March 13, 2021
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”[h] 72 Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Apprentices and Eyewitnesses by Chris Thorpe
“Fear can be such a distorting emotion, it can lead us to betray our values, our conscience, our deepest selves. Peter is like many of us, a mixture of courage and weakness; he runs away when the soldiers take Jesus away, but then he follows at a distance to see what will happen. When the servants begin to recognize him, he denies he ever knew Jesus. When the soldiers came to arrest and deport Jews in Germany, or Muslims in Serbia, many good people stayed silent and did nothing; fear led them to betray themselves and their neighbors. In our more ordinary lives, there are often occasions when we don’t speak out, don’t own up to our faith or our failures, don’t stand up for truth or speak out for what we believe. The hardest moment is when we realize the full impact of our failure, our cowardice, when the cock crows. Jesus turned and looked at Peter, and it is Jesus’ look that forced him to face the truth in the moment and to weep tears of regret.
When has fear led me to betray my deepest self?
When has my betrayal been found out?
“When Eyes Meet” by Luigi Tansillo
When noble Peter, who had sworn
that midst a thousand spears and a thousand swords
he would die beside his beloved Lord,
realized that, overcome by cowardice,
his faith had failed him in his great moment of need,
the shame, sorrow and pity for his own failure and for Christ’s suffering
pierced his breast with a thousand darts.
But the bows which hurled
the sharpest and most deadly arrows
into his breast were the Lord’s eyes, as they looked at him;
It looked as if his Lord, surrounded by many
enemies and abandoned by his peers, wanted to say:
“What I foretold him has now come to pass,
disloyal friend, proud disciple”
“More cruel”, Jesus seemed to say, “are your eyes
than the godless hands that will put me on the cross;
nor have I felt a blow that struck me as hard,
among the many that did strike me,
as the one that came out of your mouth.
I found no one faithful, nor kind,
among the many that I deemed worthy to be called mine:
but you, for whom my love was so intense,
are more deceitful and ungrateful above all the others.
Each of them offended me only by leaving me:
but you denied me”
The words full of anger and love
that Peter seemed to see written
on the serene, holy eyes of Christ,
would shatter whoever who heard them.
Like a snowbank which, having lain frozen
and hidden in the depth of the valley all winter,
and then in springtime, warmed by the sun,
falls apart and melts into streams,
such was the fear which had lain like ice
in Peter’s heart and made him repress the truth;
when Christ turned His eyes on him,
it melted and was changed into tears.
And his crying was not a small spring
or mountain stream, which dries in the warm seasons;
for although the king of Heaven forgave him
immediately for his disgraceful deception,
not a single night in his remaining life passed
without the cock’s crow waking him up
and reminding him how shamefully he behaved,
and inciting new tears for the ancient betrayal.
Realizing that he felt much different
than before, and unable to bear to remain
in the presence of the scorned Lord,
who loved him so, he didn’t wait to see
if the harsh tribunal would hand down
a severe or clement sentence, but,
leaving the despicable place where he was,
bitterly crying, he returned outside.
By denying my Lord, I denied
life itself from which every spirit springs:
a tranquil life that neither fears nor desires,
whose course flows on without end:
because then I denied the one true life,
there is no reason, none at all, to continue this false life.
Go then, vain life, quickly leave me:
since I denied true life, I do not want its shadow.”
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Throughout my life I have seen different images of Christ on Cross. In most of them Christ is depicted as bearing horrific wounds of the flesh and nailed to the cross in a loin cloth. When I began preparing this series on Jesus on the cross, I was surprised in my research to discover that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, he wasn’t stripped down to his underwear- he was stripped completely and taunted. He was naked on the cross.
In the Book: Walking the Way of the Cross Prayers and reflections on the Biblical Stations of the Cross by Stephen Cottrell, Paula Gooder and Philip North, they write:
“The excruciating torture of the journey is over, though the body is still trembling from the hardly imaginable abuse it had suffered. Any relief is tempered by the knowledge that the body will soon suffer even more terrible punishment. First, however, more humiliation and mockery: now for a little amusement for some of the soldiery, a little entertainment for some of the crowd. Jesus is laid bare, made naked, accompanied by the inevitable catcalling from the crowd and raucous ribaldry of the soldiers. The carving shows that this is the moment of the soldier’s performance. They gave centre stage and have perfected their routine over countless public displays. They are the stars of the show and today they are particularly well prepared having acquired the taste for the mockery of this particular prisoner when they dressed him in a soldier’s clock, counterfeiting a kingly robe, and pressed on his head a crown made from long, flexible, thorny twigs. Jesus’ blinding headache has persisted ever since.
