Christ after the Flagellation

This morning Steve Shoemaker sent me his poem (see below this painting, “Christ after the Flagellation“) by Murillo. The “comments” below are a running conversation.  Chime in.

Christ after the Flagellation

The human had been tied to the whipping

post, a pillar that had been used many

times before by the Romans (and ages

earlier by the Greeks–but for a much

different purpose). Now, his pale skin looks

translucent (should it not have been darker,

with more blood?) His mother recalled his bris.

They had both cried then, too.

A strong young man, broad back, thick arms, now on

hands and knees, but head raised with eyes open:

seeing a cross that’s even worse ahead…

Still, unflinching, resigned–no, determined

to go on, face more pain, indignities,

shame, even death (there is no sign of God.)

Steve was a classmate at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. We’ve been friends for 47 years. A published poet, Steve was the Senior Minister of the McKinley Presbyterian Church and Director of the McKinley Foundation (campus ministry) at the University of Illinois for many years. He hosts “Keepin’ the Faith” on WILL, Illinois Public Radio, and lives in a geothermally-heated house on the prairie outside Urbana, IL where his neighbors often spot his kites riding the winds of the prairie skies.

5 thoughts on “Christ after the Flagellation

  1. I have a response to the stories of Christ’s beating that often leaves others aghast. So brace yourselves:

    He was beaten for several hours, or a day or two? Big deal. Those of us who have suffered years of abuse and terror know what real suffering is.

    I don’t find focusing on Jesus’ suffering, or any of that 12 stages of the cross crap, to be helpful at all. I find it to be insulting. As if there is something noble and glorious about suffering. Nope, not a damn thing to recommend it. I know that Jesus voluntarily placed himself in the position for that to happen. So? Doesn’t help.

    Please, fellow readers, don’t think that I am an isolated one, or few. There are lots and lots of us feeling this way.

    The world is full – FULL – of people who have suffered much worse for decades or lifetimes. Think of people who live in North Korea. Or poor girls growing up in India. Or young girls in FLDS settlements who get married off to much older men and are then raped daily for the rest of their lives. Jesus’ few days of humiliation are nothing in comparison.

    The Lenten/Easter season is my favorite church season because I am reminded of how deeply I am loved and how quickly I am forgiven. Jesus’ brief beating plays no role in that.

    BTW, for some solid information on Christianity’s turn to focusing on sin and suffering, read “Saving Paradise” by Rita Nakashima Brock and Sarah Parker. It’s very well researched and an eye opener.

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    • HMB’s thoughtful response calls for an equally thoughtful reply. So i’ll try. The cross, in my theology, in no way minimizes or disrespects the suffering of others. Nor does it say, as it is too often understood by sacrificial atonement theology, that suffering itself is noble or glorious. The cross was an insturment of Roman torture and execution. The Jesus who was tortured and executed, as were thousands of his Jewish contemporaries, is not somehow God masquerading as a human being. That being said, moving the cross to the sidelines of Christian faith and reflection is, in my view, a mistake. Well meaning because it reacts against the twisted theology that understood it to be separate and above all other human suffering.

      When I look at the cross, I see all these people. And I see myself there as both the crucified and the crucifier. What I see in the crucifix is total abandonment. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” And in some way I hear not only the cry of Jesus by the cry of the God Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as the Divine Center we shove to the edge. I see in the Christ-event the tragedy and the hope of the divine-hyman encounter. Sebastian Moore (The Chrucified Jesus Is No Stranger) and Joseph Campbell opened to me this richer Christology. Moore: “We have to think of God as closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of God not as standing at the end of the way we take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us IN our evil, as the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

      “Redemption through the blood of Christ is (wrongly!) interpreted as the bending of Reality itself to man’s great dream of himself. And it is exactly the reverse. It is the ending of the dream. It is th e beautiful collapse of the whole enterprise. It is the invasion of man by himself, with God at the center as love.” – Moore.

      Closer to home, I quote another great theologian, my wife, Kay, reflecting on the cross the other night at a Lenten series on “The Place of the Cross”: “Paul used to talk about all of his theology in terms of transformation at the foot of the cross. If a theological insight couldn’t go to the foot of the cross and be transformed there, then it wasn’t of God. This darkness is not for lightweight faith statements or testimonies. The annihilation of all goodness and all love which takes place in the action of one human being in violence to another human being—it cannot be redeemed by any other force but God’s pure love. That is a faith statement that lives inside a vacuum until manifested. There is no meeting of love and abandonment, they are mutually exclusive realities. We are lost. Period. And if God is to find us, then it is all about God’s initiative.”

      From today’s point of view, Moore’s language is too gender specific, not inclusive. But the substance of his Christology is totally inclusive. We’re all there. Anything short of that either drifts off into the a new idealism or into some new version of the power of positive thinking. The power of Christian theology is its gravitas: it doesn’t turn away.

      Love to hear more, HMB. Hope we can keep the conversation alive. Grace and Peace, Gordon

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    • Hi, and thanks for coming back. I read your reflection for the day on your blog. i hope you’ll look at HMB’s comment (submitted today at 4:42 p.m.), and my long reply on the cross. I see your suffering. I hope you’ll watch the sermon post, “The Leper”. Grace and Peace to you, Gordon

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      • The word agnostic, doesn’t feel like a description of myself any more than the word atheist does but, without believing that the bible is irrefutable, I am still fascinated by Jesus Christ as a historical figure. I don’t know much about religion, but some of what HMB said and what you said in your response went over my head today, but I found it all very interesting.

        I hope I’m not too far off the mark with this, but the only thing I want to add is to say how much the comparison of pain feels like a minefield we should avoid if we’re not actually doing triage in some waiting room. It feels like the beginning of persecution to me.

        Kurt Cobain for instance, surrounded with all the respect and monetary gain from his work and what at least seemed like love from the outside looking in, killed himself because at that moment his pain was too excruciating for him to bear. I will always hate the thought of leaving one’s child that way, but I still try hard not to measure one kind of pain against another. (I say try because I’m only human and those sorts of judgements creep in, if mostly to torture myself.) So much pain has been inflicted in the history of society, war as an example, because of those kinds of comparisons.

        I wish we could all speak openly and honestly about pain and how much it consumes, without being influenced by the publicly accepted lie that says it shows weakness that should be hidden at all costs. I think the comparisons add
        fuel to that lie.

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