Showing posts with the label #Stations

Jesus’s crucifixion.

Ever bang your funny bone? That’s the ulnar nerve. The equivalent in the leg is the tibial nerve.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. Then hang a victim, by these nails, from whatever—a wall, a tree, a pole, a cross.If you stretch out their limbs, it’ll squeeze their lungs. They’ll find it extremely hard to breathe. Can’t inhale unless they actually push themselves up by their pierced ankles, and pull themselves up by their pierced wrists. And each pull feels like they’ve taken these nerves and crushed them with a hammer, all over again.Leave ’em like that, to die slowly, by asphyxiation. It might take all day. Multiple days, if the person has a strong enough will to live. But they’ll die eventually, in agony. There’s no real way to stop the constant pain. It’s so intense, Latin-speakers had invented a new word to describe it: Excruciare, from which we get our wo…

The legality of Jesus’s trial.

If you only read the gospel of John, you might get the idea Jesus never even had a trial. ’Cause in that book, first Jesus went to the former head priest Annas’s house, then the current head priest Caiaphas’s house, then the governor Pontius’s fortress, then to Golgotha. No conviction, no sentence; just interviews followed by execution.But John was written to fill the gaps in the other three gospels. They contain the story of the trial. Yes there was one. Jesus was brought before the Judean senate, presided over by Caiaphas, and legitimately found guilty of blasphemy and sedition. Then he was sent to Pontius… who publicly stated he personally didn’t find Jesus guilty of anything, Lk 23.4, Jn 19.4 but he had little problem with sending Jesus to his death all the same.No Jesus wasn’t guilty of blasphemy; he’d only be if he weren’t actually the Son of Man. But of course the senate absolutely refused to believe that’s who he is.And either way, Jesus actually was guilty of sedition. Becaus…

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

In both the Nicene and Apostles Creed, a Roman governor gets mentioned by name—specifically so the creeds can cement Christ Jesus’s death at a specific point in history: ΣταυρωθέντατεὑπὲρἡμῶνἐπὶΠοντίουΠιλάτου/stavrothénta te ypér epí Pontíu Pilátu, “and he was crucified for us under Pontíus Pilátus.” This was the guy who ruled Jerusalem and Judea on behalf of Rome for a decade, from the years 26 to 36. The way Romans did names was family name (nomen) first, so in English he’d actually be Pilatus Pontius. But English-speakers just tend to call him by his cognomen, his nickname: Pilate.Pontius was the fifth governor of Judea. The reason we know so much more about him than his predecessors or successors, is obviously ’cause Jesus was executed under his rule. We know of him from the gospels, from Flavius Josephus, from Philo of Alexandria, and from Publius Cornelius Tacitus.
The Pilate stone, on display in Jerusalem. Wikimedia Plus in 1961 archaeologist Antonio Frova found the Pilate st…

Stations of the cross: Remembering Christ’s suffering.

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 meditate on what Jesus did for us all.Yeah, this is a Catholic thing, ’cause Francis was Roman Catholic. But it’s not exclusively Catholic: Many Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists use stations of th…

Jesus is put in his sepulcher.

Mark 15.42-47, Matthew 27.57-61, Luke 23.50-56, John 19.38-42.On the afternoon of Good Friday, after a flogging and crucifixion, Jesus died. Roman custom was to just leave the corpse on the cross for the birds to pick at, but Jewish custom was to bury people immediately. On the very same day they died, if possible. And since the next day was Sabbath—and in the year 33, also Passover—they especially needed to get everybody off the crosses and buried posthaste.Now in previous generations, “buried” means buried: Dig a hole in the ground deep enough for animals to not get at the corpse, put the body in, fill the hole back in. In Jesus’s day, Jewish custom had changed. Now what they did was wrap the body in moist linen strips, and put it on a stone slab in a sepulcher. This way the body would rot quickly—and after a year or so, there’d be nothing left but bones, which were then collected and put into an ossuary. (They figured in the resurrection, all God needed was the bones—same as in Eze…

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

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.)VERSEORIGINALTRANSLITERATIONPs 22.1, Hebrewאֵלִ֣י אֵלִ֣י לָמָ֣העֲזַבְתָּ֑נִיElí Elí, lamá azavettáni?Ps 22.1, Aramaic (Syriac) ܐܠܗ ܐܠܗܝ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢ Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtaní?Mk 15.34, Greekἐλωΐ ἐλωΐ, λεμᾶσαβαχθανί;Elo’í Elo’í, lemá savahthaní?
(or σαβακτανεί/savaktaneí in the Codex Sinaiticus.)Mt 27.46, Greekἠλί ἠλί, λεμὰ σαβαχθανί;Ilí ilí, lemá savahthaní?Just …

When Jesus made John responsible for his mother.

