|Posted by Donna Dawson on October 29, 2018 at 8:15 AM|
The Corruption of the Cross
By Donna Fawcett
I recently heard a well written and well spoken sermon on the path of the cross. The presenter shared his teachings with passion and a clear awe and I came away blessed. But I also came away with a sense of incompletion. There is a portion of the cross that no one seems to want to address. I’d like to draw you to a passage of scripture in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 27:27-28 it tells a sanitized account of Jesus being handed over to the Governor’s battalion where they stripped and beat him. So…being the person I am, I wanted to know what that meant.
In order to understand the ambiguity of this portion of scripture, we need to visit some historical archives and find out a bit about the way the Romans did warfare. According to a number of sources (and I don’t tend to visit unreliable ones) the soldiers were not supposed to engage in sexual activity when on duty (I’m sure there were many who disregarded that law but I digress). It was believed that such restraint gave them a stronger will to fight. There were a few exceptions to this unusual law. The first was in the conquering of a foe.
The Romans tended to lean toward firm diplomacy as a first measure. They wanted an empire not a graveyard so envoys were sent to extract surrender before any fighting took place. If the city refused to surrender, they would exert all their force upon it and then would systematically perform every sexual deviancy upon its citizens. This had a purpose. Word spread in spite of the lack of social media and many cities would surrender without so much as an arrow shot.
The second was to punish those who decided to rebel under Roman occupation. A prisoner would be taken to the courts and a trial would commence. If guilty, he was then handed over to a battalion. Again, these men were on duty so were to refrain from any sexual activity but when a prison was given to them, they knew they were to inflict a humiliation upon that person so they would never rebel again. They were not permitted to take the life of that prisoner in this stage of the punishment—only to emotionally break them. And so all those who saw or knew would think twice before raising a fist against Caesar.
So now we go to Matthew 27:27-28 and we focus on verse 28. It begins with ‘and they stripped him’. I’d like to stop there. In the historical accounts of Roman warfare, this term was used often. It was what I like to call an ‘inclusive term’. It included many details that weren’t actually written in most accounts but there are a few documents that did include the details of the stripping and all of those accounts describe the form of punishment intended to deter.
I say all that to say this; our LORD didn’t just die. He wasn’t just beaten and bruised and lashed and crucified. He was treated like a standard prisoner. He was handed over to the battalion of the Governor with the full intention of allowing them to do every unthinkable sexual act upon him. Why do I tell you this? Why mention such a horrific idea?
According to United States Government statistics, one in four women and one in six men will be sexually abused in their lifetime. That’s 25 percent of the US female population and 17 percent of the US male population. In other nations it is higher. Is it possible that Jesus picked a nation and a time period where it was common practice to keep harems of children for the purpose of sexual gratification on purpose? Is it possible that he chose a time in history which fostered such brutal practices more heinous than any other time in history for a reason? I believe so. I believe he embraced the Roman cross with a purpose we can’t begin to imagine because he needed to die for the most horrific of sins.
How can children torn and scarred by such a cruel act as sexual abuse possibly see love in a Saviour if that Saviour couldn’t understand their wounds? How can men and women of today surrender their pasts and their nightmares and their hang-ups to a God who claims to be their answer unless that God first comprehended the depth of despair they have endured?
Jesus didn’t just hang on a cross with a few little slap marks on him and a nice tidy loin cloth. He was unrecognizable. His beard had been pulled off his face. His scalp was lacerated and the 2 inch spines from the Jerusalem thorns were buried in the layers of his skin. His face was bruised and bleeding. His body was a rack of hanging flesh and gore. He was exposed fully and all shame was placed upon the outstretched shoulders—the shame that came from cruel words and unjust accusations—the shame that came from being stripped naked—and the shame that came from being enslaved to the sexual appetites of a battalion of corrupt and evil men trained to unleash all they could think of upon their helpless victim. And then he was nailed to a cross.
In the Museum in Israel, an exhibit shows the method of crucifixion. A heel bone was discovered during an archaeological dig. For centuries, we assumed that the nails couldn’t possibly go through the hands because the flesh between the fingers would tear and the feet were neatly stacked on top of a block and a single spike was driven through the top. Those who discovered the remains of crucifixion victims draw a grizzlier picture of the process.
The prisoner is tied by the wrists to the wood so they can’t, somehow, in the dark of night, be freed by working their hands and feet off the nails. It’s a horrible thought but possible. By tying the arms, they were fully secured—and then the nails were driven through the palms. It wasn’t a method of securing so much as a method of inflicting pain through the brutalizing of nerve bundles which culminate in the hands. The feet were placed on either side of a block of wood that was fastened to the main post. The foot spikes were driven in sideways through the heel bone. The prisoner didn’t stand on the block. Their full weight rested on their ankles above the spike. It was an excruciating way to die because as the prisoner needed air, he or she would push up on those spikes so they could take a breath. The process consisted of alternating from the weight on the ropes and the hand spikes to the weight on the ankles and the heel spikes. This, after the prisoner had been brutally sodomized. This, after he had been lashed and beaten and humiliated in every possible way.
Knowing this, we can all comprehend a bit more Isaiah 53: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
How can any of us go through a day without weeping in gratitude for the salvation we have been given?
Categories: theology in the raw