jesus, and inside the house there was also a bit of a pre-trial trial. Annas wanted to check out this reported Messiah for himself. After all, what if he actually was Messiah? What if he suddenly called down 12 legions of angels Mt 26.53 and took his kingdom by force? Annas may have already made up his mind about Jesus, but he wasn’t stupid; he still needed to meet the man.

John 18.12-14 KWL
12 So the 200 men, the general, and the Judean servants arrested Jesus and tied him up.
13 They brought Jesus to Annas first:
Annas was the father-in-law of Joseph Caiaphas, who was head priest that term.
14 Caiaphas had advised the Judeans, “Best that one person die for the people.” Jn 11.50

Backstory time: After Herod 1 had overthrown the king/head priest Antigonus Mattathias in 37BC, he took the title of king—but couldn’t take the title of head priest, ’cause he was Idumean. Only descendants of Aaron could be head priest, y’know. Lv 6.22 But Herod claimed the right to appoint the head priest, and did. In fact he appointed a bunch of head priests; he kept firing them if they didn’t do as he wished.

Annas became the 11th appointed head priest (the ninth guy to hold the job) since Herod became king. He was appointed by the Syrian legate Publius Sulpicius Quirinius in the year 6, and held the office till the year 15. Commentators aren’t always aware of this, and assume Annas was the hereditary head priest. Then they express amazement that Annas “managed to get” four sons and a son-in-law appointed head priest after him: Eleazar (16-17), Caiaphas (18–36), Jonathan (36–37, 44), Theophilus (37–41), Matthias (43), and Annas (63). Plus his grandson Mattathias (65–66).

It sounds impressive that so many of Annas’s family members succeeded him… but remember, head priests could only be descendants of Aaron. The Romans couldn’t just appoint anyone to the job, or the Jews wouldn’t consider ’em legit. Hence all the sons of Annas in the job… and for that matter, five sons of Boethus, another descendant of Aaron.

Still, both Luke and John referred to both Annas and Caiaphas as head priests. Lk 3.2, Jn 18.19, 24 Whether that’s because Judeans still thought of Annas that way, or whether he got to keep the title much as our presidents do, he was still an influential Judean. And his house was a handy place to stash Jesus till Caiaphas could gather the Judean senate for trial.

25 March 2016

Jesus dies. And takes our sin with him.

From Psalm 22, to not having his bones broken.

Mark 15.33-39 • Matthew 27.45-54 • Luke 23.44-48 • John 19.28-37

Around noon on 3 April 33, it got dark, and stayed that way till Jesus died. Obviously God was behind it, but we don’t know how. No solar eclipses in that part of the world, that time of year, so that’s out. Volcanoes have been known to darken the sky. So has weather. Regardless of how he pulled it off, God decided he wanted his Son’s death to happen in the dark.

As he was hanging on the cross, various folks were taunting him, and Matthew describes the head priests, scribes, and elders even taunting him with a bit of Psalm 22:

Matthew 27.43 KWL
He follows God? God has to rescue him now, if he wants him—for he said ‘I’m God’s son.’ ”
Psalm 22.8 LXX (KWL)
He hopes for the Lord, who has to release him,
who has to save him because he wants him.

Considering this psalm was so obviously getting fulfilled by Jesus’s death, taunting him with it just showed how far the Judean leaders’ unbelief went. They really didn’t think the psalm applied to Jesus any. It absolutely did.

That is why, round the ninth hour after sunrise (roughly 2:30 PM) Jesus shouted out the first line of that psalm: Elo’í Elo’í, lamá azavtáni/“My God my God, for what reason do you abandon me?” Ps 22.1 I know; it sounds different after the gospels’ authors converted it to Greek characters.

Problem is, by that point the scribes seem to have left, ’cause nobody understood a word he said. Jesus was quoting the original Hebrew, but only scribes knew Hebrew; the Judeans spoke Aramaic, and the Romans spoke Greek. And since Eloí sounded a little like Eliyáhu/“Elijah,” that’s the conclusion they leapt to: He was calling for Elijah. So they added that to their mocking. “Wait; let’s see whether Elijah rescues him.”

In our day Christians have leapt to a different conclusion—a heretic one. They might know Jesus was quoting scripture, but think he quoted it ’cause the Father literally, just then, did abandon him.

