Day 45 of our Lenten Journey beyond “Beyond Vietnam.” A Good Friday meditation from theologian Kelly Brown-Douglas, excerpted from a post on the Feminism and Religion blog.
In Jesus’ first century Roman world crucifixion was reserved for slaves, enemy soldiers and those held in the highest contempt and with lowest regard in society. To be crucified was, for the most part, an indication of how worthless and devalued by established power an individual was. It also indicated how much of a threat that person was believed to be to the order of things. There was a decided crucified class of people. These were essentially the castigated and demonized as well as the ones who defied the status quo of power. It is in this respect that I believe Jesus’ crucifixion affirms his identification with the marginalized and outcasts. Indeed, on the cross Jesus fully divests himself of all pretensions to power and anything that would compromise his bond with those most othered in the world. The reality of the cross further affirms the profundity of god’s bond with put-upon bodies..
At the same time, the cross represents the height of human wickedness. It is in this regard that the impotence of human evil, that is divisive and destructive power—that which would destroy bodies, is revealed. This is revealed in several ways. First, Jesus takes on all of this evil, yet he is not destroyed by it. The first indication that evil has no power over Jesus is seen in his response to the jeering and taunts he receives from the crowd throughout his crucifixion. As he is spat upon and ridiculed for not being able to save himself, Jesus does not respond in kind, neither does he try to prove himself by conforming to the demands of the people to come down from the cross. Most striking is the fact that he does not condemn the crucifying crowd. Instead, he asks for their forgiveness. Essentially, Jesus refuses to allow evil to destroy who he is and thus to become somebody that he is not. He does not succumb to narratives outside of himself, namely narratives of power. Most importantly, he does not allow them to compromise his bond with the powerless and oppressed. At this point it is beginning to become clear that divisive and destructive human power at its height is impotent in relationship to the power found in the intersect of divine and human realities. This was the power of Jesus, and this was the power of the cross.
In the end, the cross shows that evil at its mightiest simply cannot prevail against the power found in the intersect of divine and human goodness that is Jesus. Ironically, the power that attempts to destroy Jesus on the cross is itself destroyed by the cross.
There is a final irony in the fact of Jesus crucifixion. That Jesus had to be crucified actually reveals his power. If he were not a threat to the dominating political and religious forces of the day, then they would have summarily dismissed him. That he was a threat, that he was powerful meant that they had to crucify him. Thus, that which is to be a sign of Jesus’ weakness—the crucifixion–actually reveals his power. In this sense, Jesus’ words, “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they are doing,” takes on a new layer of meaning. They mock at the pretensions of power. On the cross God has used the weak to confound the power of the strong. The resurrection makes this unequivocally clear.