Psalm 37; 1 Kings 11:1-13; James 3:13-4:12; Mark 15:12-21
At the heart of the Christian message is the suffering servant, the One Who has done no evil and a whole lot of good and Who is still crushed with pain. Isaiah says that’s “the will of Lord to crush him.” That is, the crushing pain is God’s conscious choice. At the risk of utter heresy, of correcting Isaiah, I’d suggest otherwise. The pain of the innocent, insofar as it can be the birthpangs of something new and better, may be a necessary component of redemption being birthed into a broken world. But necessary and chosen aren’t the same thing. God, I believe, doesn’t choose pain.
It is broken humanity which demands blood. We’re the ones who bay for the noose and the electric chair, who demand to see someone pay for what’s been done to us. We’re the ones who bite the hand that’s reached out to feed, comfort or unshackle us. I don’t for one minute believe that God wanted Jesus to suffer–and I don’t for one minute believe that God wants you or me, or the people of Afghanistan, or the folks in the cancer ward in Joplin, or the innocent kid about to get backhanded by a brutal parent, or the odd young gal shunned and isolated because she’s not a cookie cutter, or anyone for that matter, to suffer. Suffering, as I understand it, is what we choose. To show how strong I am. NO PAIN NO GAIN! To show how wrong you are. YOU DESERVE THIS AND WORSE! Because our moral imaginations are so attenuated that we’ve convinced ourselves that blood balances the accounting book.
And so Jesus, knowing that God doesn’t need Calvary to save the universe, knowing that He’s none too keen on the dying part Himself (it’s never the death, it’s always the dying, that we dread), submits to what we need, to our communal bloodlust. “Your perfect love–can it withstand this? Yeah, well what about that? Crown of thorns, that’ll make You break and run…okay, well what about humiliations and nails?” And if this sounds unlikely, friends, remember how everyone (except a handful of truly dedicated pacifists, by which I mean the Amish and 11 other people) applauded us going into Afghanistan after 9/11. “You hit us, we’re gonna pound you back into the Stone Age,” was the mood on the streets in that moment: the cake table on 9/29 for the Wilson/Dunaway wedding was surrounded by enraged conversation about revenge, interspersed with compliments on the bride’s dress and jocular ribbing of the groom whose brother had found the worst of all possible high school photos to share.
We’re the ones who need the blood, the pain, the death, the sacrifice. And if we need it, God’s willing to pay it in the hopes that His offering of Himself will be enough, that we’ll stop demanding more, more, ever more from one another. Which is a sign of how much God loves us. That’s, having spent 33 years in the flesh coming to understand us from the inside out, He’s willing to give us what undoubtedly turns the divine stomach. Because we need it. The point of Calvary was to set us free from the endless demand our reptile brains make for just a little more blood to balance accounts. Whether that works out or not, well, that’s a choice you have to make every day for the rest of your life. God rolled the dice on you and me choosing to let Calvary be enough. Here’s to hoping He didn’t misread the odds.