Christ carrying the cross by
Andrea Solario, 1513.
  Christ’ Passion

What is it about Christ’ Passion that moves me to tears?  Not the torture and pain He
undergoes but that the absolutely innocent and vulnerable (the He, the stranger, on the
Cross) would be so misunderstood, mistaken, scorned, and mocked; that the whole of
humanity--so ignorant and unjust--would eagerly join in the game of jeers and
conspiracy whereby the son of God is made a fool’s spectacle.  There is nothing more
egregious than a justice system (or the religious establishment, in this case) that
criminalizes the victim.  The son of God is made to be "that imposter" who is feared to
be claiming later by his followers as the one risen from the dead—after his body would
be stolen away from the grave by them (Matt. 27:63).  "The last deception would be
worst than the first," said the chief priests and the Pharisees (Matt. 27:64).  For them
Jesus' claim of divinity and God's kingdom amounts to nothing more than a deception;
and his claim of ultimate redemption by recreation (i.e., by his resurrection) is a deceit
worse than the first.  Jesus’ petition to the crying women at the sight of him carrying the
cross is very appropriate: “Do not weep for me but weep for yourselves…” (Luke 23:
28).   We should not weep for Christ’s suffering but for our sinfulness that brings about
his suffering.  It is us that must be pitied.  

The chorus of taunts and scorns Jesus endures silently at Pilate's court is too painful to
hear, not only because they are thrown at the Sacred Head but also because they reveal
the deep seated hatred and revolt of humanity against the divine, his teaching, and his
Kingdom.  What would become of us, if we are incapable of following his teaching and
incapable of entering his Kingdom?  (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, [only] they shall
inherit the Kingdom of God.”)  The prospect of human society, government, and
civilization where the divine is scorned and jeered, where the innocent is made the
criminal, misunderstood, and ultimately put to death unjustly and cruelly is too grim.  
The picture that the Passion narratives collectively presents as a verbal icon is too
vivid: the unjust and the powerful Sanhedrin, the chief priests, the elders, Pilate, and
Herod juxtaposed side by side by the helpless, innocent Christ who stands before them
all alone by himself, betrayed by his own followers, scorned by the crowd, wearing the
crown of thorns, being mocked and flogged; the noise of the ignorant masses (“Crucify
him, crucify him”), preferring the robbers to Christ, and their jeers and insults thrown at
the silent Lamb of God.  The gravity and the weight of the scandal is too much to bear.  
“What have we done?” cried one of the conscientious soldiers on one side of the
Cross.  "Truly this man was the Son of God," cried the centurion on the other side.  

The verbal icon of the Gospels in the Passion narratives shows the two diametric
realities at once: the innocent and the pure Divine, on one hand; and the depraved and
deeply flowed humanity, on the other.  The darker the human evil is, the purer and more
divine Christ appears.  The more the corruption, the more dire the need of God.  “Lord,
have mercy on us.”

We have killed God and mocked His Kingdom.  The death of God is not only a rumor
that started and echoed down from Zarathustra’s mountain cave in the late 19th century
(if it has not already been anticipated by Hegel's philosophy earlier) but is a painful
reality poignantly depicted in the ancient Scriptures already—in the verbal icon that is
presented in the night vigil before the Good Friday.  Is it possible that we can kill God?  
Setting aside the metaphysical question that has been debated for centuries, the death
of God is a fact.  We have killed Him.  The Gospel teaches that we are capable of such a
crime.  That humanity can kill God is an empirical fact as astonishing as it is
scandalous.  But this fact also cries out for the dire need of God and for his intervention
in human affairs.  The darker the evil, the stronger the need for God and his
intervention.  Only we can kill God; and only God can save us.   (The significance of the
conjunction “and” here cannot be underestimated.)

The Passion narrative is not confined to the ancient time.  As a verbal icon, it brings
forth a true and powerful picture of humanity that is totally depraved without any hope
of self-improvement.  From the time of Caine and Able, through Sodom and Gomorrah,
the time of the Judges in Canaan, King David, and the prophets, right through the birth
and death of Jesus, down to the Middle Ages, and to the present, the dark history of
human atrocity and injustice continues.  We have continued to mock and reject God and
his Kingdom.  We continue to misunderstand his teaching and deny the divine reality in
view of the empirical and immediately gratifying evidence.  In short, we remain utterly
secular, despite (and because of) all the advances in science and technology.  “Let [him]
… come down now from the cross, [so] that we may see and believe,” shouted one
bystander.  We like miracles and the magic; we worship power.  We adore the golden
calf and the establishment.  (“We have no king but Caesar,” shouted the chief priests to
Pilate.)  We bow to the royal crown and scepter, and despise the crown of thorns and
the purple robe Jesus wore.  The weak, the poor, and the condemned have no place in
our society.  We misunderstand and scorn them.  In fact, we eliminate them--rather than
trying to understand them--by crucifying them (“Away with him, away with him, crucify
him,” the crowd said in John’s Gospel.)

