Tested to the Limit (Luke 22)

The Crowning with Thorns, Caravaggio

“Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy. Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him…”

The immediate consequence of the arrest is the bullying conduct of the lynch-mob. They were like dogs unleashed, circling, snarling and mocking. The abuse is both physical and verbal.

And then in Luke 22: 66-71, Jesus is brought before the assembly of religious leaders.

66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 ‘If you are the Messiah,’ they said, ‘tell us.’

Jesus answered, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.’

70 They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’

He replied, ‘You say that I am.’

71 Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.’

In the ensuing exchange, Jesus clearly identifies himself as the Son of God, knowing that this acknowledgement would bring upon his own head the ultimate negative reaction.

There is an upwards spiral, as Jesus is handed from group to group. This has the effect of sharing the blame of the execution upon all the various movers and shakers of Jerusalem. No one can escape culpability: Judas betrays, Peter denies, the temple bullies mock and strike and so it goes up the chain of command, until, somehow, we are also part of it too….

John R.W. Stott made the point: “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”

That is to say, our attitudes and actions align us with what is being done here. We are part of the problem Jesus came to fix.

If there’s any doubt about that point, take a look at the painting here. Here’s the Wikpedia analysis:

“Caravaggio’s patron Vincenzo Giustiniani was an intellectual as well as a collector, and late in life he wrote a paper about art in which he identified twelve grades of accomplishment. In the highest class he named just two artists, Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci, as those capable of combining realism and style in the most accomplished manner. This Crowning with Thorns illustrates what Giustiniani meant: the cruelty of the two torturers hammering home the thorns is depicted as acutely observed reality, as is the bored slouch of the official leaning on the rail as he oversees the death of the Son of God; meanwhile Christ is suffering real pain with patient endurance; all depicted within a classical composition of contrasting and intersecting horizontals and diagonals.

The theme of pain and sadism is central to the work. John Gash points to the way the two torturers ram the crown down with the butts of their staffs, “a rhythmic and sadistic hammering.”

Robb mentions that the painting is about “how … to give pain and feel pain, and how close pain and pleasure sometimes were, how voluptuous suffering could be on a golden afternoon.” ”

The description fills me with disgust, it’s true, but way down deep in me -in a place I find myself reluctant to talk about-  I also find something else.



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