Naked, the Incarnate G-d entered into humanity: naked, Jesus now begins the final stage prior to his death.”
Timothy Radcliffe in Stations of the Cross adds; (Station of the Cross by Timothy Radcliffe)
“Jesus is striped of all his clothes. On the cross he will be naked. Genesis tells us that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became aware that they were naked, and they were ashamed. Why were they suddenly ashamed? Having eaten of the fruit, they look at each other with new eyes. They have each become an object in the eyes if the other person to be assessed and judged… Jesus is close to us then, sharing our nakedness, and bearing our shame, mocked apparently a failed Messiah. The gospels quote Psalm 22: “I can count all my bones- they stare and gloat over me- they divide my garments among them,- and for my raiment they cast lots” Even the clothes of Jesus are mere booty, to be spared between the soldiers to supplement their pay. They are part of his ‘net value.’ The Son of the Most High G-d is treated as a piece of property, redeeming all those who are bought and sold, from footballers to sex workers. Who does not have a price…Today millions of people are still reduced to slavery—domestic servants are held in bondage; people and even children are sold for sex. They too must strip and be ashamed before the judging eyes of their clients. Human flesh is turned into meat. Jesus shares their humiliation.
But with the eyes of faith, we can see his nakedness otherwise. David stripped to fight Goliath. Jesus, the Son of David, strips to fight against every humiliation that we endure, every shame that makes us shrink. He climbs the cross to win the victory for our dignity.”
I have been actively involved in the Church before I was born, I’ve been to Seminary and never before had I realized that forced nakedness, asexual assault and humiliation were part of Jesus’ experience on the cross. I wish I had known about this sooner, because so many people in our society have been harmed by sexual harassment and assault.; 70% of all women have been sexually harassed and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been sexually assaulted. I wish I had known when I was providing Pastoral Care to victims of Harassment and Assault that Jesus understood their pain and struggle.
I was curious and perplex as to why this information is often glossed over. Jesus being stripped is one of the Stations of the Cross, but it is always depicted of his clothes being taken from him and him being left in a loin cloth- which is essentially the equivalent of a speedo today. In my research I found out that some of the earlier statues of Jesus on the cross depicted him as naked but later loin clothes were often added to them. I don’t understand why we as a society have no problem with the graphic physical torture he endured but we aren’t able to look at Jesus’ naked body on the cross. I was curious if this was depicted in Mel Gipson’s Passion of the Cross because that is the movie that supposably doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the cross. There is so much torture and blood that a Dr. once did a study and said that the amount of blood that Christ sheds in the movie is around 3 times the amount of blood that is in the human body- and because of that the movie is rated R, but even that film has Jesus dripped in blood but still in a loin cloth on the cross.
Why are we so scared of talking about the pain and humiliation of someone being forcibly stripped and harassed because of their body? Why are we comfortable as a society with violence and torture but not the human body that G-d created? At the start of the world, Adam and Eve were naked and comfortable with themselves, their bodies, each other and G-d. It was only after they disobeyed G-d that they became uncomfortable with the human body. In fact, that’s how G-d knew they had eaten of the forbidden tree. They had used to be in relationship, open and vulnerable and without shame but after eating of the tree they are ashamed of their bodies and hide from G-d and that’s when G-d knew that they had gone astray. And we are still struggling with this today.
“The Parents Ratings Advisory Study, which was commissioned by the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA), found that more parents (80% of those surveyed) are concerned with their kids seeing graphic sex scenes than with graphic violence (64%). And while only 56% of them are worried about the depiction of realistic violence, a full 70% are distressed by full frontal shots of people au naturel.” (https://time.com/4135760/why-parents-worry-more-about-sex-than-violence-in-the-movies/) And that 70% isn’t talking about a graphic sex scene, they are simply talking about seeming a human body.
Now I’m not saying that all movies should have graphic sexual content. But I am saying, that there is a problem when we don’t bat an eye at graphic violence- especially against women in our culture- but have a serious problem with consensual adult sexual relationships being shown on the movie screen. In fact there is a wonderful documentary about this entitled, “This Films Has Not Been Rated” and right now it is on Youtube. And because we are so uncomfortable talking about sexuality and the human body, we have a problem discussing consent. And this is detrimental to all of us. This leads to people not reporting attacks, not getting the help they need and predators remaining in the public. And to be honest with you- there are parts of the Bible that aren’t fully translated from the ancient language into English because it contains references to body parts- and we as a culture hide from those realities. Even if it isn’t sexual. For example, there are several times in the Bible where two men make an oath together and the scripture says that they did so, by putting their hand on the other person’s thigh. But the original languages don’t say thigh. They reference another male body part. And it wasn’t sexual- it was just symbolic of the persons future and potential for offspring. But apparently we can’t handle that. We can handle rape, or genocide but genitalia….oh no. How is it that we are more uncomfortable talking about body parts and consensual engagement of them than people were 3,000 years ago?