Given the gravity of human evil, death of the innocent is inevitable: Even the Son of God
must be condemned and die.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” --this cry
of Jesus on the cross can be heard everywhere where a bomb is dropped
indiscriminately, where an innocent child dies or loses her parents as result.  The fate of
Jesus, the suffering servant, foreshadows the fate of humanity.  We will suffer and
cannot escape suffering.  Christ, the icon, presents who we are: the victim of our own
insanity.  He, the suffering servant, exhibits our suffering: “Behold the man,” [said the
Pilot], wounded, beaten, spitted at, and mocked.  “Behold the Lamb of God,” shouted
John the Baptist earlier.  "He has born our grief and carried our sorrow," said prophet
Isaiah even earlier.  His grief is ours; his sorrow ours.  Christ, the Immanuel, is one with
us in our suffering.  The necessity that "the son of man must die" (Matt 26:24; Mark 14:
21) is brought upon by our own evil.  There is no source of evil other than ourselves.   
Corrupt and depraved, we cannot save ourselves.  Only God can by becoming one of us
in suffering and death.  By becoming a victim, Christ becomes the redeemer.    The logic
of “conquering death by death” is made possible not based on the logic of exchange
(where one’s guilt is paid for by another’s sacrifice offered in appeasement) but by the
an-archic (il)logic of “substitution,” where one stands for another in expiation and
expiration, in inexhaustible expenditure of total and complete gift and sacrifice offered
beyond oneself—to the point of death: kenosis (Phil. 2:7). That one must bear for others
and others’ guilt is the necessity arising from the darkness of evil, overcoming and
transcending the evil.  The ethics of the Cross is the ultimate response to human evil.

Just as God suffers and is killed by us, He also suffers and dies for us.  He is given over
as "a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28;  Mark 10:45).   He dies for the ones who has killed
him.  He substitutes for them and for their crimes.  The site of our crime thus becomes
the site of his redemptive work.  Our evil deed is the very instrument through which his
goodness shall shine forth and be triumphant.  It is not that the evil somehow
transforms itself into the good in a synthesis but that the evil is decisively conquered by
the good.  Evil does not say the last word, thank God.  His suffering and death thus
becomes the very site of God's intervention, where the good ultimately triumphs.  Out of
his death arises a new beginning, a new life, a new creation.  "Christ is risen.  He is
risen, indeed."   That his death would be redemptive, that he would substitutes himself
for others even to the point of death--kenosis—is the wonder of resurrection.

In the meantime, however, until the time of Christ triumphant return, there is Mary, the
Mother of Sorrow (Stabat Mater), who witnesses the death of her own son—not any son
but the divine one.  Who can bear her sorrow, her disappointment, her agony of seeing
God die on her own lap?  (“Behold your son,” says Jesus hanging from the cross, as if
to drive the point home.  How can a mother bear such a sight of her own son?)  If
humanity is so evil that we are capable of killing God (which might be equivalent to
ripping an infant from mother’s bosom and killing him—as depicted by Voltaire in his
novelette Candid), on one hand; Mary is so magnanimous that she can bear it all with
the incomparable grace and dignity, on the other.  There is a reason why Mary’s face in
Michelangelo’s Pieta—in fact in all of her icons—is young and tranquil.  She is capable
of bearing the agony and despair of the biblical proportions in the literal sense of the
terms without losing her peace and grace.  She does not age in the agony undergone.  
After all, what could be more devastating than to hold the dead body of God on one’s
own lap?  Can we believe any longer after the death of God?  Can we hope any more at
the sight of God's death?  If the death of God is the death of humanity itself, how can
we go on thereafter?  

Like Mary, we go on by enduring and by forbearing.  Mary maintains her peaceful
continence at the sight of the death of her Son.  “Behold your mother,” says Jesus to
the disciple.  Mary is indeed our mother—if we are Christ's disciples—who, as a mother,
welcomes us all despite our faults, sheltering us with her tender care, healing, and
restoring us.  As she had welcomed the divine in her youth, she as the icon now
welcomes the dying, the broken, and the wounded—all of us who have lost hope in the
hopeless world.  Love divine triumphs all in the meantime, in the in-between time when
Christ, the risen Lord, is yet to come as Christ, the triumphant Prince of Peace.  
“Blessed are the merciful…., blessed are the meek…”  Forbearance is all while we wait
for His coming in the vigil and in the liturgy.  

Chungsoo J. Lee
Easter 2016