On the Way to the Cross: The Suffering Mark 15: 16-23

Church of FlagellationThe Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem is located inside the Lion’s Gate, and sits just outside the Antonia Fortress.  The Fortress sat on a 150 foot rock escarpment; providing a sweeping view of the Temple courts so the Romans could keep tight rein on their subjects.  It’s also where Jesus was flogged and the church is the 2nd Station on the Via Dolorosa.  Jesus would withhold divine power; at this man made monument to human power; enduring this suffering before his death.  You can kneel here to consider the costly love of the one “who being found in human form, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.”  The suffering of Jesus is repulsive, inspiring and necessary.

The sufferings of Jesus are repulsive.  There are sword marks on the floor of the Antonia Fortress ruins.  They represent life lines from a brutal game called The King’s Game.  Roman soldiers would surround Jesus; having only some idea who they’re denigrating; they would drape their subject in purple, crown him with twisted thorns, and salute him; a mock coronation.  The game ended with a strike on the head and spit on his body, before gambling for possessions and who would be the executioners.Antonia Fortress

Click here for a video showing Antonia Fortress

The soldiers weren’t the only ones who were cruel to Jesus.  After the Jewish trial it says, “They spat in his face, struck and ridiculed him.”  The holiest person in the Jewish faith, the high priest, instigates and sanctions the suffering of Jesus.  Religious leaders torturing one, who offered love, preached good news to the poor, healed the sick, and opened blind eyes.

The Gospels shed light on our propensity to hurt others in order to protect our own skin.  Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, disciple’s desertion, Sanhedrin’s jealousy, crowd’s rage, Pilate’s acquiescence, and the soldier’s cruelty make the case we’re capable of vicious acts.  The reason for this behavior is power can breed brutality.  Since the opening scene in Genesis, persons have exercised power over others by using violence.

We cannot say we’re more sophisticated now, though generally cruelty is less prevalent.  There’s something within human condition that makes it far too easy for us to move to incomprehensible cruelty.  If we’re not capable of the physical act, we too often look the other way while atrocities occur.

ViolenceHistory is full of such examples: genocide in Central America, Serbia, Balkans, Rwanda, and Sudan, not to mention The Holocaust.  In Wesley’s times, crowds brought sack lunches to watch public hangings, like church folks going to a picnic.  Domestic abuse happens behind doors a few feet from this pulpit more often than I want to imagine.  Given the right combination of influences any of us are capable of hurting others.

If others have fallen into the trap of might over right, we too can give into our lesser self.  The suffering of Jesus is a repulsive scene; revealing the depths which we can sink.  Any sense of feeling repulsed should cause us to know that if our human condition is the problem, then the answer cannot be found in our human self.  Our repulsion of our worst tendencies should cause us to look to a higher power that can save us from ourselves.  

The sufferings of Jesus are inspiring.  Jesus doesn’t react to their violent ways by inflicting a greater degree of hurt on his accusers.  Jesus offers himself in loving ways; demonstrating hostility doesn’t have the last word.  If he had reacted, humanity would not be changed by the power that faced his sufferings.  Thus, we’re inspired by Jesus’ suffering, not just because he endured it, but because we see the length God goes and the depth God descends to show saving love rather than seek harm. Redemptitive Suffering

Our inspiration comes in having a Savior who offers himself with a suffering love.  Jesus suffered “for” us not “because” of us.  Jesus suffered “for” us, so we would be inspired by his faith in the Hidden Hand of God and his inner fortitude made plain throughout this horrific ordeal.  When we see it clearly, we know we can hold a faith in our God above, and we can hold on with divinely inspired courage as we undergo any kind of anguish.

Jesus’ sufferings are called redemptive suffering because he trusts in a resurrecting power.  The dark journey of suffering allows us to know our higher self can respond redemptively to our own afflictions.  So, we can travel through seasons of suffering with hope that God intends an outcome that ends with a resurrection.  Our trust in the God who makes all things new can inspire us in the midst of our suffering and others who walk by our side as we pass through these days.  Everything is changed when we allow ourselves and others to be inspired by Jesus’ sufferings.

Necessary SufferingThe sufferings of Jesus are necessary.  Jesus knew of the necessity of his suffering.  He didn’t withhold himself from it; or inflict suffering on others on his behalf.  Jesus refuses numbing wine on the cross.  Instead, Jesus participates in the pain and suffering of the world because it’s necessary.  Christian faith is the only faith that depicts God as a naked, bleeding, dying person.  This doesn’t make rational sense unless we hear the crucified one saying, “I am in this crucified situation with you.”  This hard to understand because we would prefer not to walk the road of torment, even if we know it is necessary and the one crucified says, “I’m with you”.

Our redemption is why Jesus’ sufferings were necessary.  He undergoes these necessary sufferings for flawed people who think redemptive violence is needed to eliminate bad people.  Jesus’ necessary sufferings show us their redemptive nature.  This won’t make sense until we walk all the way down the road of our own necessary suffering and look back as see how what we have been through has redeemed us and others. Kneel

We get lost in building our towers; thinking we’re the only game in town.  Suffering comes along to remind us we’re not in control; challenging our narcissistic, egocentric self made ways.  Suddenly, suffering is no longer something to think about.  We’re left trying to make sense of an unexpected ferocious event, which we face with great dread; for suffering is no respecter of persons.  The wino suffering on the street suffers just as much as the rich banker fighting cancer in the hospital.  Suffering levels the ground, so that external things in our lives matter much less.

The irony isn’t that Jesus experiences suffering; it’s that we shun it.  The tears we experience keep us from being too numb and/or small in this world.  Our common pain keeps us in touch with of God and the rest of humanity.  Suffering is necessary because it confronts our smaller shadow self, so our larger God made self can experience Christ’s redefining love.  Suffering is a doorway for us to fully know our true selves and reunite to the Father, who has been waiting for us to come home to experience how amazingly graceful God really is.  Suffering is necessary to encounter the fullness of God and to wholly know ourselves and each other in ways we would have never known otherwise in our efforts to protect our false self.

Tammy DuckworthTammy Duckworth was an Army reservist co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq.  On November 12th, her chopper was struck by a rocket propelled grenade that severed both legs.  By the time the chopper crash-landed, she appeared dead.  The soldiers knew the enemy would be on the way and they could be captured.  At great risk, they extricated her from the copter, and carried her through a field of six foot tall grass because no one gets left behind.  When they reached safety, they realized she was alive.  She recovered, and thanks to her prosthetics still serves Veterans Affairs.

When asked how she felt about the risk taken to save her life she said, “You have to get up every day and seek to live in such a way as to be worthy of that kind of effort and sacrifice.”  May we rise every morning and consider the suffering our Savior underwent and not think of our unworthiness, but thank God for the undeserved and merciful gift of Jesus’ suffering love.

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