"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cultural Wars, Depicting the Crucifixion, Suffering

This is the last of my notes from Thomas Cahill's book.  Now I'm working on notes from Muhammad:  A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong.

"Paul and his fellow Christians were already fighting a war on three cultural-political fronts: against Jews who accused them of the capital crime of blasphemy, against Greeks who found the Jewish notion of physical resurrection hilarious, and against Romans who were eager to round up 'troublemakers,' especially ones who prayed to a 'god' that the Romans themselves had executed. In their monotheism, Christians were accused of atheism, in their Messianism, of heresy. In their communism, they appeared an obvious threat to the economics of class; in their joyous inner freedom and their comprehension of the essential equality of all human beings before God, they stood an outrageous challenge to the whole socio-political order of the Roman empire."  (pg. 232)

"Paul called his converts 'the brothers and sisters loved by God,' and Peter, in a vision, came to the conclusion that 'God has no favorites.' The Jesus Movement became a movement for the universalization of Judaism, making Jewish ideas and even the Jewish social context available and applicable to all humanity.  We should not, however, see Jesus as the beginning of this development, any more than we see Moses, rather than Abraham, as the beginning of monotheism. Jesus, like Moses, took advantage of a living tradition that was astoundingly rich in possibilities. Long before Jesus, the classical prophets had already looked forward to the outpouring of God's 'Spirit on all humanity,' an incredible outpouring from which no one -- not even the 'women' and the 'slaves' of Peter's quotation from Joel -- would be excluded. And we cannot be surprised that women and slaves, far more than any other categories of society, swelled the ranks of a movement that assured them that, however insignificant their places in society, in the eyes of God and his Assembly they were the equals of anyone."  (pg. 239)

By helping the poor and afflicted, they were helping Christ, and it was not a duty, but a privilege.  (see Matthew 25)

The author states that almost from the beginning of Christianity there were "pictures that form a distinctively Christian message," however "so intense was the suffering of Jesus before and during his crucifixion that the early Christians could not bring themselves to depict it."  He states that it wasn't until the fifth century - when "Augustine of Hippo lies dying, the barbarian hordes are overrunning the empire, and Patrick is in Gaul making his fateful travel plans to evangelize the Irish...on the verge of the Middle Ages" - before Christians finally depicted the crucifixion and even then it did not take a central place in their churches. 

Only when four hundred years had passed since Christ's crucifixion and one hundred years since Rome "discontinued the practice of crucifixion and no one living had witnessed such a procedure, did Christians forget the shame and horror of the event sufficiently to begin making pictures of it.  [By this time] many of the gruesome details of actual crucifixion had been forgotten" and Jesus didn't look like a man in agony hanging there.  (pg. 285-288)

"We do not have to adopt a theology of substitution - the theory that God required a spotless human victim to make up for human sin - to make sense of the crucifixion.  Such a theory, it seems to me, is a remnant of prehistoric paganism and its beliefs in cruel divinities who demanded blood sacrifice.  But Jesus's suffering body is surely his ultimate gift, for it is his final act of sympathy with us.  From all ages, human suffering has been the stumbling block that no life can avoid and that no philosophy has been able to comprehend.  In the Hebrew Bible's Book of Job, God refuses to explain why good people must suffer. In the New Testament, he still does not explain, but he gives us a new story that contains the first glimmer of encouragement, the only hint of an explanation, that heaven has ever designed to offer earth: 'I will suffer with you.'  The flesh of Jesus is the bread of the poor, the sick, the miserable, the dispossessed -- their nourishment.  'For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives, so does the encouragement we receive through Christ,' Paul tells the Corinthians.  Whatever pain we suffer, he has suffered. However acute our suffering, he too has borne the whips, the thorns, the nails, the lance, the cross.'"  (pg. 293-294)

"Jesus insists on forgiveness, turning the other cheek, peace, and compassion, always compassion -- and which of us wants to hear that?  The leaders of the Jewish religious establishment rejected Jesus in his own lifetime, not principally because he rejected the Torah of Moses or because he claimed to be God, but because of his midrash, his interpretation of God's word. He insisted that all of Jewish sacred scripture -- the Torah and the Prophets  -- was asking them to live in a way that they considered unrealistic.  Any Christian who imagines himself morally superior to those who turned away has only to glance at the subsequent history of Christian persecution of Jews to realize that Christians have been far more successful at rejecting Jesus than any Jew has ever been."  (pg. 318)

all quotes from Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill


Amber said...

On an only vaguely related note: Did you know that some cultures still practice crucifixion to commemorate Christ's crucifixion? It happens in the Philippines and I think some South American cultures too. They men are *actually* crucified, nails and all, but obviously taken down before they die.

*wanders off after inserting random information*

Susanne said...

No! I did not realize this! Woooooow! So glad you wandered over here to share that. I've been missing your informative little (or big) comments lately and wondered where you'd been hiding. Hope all is well!

Thanks for what you shared. :)

Lat said...

The last para is so true.And it's equally stands true of all masters who try to bring change to their existing social and political climate of the era.

And yes there's always the footage of the Philippine men depciting the dying Jesus on tv here every year.I guess there see it as more of a celebration than tragedy.So they don't at odds.

Susanne said...

Lat, wow, so you see that depicted on TV? Interesting!!

Thanks for what you added. I appreciate your comment!