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The Way of the Cross: Unmasking the Powers Through Weakness

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The dramatic and hopeful story that began heralding highways through the wilderness ends on the narrow, dusty road to Golgotha. 

Here on this hill we painfully glimpse the subversive Nazarene, alone and abandoned, an enemy of imperial Rome and her political collaborators, struggling to carry his own death stake. Upon reaching this place of execution, Jesus is stripped naked for the third time, exposing God’s human flesh to public ridicule and shame.  He is forced to lie on the ground while both forearms and wrists are nailed to a wooden beam, and then lifted up where he is finally, and almost mercifully, crucified.  Roman crucifixion poles were typically seven feet tall, allowing for wild animals and dogs to tear the body apart as the victim slowly dies of asphyxiation. This form of execution was so heinous that Cicero urged Rome to banish it from the empire. But this is imperial theatre at its finest.  The message from Rome is clear: oppose us and we will publicly humiliate you, kill you and feed your remains to the dogs.  From this vantage point, the cross is the public manifestation of imperial triumph over anyone foolish enough to question the social, political, economic and religious worldview of domination.

And yet, this instance of divine humiliation marks the cosmic moment when the rulers of this world are finally overthrown, not by meeting violence for violence, but by defeat and death. But who of us is honestly willing to accept that by remaining there, by submitting Himself to the unjust authorities Jesus ultimately shows all mankind the road to liberation? How truly intolerable is this message, even more so this life centered on weakness in the face of power.  Jesus is as unsettling now as he was then, especially to those of us living in the waning light of Christendom, accustomed to bringing about our version of the kingdom through collusion and coercion.  The cross exposes our cultural will to power as a poor means to a just end.  Mark’s Gospel underlines this upside down approach to Kingdom fulfillment in dramatic fashion, by positioning two imperial revolutionaries on Jesus’ right and left, the very positions of honor requested by James and John. Now we join them standing naked and exposed, ashamed of our attempts to bring about his kingdom by any other way than in sharing His cup of suffering.

This final station on the way is Jesus’ ultimate political statement, showing all who come after Him that this path of suffering isn’t some pithy expression of bourgeois self-denial or moralistic piety, it is the road to personal and communal redemption.   Therefore, taking up the cross is faithful praxis in a violent world; it is joining Him in the salvation narrative.  If Jesus can accept the cross as the ultimate expression of divine love, “then our participation in that same love is at the heart of the transformational process of humankind”, by helping to restore all creation to the Lordship of Christ.

Jesus unmasked the powers and principalities through weakness so that as disciples we can confidently live as a cruciform community of love in a world replete with power and dominion. Christ’s affliction becomes the physical exhortation to see the world through the lens of Golgotha, refusing even now to compromise the politics of the cross.  It was through martyrdom that the church triumphed over Rome, and it will be by taking up the cross in suffering love of ‘other’ that modern Christians bring liberation and freedom to a world in bondage.

Our challenge is simple, let us be a people who sees the cross of Christ as the central event in human history, understanding through it our purpose to embody in the life of our local communities witness to the fact that the rightful king reigns from a tree.  The Kingdom has come through the stripes and wounds of God’s suffering servant, and it will continue to be fulfilled as we his followers engage the powers that be not through culture warring, but in sharing His cup of suffering.  If our new, post-Christian world hates us, remember it hated him first.  And in these moments, may we resist the urge to react punitively, but in divine deference model Christ’s humility.

“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to Him who judges justly.”

[1] Ellul, Jacque. The Subversion of Christianity.
[2] Yoder, John Howard. The War of the Lamb.
[3] Hauerwas, Stanley. After Christendom?
[4] Newbigin, Lesslie. Foolishness to the Greeks.

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