(some content ed. & reposted from 2014)
The cross of Christ is much more than just a reminder of the most horrendous method of torturing someone. The cross revealsÂ itself as that which would proclaim law/legislation over love/inclusion.Â The cross reveals to us the willingness to kill at the heart of humanity, rather than any sort of “wrath” at the heart of the Father (even where “God’s wrath is satisfied”, never is there a mention of just what satisfied the wrath; and so perhaps “Father forgive them” is that which satisfies wrathâ€”a subject of a separate discussion). The cross gives us a reminderÂ each and every year of the depths of human depravity and violence; just how far we’ll go to make sure our legalism remains in-tact. The cross reminds us that the One whoÂ created all life continues to side both with and in the victim; while offering us a glimpse of the satiation of the so-called “wrath of God” (forgiveness).
For the life of me, I cannot make sense of any atonement theory that says that God punished Jesus, emptied his wrath upon Jesus, used Jesus as a cosmic go-between to save people from the fury and anger of The Divine Dungeon Master, or any variation thereof.Â To propose that the GodÂ turned his back on Jesus is diametrically opposed to the One who the psalmist declares is near to the broken hearted. To declare that GodÂ poured out his wrath on Jesus, or otherwise judged him for our various “sin” (again, itself another discussion), we say, to put it bluntly, that Jesus isÂ not Lord.Â Rather than Jesus being God, God is somehow distant from Jesus, as if to say God was outside holding ChristÂ to the cross rather thanÂ inside “..reconciling the world to himself”.
The issue with any atonement theory that offers us a picture of God needing to be paid, or conversely a God who has to pay anyone or anything for our so-called â€śsinâ€ť, â€śguiltâ€ť or anything similarÂ is decidedly not that God becomes a monster (though this might happen theologically, God’s actualÂ being doesn’t change). The issue is in the assignment of fiduciary exchange to a kingdom that doesnâ€™t operate in that way. “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything” fits nicely for a proof-text, if weâ€™re going to proof text God into a box, letâ€™s at least do it in a favorable light.
So then what is the cross and what is it all about?
Brad Jersak said (in a class, something Iâ€™m likely misquoting a bit)
the crucifixion was what we did to Jesus, the cross is the Fatherâ€™s reply.
Which means, bluntly,Â we (human beings) killed him (Jesus). The Father used that rage and hatred, the worst parts of us, to bind us up in the son, hence â€śGod was in christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses against themâ€ť. I would remindÂ that Jesus is just as much “a part of the worldâ€ť in the moment of his death as his contemporaries and those who followed. To then assert that Jesus was somehow â€śabsorbing the wrath of Godâ€ť as punishment for sin says that God was in fact, imputing trespasses against us. Jesus was human. I know, I know. Isaiah says â€śhe was bruised for our iniquitiesâ€ť wellâ€¦that little word â€śforâ€ť could actually more rightly be read â€śbyâ€ť (Thank you Sharon L. Baker). He was bruised by our iniquities. In other words, our collective condition of sinÂ (propensity to violently defend our legalism in the name of our deity) bruised him, beat him, murdered him, and Godâ€™s reply echoes down through the halls of history â€śit is finishedâ€ť or in other words â€śyouâ€™re all consummated (reconciled, at one)â€ť.
In looking to The Crucified Lord we see no retaliation, no revenge, no anger or malice, no retribution. And the justice that God offers is a justice that is distributive, not retributive (Thank you Marcus Borg). In other words,Â payback, revenge, punishment, are all the antitheses of real justice, which always culminates inÂ mercy, forgiveness, and grace.Â
In a time when the Jewsâ€”due to a loudmouthed prophet or twoâ€”were expecting a violent, vengeful messiah to come and wipe Rome off the earth, Jesus comes in the most subversive way, reprimanding his disciples for brandishing their swords, and telling them to â€ślove their neighborsâ€ť (Jews, living alongside Roman occupiers). And just in case they didnâ€™t get what he meant, he cleared it up withÂ â€ślove your enemiesâ€ť (Fine Jesus, also Rome). Today Jesus looks us all in the eyes and asks us once again to love our neighbors, love our enemies, love ourselves, and love our God.
The crowdâ€™s demand â€śBarabbas, give us Barabbasâ€ť doesnâ€™t really do justice to what was happening. The more literal would be â€śJesus Barabbas, give us Jesus Barabbasâ€ť. Coincidentally, the name Barabbas means â€śSon of Abbaâ€ť (Bar-Abba).Â So thereâ€™s this guy in prison for murder and theft, Jesus Barabbas. And thereâ€™s this other one,Â Jesus, who says his Father is Abba. This isÂ speculative, but it seems to me the author might be suggesting that there are two â€śMessiahsâ€ť on the scene, one peaceful and one retributive. One that reveals the heart of a Father and one that reveals the heart of Man. One that says he came to bring peace and another that gave the Jews exactly what they wanted, violence and rage. (Note: Rome nearly wiped Israel off the face of the map just 40 years later. It seems calling for the Son of violence renders nothing different in the human experience.)
The cross then is the full revelation of the depths of human insistence upon violent retaliation, as well as God’s reply to that insistence. We demand violence and retribution, and GodÂ fully subverts it by surrendering to our violence. We demand that â€śRomeâ€ť (ISIS, Big Government, the left, the right, the middle, the foreigner, ad infinitum) be dealt with, and GodÂ answered by pulling all that is or will be into Jesus;Â â€śif I be lifted up, I will draw ALL MEN unto meâ€ť. Our issue is not, nor ever will be Rome, Iran, Islam or even far right or far left politics. Our issue is and always will be our own desire to see Jesus Barabbas released in hopes that he will respond violently to those we hate.
The cross reveals our utter failure at discerning the power of violence. We give preferential treatment to the smart bomb toting messiah and all the while the Man of Sorrows is quietly whispering â€śFather, forgive them, they donâ€™t know what theyâ€™re doingâ€ť.
The death of Jesus has everything to do with humankindâ€™sÂ wrath, our sense of justice, judgment and revenge. And Jesus has forever shown us what we receive in exchange for our tendenciesâ€”our own vicarious death. In him, we died.
And every time we insist on violent retaliation, we die a little more. Thank God that Easter teaches us that death and the grave will not have the final word. But weâ€™ll only realize that when we allow our violence to be nailed to the cross, beaten and bloody by the hands of our oppressors, pierced, bruised, broken and dying.
It is only in the death of violence that we will ever see the resurrected Lord in full glory. It is only in the death of death that we find the truth of Jesusâ€™ atonement. In taking our rage, he forever revealed to us what will happen when we insist upon retribution; Rome will lay waste to our lives.
We can choose: Jesus the Christ, or Jesus Bar-Abba. We can worship empire, nationalism, legalism, violence and war; or we worship peace, love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. We worship fear and trembling, or we worship grace and truth. We cannot have it bothÂ ways, and each Easter we are once again faced with the choice;
â€śWill I demand violent retribution or release the Prince of Peace?â€ť