Seriously. Here’s the theory. When the lights went out, this was the point when Jesus became the world’s scapegoat: The sins of the entire world were laid on his head, Lv 16.20-22 so that when he died, our sin died too. Which is possible; the scapegoat idea is one of many theories about how atonement works. But the scriptures never indicate when such a transfer was made. The world going dark just feels like a good, dramatic time for such an event to happen.

Here’s when it goes wonky. After the sin-transfer was made to the scapegoat, someone was supposed to turn this goat loose in the wilderness to die. But since Jesus was literally nailed to the spot, he could hardly wander off… so the Father removed himself. Other Christians insist it’s because the Father finds sin so offensive, he couldn’t bear to watch. So he dimmed the lights (as if God can’t see in the dark) and turned his face away from his beloved, but defiled, Son.

Here’s why it’s heresy: God is One. You can’t separate the Son from the Father. They’re one being, not two. The trinity is indivisible.

24 March 2016

Jesus comforts the believing thief.

When one of the guys crucified with him, threw in his lot with him.

Mark 15.27, 32 • Matthew 27.38, 44 • Luke 23.32-33, 39-43

Jesus was crucified at about “the third hour [after sunrise],” Mk 15.25 and died at the ninth. Mk 15.34-37 Sunrise on 3 April 33, in that latitude (and before daylight-saving time was implemented), is at 5:24 AM. But “third hour” and “ninth hour” are hardly exact times; figure roughly from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM he was on that cross. Six hours, slowly suffocating.

His cross was in between that of two evildoers Lk 23.33 or thieves. Mk 15.27 Christians like to imagine these guys were worse, like insurrectionists, or highwaymen who murdered their victims. ’Cause karma: If you’re getting crucified, it’d better be for murder or something just as awful. One of these guys implied they were getting their just desserts, Lk 23.41 so shouldn’t that make ’em murderers? Death by crucifixion sounds like way too extreme a penalty for mere thieves.

But we have to remember we’re dealing with Romans here. For them, everything merited death. They didn’t care the penalty didn’t fit the crime: They just wanted thievery to stop. So, one strike and you’re out. Thieves knew this was the risks of the job. But like all criminals, they figured they were smarter than the authorities, and they, unlike their dumber colleagues, would get away with it. These guys didn’t: The Romans caught ’em and crucified ’em. And that’s the way the game is played.

We don’t have their names. But you gotta call ’em something, so Christian tradition calls these guys Gestas and Dismas. Meh; whatever. Since Dismas was the guy who turned to Jesus and got into paradise, he’s now St. Dismas. (And 25 March is even St. Dismas’s Day. How ’bout that.) Whatever his actual name is, that idea isn’t wrong: He’s in the kingdom now.

Two of the gospels make it sound like they neither thief had any love for Jesus. They joined right in with all the non-crucified folks mocking Jesus.

Mark 15.27, 32 KWL
27 They crucified two thieves with Jesus: One on the right, one at his left.

32 “Messiah, the king of Israel, has to come down from the cross now,
so we can see and believe him.” And those crucified with Jesus insulted him.
Matthew 27.38, 44 KWL
38 Then two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one at right and one at left.
44 Likewise the thieves crucified with Jesus insulted him.

But at some point during those six hours, Dismas had a change of heart, and when Gesmas was sniping at Jesus, he decided to stand up for him.

Luke 23.32-33, 39-43 KWL
32 They brought two others with Jesus, evildoers to be done away with.
33 When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified Jesus and the evildoers,
who were at right and at left.

39 One of the hanging evildoers was slandering Jesus, saying,
“Aren’t you Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 In rebuking reply, the other said, “Have you no respect for God? We’re under his judgment!
41 And we rightly so, for we got the consequence for what we practiced.
But this man did nothing wrong.”
42 He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus said, “Amen! I promise you’ll be with me in paradise today.”

23 March 2016

Jesus’s crucifixion.

The most obvious example of his suffering.

Mark 15.22-32 • Matthew 27.33-38 • Luke 23.32-38 • John 19.17-24

Ever bang your funny bone? That’s the ulnar nerve. The equivalent in the leg is the tibial nerve.


Crucifixion (Распятие), by Nikolai Ge, 1892. [From Gallerix.]

