Jesus dying on the Cross is often a difficult image and often misunderstood. Questions abound; Why did Jesus have to die this way? At this point in time? Endure so much pain? Many critics of Christianity see it as an offering to a bloodthirsty Lord who, to pay for sins, would only be satisfied with the death of His Son. This is an unfortunate reading of the Gospel Jesus was not offered to God, He was the sacrifice OF God. John 1:29 introduces this theology; The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The Greek is very specific, linguists call this construction a “genitive of possession”. This means the lamb, the traditional sacrificial animal, BELONGS to God. In other words, Jesus is the ultimate lamb, the ultimate sacrifice of God. God is giving something of Himself, His Son, to save us from our sins. This is not an act of brutality and vengeance; it was an act of ultimate love.
Why the Cross and Roman crucifixion? This was designed to deter future criminals and execute enemies of the state, it was meant to humiliate the condemned man. He was stripped of his clothes and crucified in a public place. It was to show complete defeat by Rome and send the message that this can and will happen to all who oppose Rome. Historically, this was, probably, the best of all times for such a death. The man was executed in public, with private and official witnesses, so that no one could question the execution. Also, the Crucifixion happened during the pax romana, the “peace of Rome”. During this era the empire was at relative calm, travel was safe because of the well-organized road system, and religious messages were tolerated as long as they were not subversive to Rome. Therefore, in a rich historical irony, the religion which many emperors hated and tried to crush, blossomed and thrived under the Roman Empire.
Also emerging from the Cross was a redefinition of the motherhood of Mary. From the Cross, John’s Gospel writes the famous words; Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27). The beloved disciple is, in all probability, John, the Gospel writer. He was a native of Jerusalem and part of the upper classes, so he could stand at the Cross without fear of arrest. Moreover, most scholars and theologians see him as the representative of ALL CHRISTIANS. Therefore, when Jesus said “behold, your son” to Mary, He was giving her the motherhood of all Christians for all generations. To the ancient world, words said in the throes of death were considered binding, even sacred, so Mary was assigned a universal role for the life of the Christian faith.
That Mary should have such an enduring role from the Cross is perfectly consistent with her endowments of the Holy Spirit; at the annunciation, The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35), and Pentecost, When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4) Like all the other leaders who experienced the Holy Spirit, Mary had work to do that went beyond the immediate circumstance. We see this work in her miraculous apparitions.
Overall, the Cross was a brutal death but from it came a redefinition of the motherhood of Mary and a pathway to the Kingdom of God. How this occurred is another matter, until next time…