I am beginning a seven part series on the seven sayings of Christ from the cross. It is my hope that in doing so we can dispel some of the myths that have sprung up around who Jesus was and is. There is such a tangled web of ideas that span the space between scripture and tradition. It seems to me that we can learn a lot about who Jesus is and who he wants us to be by studying these seven sayings.
With that said, let’s look at the first saying…
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…” – Luke 23:34
There is an image of Jesus that we have seen emerge over the past several years that I find to be incredibly disturbing. Of course, Jesus is disturbing, and those who hold to this image will point to that fact as proof that your being disturbed shows them to be right. But I would argue that their image of Jesus is disturbing in a very different way.
The idea that I’m talking about is this idea that Jesus is some sort of heavy metal warrior deity. He has a sword in one hand and an electric guitar in the other. He is ready to bring down fire and smoke on anyone who stands in his way. It is a Jesus image concocted in the minds of people who, as one pastor said, “Cannot worship a guy who I could beat up.”
Is that what it’s all about?
You want your god to be a bigger bully than you are?
What Jesus calls us to is something completely different. It is a different kind of strength. It is a different kind of power. If your faith is just about trying to find a bigger thug to do your dirty work of smashing people who are different than you are, then you might want to look elsewhere. When you consider that the first thing out of Jesus’ mouth on the cross are the words, “Father forgive them…” you are faced with a Jesus that defies all expectation. You are faced with a Jesus that defies and challenges the most fundamental concept of human existence. He defies our will for self-preservation and our desire for revenge. He exemplifies love. He is not, as our aforementioned pastor friend called him, “a cage fighter ready to draw blood.”
The Jesus of the scriptures is one of meekness. Not weakness, but meekness. He totally could have gone the Rambo route on the road to the cross, and no one would have blamed him. At any given time he could have called down scores of angels to cut down the people in his path, established an earthly kingdom, and booted out anyone who didn’t get in line. If this were a movie written in the 21st century, that’s exactly what we would have seen. But the Jesus of the Bible is a different kind of Jesus. As I said, he is disturbing, but for completely different reasons.
The Jesus of the Bible is disturbing because he could have gone the Rambo route, and he completely didn’t. The very reason that Jesus was looked over as the Messiah was because he didn’t fit the image. He didn’t burst out with guns blazing and set fire to the oppressive Roman empire. He didn’t come to overturn political rivals. He came to do much more than that.
This is where Jesus becomes truly disturbing.
We are faced with an image of the Creative Word that sparked all of existence, seeing this position as something to abandon for the sake of his enemies. So he left that position and became a human being. Not only that, but he became a human being who blended in. He wasn’t a king, or a rock star. He was the son of a carpenter. He had blisters on his hands. He didn’t stand out in a crowd. In fact he blended in so well that Judas had to kiss him on the cheek so that those who came to arrest him would know who he was.
The Jesus of the Bible is a humble, sarcastic, loving, challenging figure. He is not one who backed down from conflict, but he is not the violent, angry, professional wrestler god-man that he has been portrayed to be in modern evangelical circles. But I love what Pete Rollins said in response to this sort of thinking. He said,
“You know what my response is? You’re not too violent, you’re not violent enough. Your violence is like the man who beats up his wife. It’s an impotent violence. It’s a violence against flesh and blood. The violence of Christianity is a violence against principalities and powers. Christianity is fundamentally violent. Look at Mother Teresa. Her pacifism is violent. Why? Because it completely ruptured the caste system. The whole system of power that placed people in different castes…she came in and she looked after everybody equally. And she ruptured the system…”
And so this is the point. We want to get on God’s team and we can behave like the smaller kid who sucks up to the big bully because we don’t want to be beaten up ourselves. And there is a sort of power in that, but it’s fundamentally a weak sort of power. But as he utters the words, “Father forgive them…” Jesus embraces a powerful weakness. And the difference is night and day.
A weak power is a worldly power. It is a power that overcomes by force. It is the power of the cage fighter and the barroom brawler. There is strength there, but only so far as you don’t run up against someone who is stronger. We’re placing our bets, hoping that the “god” we get with is the strongest. But in the end we walk around puffing out our chests and posturing. We live in fear that someone stronger will come along and destroy the walls and fences and fortresses that we have built to protect ourselves from the outside.
Powerful weakness is a strength that is only found by letting go. It is the type of strength that comes from not viewing even the high position of God as something to cling to, but as something to give up for the sake of your enemies. It is a strength that cannot be broken. It is what Lao Tzu talked about when he spoke of being like a reed that bends as the water flows over it, but therefore it doesn’t break. It is not a weakness that says, “please don’t take anything away from me.” It is a powerful weakness that says, “I don’t need anything that you can take from me. All that I need is hidden away in a place that you can’t touch.” A powerful weakness says, “You cannot take anything from me because I choose to freely give it to you.”
Weak power is fleeting. Muscles atrophy. Walls Crumble. Beauty fades. Political power is taken away.
Powerful weakness is an eternal strength. Love is stronger than Hate. Meekness is better than Coercion.
And Forgiveness is always better than revenge.