Summary: On the cross Jesus was mocked, insulted, abused. His response was only to offer forgiveness. We must learn from this.
“He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the chosen One” (23:35). “If you are the King of the Jews; save yourself” (23:37). “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us” (23:39)!
When I’m watching a football match I can’t bear to hear ‘supporters’ shouting negativity, abuse or ridicule at players they think are not performing well, even if what they’re saying might have a hint of truth. I don’t believe that players ever do better when their own ‘fans’ are screaming abuse at them because the game is not going according to plan. Of course they are professionals, paid to do a job, and so it would be quite rare for them to stop playing, turn to the crowd and respond to the abuse; because that would probably be the end of their career with that particular club. They have to get on with the job in hand and try to ignore the abuse. They are professional footballers!
In the Star Wars films I love the character of Yoda. He is from an alien race of small creatures about 3 feet high, with a green-brown complexion. Yoda is old. He hobbles around on a walking stick and yet his words are full of wisdom for his pupils. In many ways he is a pitiful sight. At one point towards the end of Episode Two he faces the evil Count Dooku. Essentially both of them are armed with high-tech swords. The agile Count Dooku attacks the pathetic, small, rather aged Yoda. Suddenly Yoda is spinning, twisting and turning, fending off every blow. His movement is like that of a young man and a tremendous battle follows. Afterwards, as Dooku manages to escape, Yoda picks up his walking stick, and hobbles around for the rest of the film, back to his normal self. How tempting it must have been for Yoda to always be swashbuckling, agile and charismatic; yet he saved his demonstrations of power for the right moments. The cross was not the time for Jesus to exhibit great power. He was pinned to the cross. There he hung.
Jesus’ demonstration of power was to come in the resurrection, not by the way he reacted to insults.
Jesus knew his Hebrew Bible, our so-called ‘Old Testament’. When he was blatantly tempted by the Devil, the Father of lies, Jesus used scripture to help him respond wisely the temptation he was facing. On the cross - surely tempted to save himself - to show his power to the watching crowd, we don’t know the depths of the pain, the frustration, the temptation to point a finger and shout out, “Just you wait, you sinners! You’ll get what’s coming to you!”
Have you ever wanted to say that to people? I have, but I’m not proud of it because it was not and is not the way of Jesus. In Isaiah 55: 7 (NRSV) we read this, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
Jesus was deeply familiar with that description of the suffering servant. He would also have known these words, first from Proverbs chapter 12 verses 16 an 18 (NRSV), “Fools show there anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult …Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
In response to the insults and the temptation to give in to the bait – to save himself from crucifixion – Luke simply records these words of Jesus: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (23:34) and also this conversation between Jesus and one of the thieves crucified next to him (23:42-43), “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
St. Peter encourages us like this, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you..
…If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4: 12 &14).
We are not professional footballers, and I say this slightly tongue in cheek, only one or two of us are ‘professional’ Christians. However, we are all called to be like Christ, not repaying insults like for like, turning the other cheek if people insult us; and as Peter said, when we are insulted because of the name of Christ we are blessed, and as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, you will be with me in paradise.”