Everyone who lived in the Roman empire had seen crucified people along the roads.
Everyone had seen the insects crawling, the carrion circling, the scavenger animals gnawing the feet of dead men still dying.
Everyone knew the smell – the shameful smell – of naked men unable to control their most private bodily functions.
And yet everyone, both Greek and Jew, agreed that the men strung up and spread out like skinned animals had earned their shame.
For the Jews, the man staked firmly in the rocky ground; his manhood and buttocks exposed; his beard ripped out in chunks, was a rebellious and worthless Hebrew son cursed by God. His death was warranted and best for all. He was a shame to his people.
For the Greeks, the public humiliation of the cross was an appropriate punishment for worthless rebels and prisoners of war. They were barely-human scum; a blight on the empire; deserving of degradation and extermination. According to Rome, the death of a certain low-life was good riddance and effective deterrence.
And so we must see a Jewish Jesus praying to his Father on the night he would be cursed by his own people and handed over to the Greeks. “Father. If you are willing, please remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
And we must also see Jesus so distressed that his sweat became like drops of blood. For he knew what lay ahead. Soon he would be forcibly stripped, sexually shamed, paraded and passed around, scourged, spit on, and subjected to every humiliation and torture at the merciless hand of Rome.
Father, is there another way? But there was no ram in the thicket that dreadful night. There was no rescue. No reply. No comfort. The cup was his to drink for the shame of the whole world.
The only sound that could be heard on the Mount of Olives at that hour was the bleating of young lambs. Thousands upon thousands of Passover lambs, between eight-days and one-year-old, still young and innocent enough to miss the comforting presence of their mother.
The next afternoon the father of every Jewish household would take his family’s lamb to the temple court and kill it quickly and humanely. And the blood of the Passover lambs would be collected in gold or silver bowls and thrown at the base of the altar.
Hundreds of priests, regally robed in red, would chant the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) so that all Jerusalem, inside and outside the city walls, could hear the story of Israel’s salvation while lambs were roasted for the evening feast.
“We know Yahweh can save us. He’s done it before and He will do it again. Who on earth is like Yahweh?”
And as the Passover lambs were skinned, spread out, and strung up in rows on the temple wall, we must also see Jesus; the perfect lamb of the Father; his arms spread out in love and pinned to the wood of the cross; no golden bowl to catch his precious blood.
“Father, forgive them.”
Could he hear the festal shouts from the temple courts?
“Father, forgive them.”
Could he hear the salvation Psalms above the groans?
We know Yahweh can save us. He’s done it before and He will do it again. Who on earth is like Yahweh?
Shalom to you and yours this Passover.
Painting: Caserta Red: Hughie O’Donoghue At The Imperial War Museum