Only recently have people been able to come forward and start talking about unwanted sexual abuse and harassment they’ve experiences. We are all familiar with the Me Too Movement. It is about people (many of whom are women, but there have been men as well) who are coming forward and speaking up. Who are no longer being ashamed of being victimized. I can’t help but wonder, if we weren’t so embarrassed of the human body and recognizing the issues of abuse that have affected and wounded people throughout time, including our own Lord and Savior if it would have taken so long for this conversation to come to the forefront and allow healing to being.
Dr Katie Edwards, a lecturer at the University of Sheffield, claims Christ was “a victim of sexual violence” in an essay headed #HimToo… Dr Edwards is a lecturer at the University of Sheffield specializing in “the Bible in contemporary culture and society”.
She wrote a joint article with David Tombs, a theology professor from New Zealand, for an academic discussion site called The Conversation.
They said the #MeToo movement had exposed the tendency “to deny, dismiss or minimise the significance and impact” of sexual abuse.
They wrote: “It seems appropriate to recall the stripping of Jesus and to name it for what it was intended to be: a powerful display of humiliation and gender-based violence, which should be acknowledged as an act of sexual violence and abuse.”
Matthew’s gospel clearly recounts that Jesus was stripped and that soldiers “parted his garments” between them, reports the Times.
It does not state whether Jesus was actually left naked, but many historians have said this was usual practice at crucifixions at that time. The academics admit the idea of Jesus as an abuse victim “may seem shocking”, but it was “a deliberate action that the Romans used to degrade”. Dr Edwards added that piercing Jesus’s flesh created “penetrative wounds”, another element of sexual symbolism…Janet Soskice, a professor at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity, said: “Jesus was an innocent man, tortured and violated by imperial powers…Linda Woodhead, a religion professor at Lancaster University… said…”Even though it’s quite shocking, once you think about it, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Jesus’s crucifixion did involve sexual humiliation.”
Why does this matter? Why if we are so uncomfortable- why not just cover the situation up, sweep it under the rug or under a loin cloth as it were. Well, because this can help victims of assault and violence. I remember once I was angry and crying out to G-d because I was dealing with and trying to cope with something that had happened to me. And I remember asking G-d, do you know what it’s like? To be hurt and betrayed in that way to be hurt? And I was crying and had my eyes closed but still tears flowed out the side and down my check, and I remember seeing, Jesus’ hand being extended to me. His pierced hand. And I felt a calm rush over me, and pushing out the grief and sense of isolation. Because he did know. He did know that pain and he was willing to meet me in it. Kate Edwards and David Tombs write, https://theconversation.com/himtoo-why-jesus-should-be-recognised-as-a-victim-of-sexual-violence-93677
“This is not just a matter of correcting the historical record. If Jesus is named as a victim of sexual abuse it could make a huge difference to how the churches engage with movements like #MeToo, and how they promote change in wider society. This could contribute significantly to positive change in many countries, and especially in societies where the majority of people identify as Christian…Sexual abuse doesn’t form part of the narrative of masculinity inherent in representations of Jesus. Naked women, however, are immediately identified as sexual objects. Seeing a woman being forcibly stripped, then, might be more recognizable as sexual abuse than the stripping of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. If Christ was a female figure we wouldn’t hesitate to recognize her ordeal as sexual abuse…We may not want to dwell on the disturbing indignity of crucifixion for the whole year, but it is not right to forget about it completely either. The sexual abuse of Jesus is a missing part of Passion and Easter story retellings. It’s appropriate to recognize Jesus as a victim of sexual violence to address the continuing stigma for those who’ve experienced sexual abuse, especially men… Once we acknowledge the sexual abuse of Jesus perhaps we’ll be more willing to acknowledge sexual abuse in our own contexts.
Brothers and Sister, let us be brave, let us be honest about what happened to Christ. The light shines in the darkness- the darkness in all areas of our lives and histories and pain and sorrow- and the darkness does not overcome it. Thanks be to G-d.