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 KWL25 Standing by Jesus’s cross were his mother, his mother’s sister Salomé,Mary wife of Clopas, 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 Jesus told the student, “Look: Your mother.”From that hour on, Jesus’s student took her as his own.John’s list of the women who watched Jesus die is the same as the other gospels, with the addition of Jesus’s mom and himself. He never referred to Jesus’s mom as “Mary,” because he was trying to refer to as few Marys as possible, so as not to confuse everybody with how common the name “Mary” was. (Same as his own name; notice in his gospel the only “John” in it is John the baptist.)Anyway. All these people at the cross, save Mary the Magdalene, were family. Salomé was Mary the Nazarene’s sister; Mary “of Clopas” was Joseph the Nazar…

The “unbelieving” thief.

Mark 15.27, 32, Matthew 27.38, 44, Luke 23.32-33, 39.Okay. Did the believing thief, now the unbelieving thief.The gospels state two thieves were crucified with Jesus—Mark 15.27 KWLThey crucified two thieves with Jesus: One on the right, one at his left.Matthew 27.38 KWL38 Then two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one at right and one at left.Luke 23.32-33 KWL32 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.—but they never did identify them, so Christian tradition named ’em Dismas and Gesmas. Never did say which one was on the right, and which was on the left. All we know was at first, both were railing at Jesus—Mark 15.32 KWL“Messiah, 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 27.44 KWLLikewise the thieves crucified with Jesus insulted him.—and then Dis…

Jesus comforts the believing thief.

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

The women who watched Jesus die.

Mark 15.40-41, Matthew 27.55-56, Luke 23.49, John 19.25.Various Christians like to point out, “There were actually two groups of people following Jesus: There were the disciples, and there were the women.” Though y’notice they seldom bring up the women till we get to one of the stories in the gospels about the women.With some due respect to these Christians, there were not two groups following Jesus; there was one. His students. The people who supported him, served him, and listened to his teachings. The Twelve were a special group of students whom Jesus singled out, and of course there were plenty of students who didn’t stick around after Jesus taught something too hardcore for them. But everyone who followed him, he considered a student. That includes the women.Yes, history describes Pharisee rabbis as only instructing young men—and I remind you in Jesus’s culture you were “a man” at age 13, which is why I keep referring to his students as kids. That was their expectation, anyway: I…

Nope, Jesus didn’t sweat blood.

Luke 22.44.Before his arrest, Jesus went to Gethsemane and spent some time in intense prayer. ’Cause he didn’t wanna get beaten and tortured to death. Who would?Certain preachers love to point out that Jesus was so incredibly stressed out by his soon-coming passion, he was sweating blood:Luke 22.44 ESVAnd being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.Turns out this is an actual medical condition. It’s called hematidrosis (from the Greek for “bloody sweat”) or hematohidrosis (“bloody water”). It’s rare, but possible. Blood vessels under your skin break from the stress, and blood comes out your pores. It looks creepy. But not a lot of blood comes out of you this way, so it’s largely harmless. Might cause a little dehydration, so drink some Gatorade; you’ll be fine.Preachers find this fascinating. And they love to point out how Luke, the traditional author of this gospel, was a doctor! Cl 4.14 So he’d know all about suc…

Jesus prays at Gethsemane.

Mark 14.32-41, Matthew 26.36-45, Luke 22.39-46, John 18.1.The first of St. Francis’s stations of the cross was when Jesus was given his cross. (Duh.) But Jesus’s suffering began earlier that day, so St. John Paul’s list also began earlier—with Gethsemane, the olive garden on Mt. Olivet, where Jesus prayed he might not go through the crucifixion.In fact he was so agitated at the idea, he sweat blood. Something The Passion of the Christ left out—but to be fair it isa textual variant, possibly added to Luke in the second century. But let’s get to how the gospels depicted it. First the synoptic gospels—Mark 14.32-41 KWL32 They went to a place named Gat Semaním/“oil press,”and Jesus told his students, “Sit here while I pray.”33Jesus took Simon Peter, James, and John with him—and began to panic and freak out. 34 Jesus told them, “My soul is deathly sad. Stay here. Stay awake.”35 He went a little ahead, fell to the ground, and was praying this:“If it’s possible, have this hour pass by!”36Jes…