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Station 11 – Jesus is crucified

We’ve followed Jesus on the Via Dolorosa and have made it to the top of the Golgotha–the place of the skull–where Jesus will find himself being executed between two criminals. The Gospel of Luke recalls the harrowing scene:

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine and vinegar and said, “if you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The mob mentality has carried the momentum of the violent procession from its inception at the sentencing of Jesus to its climax as soldiers hammer nails into his hands and feet, fixing him to the cross. Jesus became the scapegoat for the crowd. Richard Beck writes:

A Scapegoat for the collective misfortune was identified. And in that moment of identification, group solidarity miraculously reappears. Once-fractured individuals now stand together against the scapegoat. The violence of the group is brought to bear upon the One to save the Many, and the sacrifice occurs. And in the wake of the sacrifice the blood lust of the now-unified group is sated. Peace returns.[1]

It is against this backdrop which Jesus utters the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The Gospel accounts draw to a tense close with the delusional inversion of justice: the man who healed, empowered and gave life to many is broken, disempowered, and robbed of life.

On Good Friday we cannot afford to look away from the cross, but must stare into its brutality and recognize the depths to which God’s love will descend. We recognize our faces in the crowd surrounding Jesus. The mob takes the form of a culture addicted to consumption, to comfort, luxury, and entirely self-oriented. We idly stand by and watch the horrors before us, paralyzed in the face of power, collectively negating the pain because it is not our own. The cross as the center of the Christian faith demands that the darkness of our world be looked upon and brought into light. I don’t know how to do that, nor do I claim to be a light in such darkness. However, as we push back the darkness in our lives we reveal the light which we carry into dark places. We follow Jesus into the dark. This is terrifying and disorienting and difficult beyond belief. This is taking up our cross and following Jesus. There are many days that I do not have the strength or the will to do so.

Prayer: Jesus, may I see you in the darkness and approach you. 

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1. Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), page 96.

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Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

At Station 6 we remember Veronica, the woman who courageously stepped out of the crowd and proceeds to wipe the face of Jesus and clean his wounds. She parallels Simon of Cyrene, but Veronica comes to Jesus’ side by her own will, moved by the inhumane drama unfolding before her. Perhaps she learned this form of nonviolent resistance from Jesus.

Jesus was considered a radical for many reasons, but one in particular is attributed to the ways in which Jesus breached the lines that divided what was clean and unclean. His community held quite traditional beliefs about people who were sick, disabled or diseased and intended to keep firm walls between those who were considered pure and those who were deemed impure. Jesus was not at all interested in these divisive delineations surrounding purity. He understood the healing power of community, intimacy and physical touch and defied norms and tradition by touching both men and women who were considered impure or sinners, thus making himself impure and sinful in the eyes of the religious elite. Richard Beck describes this sociological phenomenon as negativity dominance:

When a pollutant and a pure object come into contact the pollutant is “stronger” and ruins the pure object. The pure object doesn’t render the pollutant acceptable or palatable.[1]

By extending his touch to those whom no one would touch, Jesus was situating himself in the category of untouchable, impure and sinful. Jesus gave up his purity and reputation in order to affirm the humanity and experience of others. Richard Beck goes on to comment on the idea of negativity dominance,

The [religious elites] never once consider the fact that the contact between Jesus and the sinners might have a purifying, redemptive, and cleansing effect upon the sinners. Why not? The logic of contamination simply doesn’t work that way. The logic of contamination has the power of the negative dominating over the positive. Jesus doesn’t purify the sinners. The sinners make Jesus unclean . . . What is striking about the gospel accounts is how Jesus reverses negativity dominance. Jesus is, to coin a term, positivity dominant. Contact with Jesus purifies.[2]

Denying oneself and following Jesus means risking ourselves and the power we hold as we extend our hands to others in love and mercy, affirming their humanity and the reality of their experiences regardless of who may consider them unclean.

Prayer: Help me to resist seeing anyone as unclean and impure, and to see everyone as beautiful and equally deserving of love, respect, justice and human contact.

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1. Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), page 28.

2. Ibid., 30.