About 26 to 24 centuries ago, humans in the middle east figured out the most painful way to kill someone: Take four nails. Put one through each of these nerves, and hang a victim by these nails to whatever—a wall, a tree, a pole, a cross. If you stretch out their limbs, it’ll squeeze their lungs and they’ll find it really hard to breathe. Can’t inhale unless they push themselves up by their pierced ankles, pull themselves up on their pierced wrists—and each pull feels like they’ve crushed the nerve all over again. With a hammer.

There’s no way to stop the constant pain, and no way to keep from generating fresh pain without suffocating—which is eventually what’d kill you. After days. The pain is so intense, Latin-speakers invented the word excruciare/“excruciating” to describe it.

The Persians get credit for inventing it, since it shows up in their history first. (Haman, fr’instance, built a 50-cubit ech/“tree” to hang Mordecai on, Es 7.9 and while the KJV calls it a gallows, Haman meant to crucify him on it.) It probably predates the Persians. But Romans were definitely known for it. Not just ’cause of Jesus: Crucifixion was their thing. Get on Rome’s bad side, get crucified.

Crucifixion is so nasty, Romans forbade it to be used on their own citizens. But exactly like Americans’ attitudes about torture, foreigners were fair game. It’s how you terrorize ’em. Mess with the Roman Empire and you’ll suffer the worst form of death possible. (Yet we Americans like to imagine ourselves on Jesus’s side. That’s rich.)

As usual, the threat of death, even a nasty one, doesn’t deter insurrection, doesn’t deter crime. ’Cause insurgents and criminals always think they’ll get away with it. So all crucifixion did was horrify the law-abiding subjects of the Roman Empire—“What sort of monsters do such things to people?”—and make ’em hate the Romans all the more, and think them inhuman. Americans, pay attention.

Christian art depicts it differently. Our crucifixes depict Jesus with nails in the palms in his hands, and one nail spiking through the top of both feet, sometimes into a little platform. It’s because people take Luke too literally when the resurrected Jesus showed his hands and feet Lk 24.39-40 —they assume “hand” doesn’t include “wrist,” and “foot” doesn’t include “ankle.” In real life, putting the nails there wouldn’t have held up a body; the weight of the body would rip right through the hands and feet.

Moviemakers figure this out pretty quickly, which is why some movies also include ropes. Jesus gets both tied and nailed to the cross. (Sometimes the thieves crucified with him only get tied, so it looks like Jesus suffered way worse than they.) But ropes defeat the purpose of crucifixion: Now the victim’s weight rests on the ropes instead of the nails, and it’s no longer a struggle to breathe. But archeology doesn’t match the art.

(And y’know, the LORD’s curse on the serpent in Eden did say it’d bruise the human’s heel. Ge 3.15 So you’d think Christians would pay a little more attention to that.)

22 March 2016

Simon the Cyrenian, the man who carried Jesus’s cross.

In being forced to alleviate Jesus’s physical suffering, he added to Jesus’s mental suffering.

Mark 15.21 • Matthew 27.32 • Luke 23.26

Enroute to Golgotha, leading Jesus to the place they’d crucify him, the Romans decided he was inadequate to carry his crossbeam. Movies and art, following St. Francis’s lists of the stations of the cross, depict Jesus falling over a bunch of times. The gospels don’t, but who knows?—maybe he did. He had been up all night and flogged half to death. Between sleep deprivation and blood loss, carrying a hundred-pound crossbeam would’ve been too much for anyone. (No, not the 300-pound full cross we see in paintings, such as the El Greco painting in my “Stations of the Cross” banner. Even healthy convicts would’ve found that unmanageable.)

The Roman Senate had made it legal for soldiers to draft conquered peoples—basically anyone in the Roman Empire who lacked citizenship—into temporary service. Jesus referred to this law when he taught us to go the extra mile. Mt 5.41 So they grabbed an able-bodied passerby to carry the crossbeam for Jesus. And since he later became Christian and his sons became bishops, the writers of the gospels mentioned him by name: Simon the Cyrenian (or “of Cyrene”).

Mark 15.21 KWL
The Romans drafted a passerby coming from the fields, so he’d carry Jesus’s crossbeam:
A certain Simon the Cyrenian, father of Alexander and Rufus.
Matthew 27.32 KWL
Coming out, the Romans found a Cyrenian man named Simon,
and drafted him so he’d carry Jesus’s crossbeam.
Luke 23.26 KWL
As the Romans led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming from the fields,
and they put the crossbeam on him to carry behind Jesus.