29and 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!”
We saw pictures of this from Abu Ghraib. And it is not even that the Roman soldiers were particularly brutal – though it was a brutal time. This same thing happened with Stanford students in Philip Zimbardo’s famous 1971 experiment. Students were randomly divided into guards and prisoners and things devolved so quickly the experiment had to be stopped. Something dark happens when people are given such power and authority over others.
It’s disturbing how brutal we can be, how far we have fallen from the possibility that Eden represents. How does a “modern society” systematically gas and murder 11 million to purify their race? How can Hutus rise up against Tutsis with machetes? How are neighbors turned against neighbors in Bosnia? How is it possible that soldiers slaughter women and children at Sand Creek? How does any man rape? There is plenty of evidence that we can be a brutal species.
How do three men chain another to their pickup truck and drag him three miles down an asphalt road? Or beat a young man senseless and leave him to die, tied to a Wyoming fencepost? We who were made in the image of God?
Why do we tolerate poverty? Why do we tolerate ignorance? Why do we enjoy watching ritualized violence like the world wrestling federation or the NFL? What is the power of violent video games? Humans are capable of such supreme works of beauty and such terrible ugliness. We can build architectural wonders and death camps. We are capable of great generosity and stunning selfishness. We can fall on a grenade for our buddies – and toss the grenade in the first place.
We are such strange creatures. Noble and ignoble. Kind and cruel. Tender and brutal. Compassionate and callous. Able to weep with those who weep, but to laugh while tormenting others. A crown of thorns.
Jesus doesn’t just say, “Try harder.” God doesn’t ask us to “do better.” The cross of Jesus is like Matthew Shepard’s fencepost. It makes us see. See not just the violence of which we are capable, or how far we have fallen from our true humanity, but where God chooses to stand. Among the crucified.
The cross makes us see. See what we don’t want to see. See ourselves. See God. And, seeing, we are carried out of the darkness into the light.