Richard Rohr: Jesus’ Death

Deposition from the Cross by Bosnian artist Safet Zec (2015).
“The deep-time message of Jesus’ death is presented through a confluence of three healing images from his own Hebrew Scriptures: the scapegoat whom we talked about on Sunday; the Passover lamb which is the innocent victim (Exodus 12); the “Lifted-Up One” or the homeopathic curing of the victim (Numbers 21:6-9) who becomes the problem to reveal the problem.

The victim state has been the plight of most people who have ever lived on this earth, so in all three cases we see Jesus identifying with humanity at its most critical and vulnerable level. It is God in solidarity with the pain of the world, it seems, much more than God the omnipotent who, with a flick of the hand, overcomes all pain. But Jesus walks the victim journey in an extraordinary way.  He neither plays the victim card himself for his own aggrandizement, nor does he victimize anybody else, even his murderers. He forgives them all.

In the Hebrew tradition, the Passover lamb was a perfect, unblemished sheep or goat that apparently lived in the family home for four days before it was sacrificed (Exodus 12:1-8). That’s just long enough for the children to fall in love with the lamb. What could this symbolize? I personally think it is an image of the first (false) self that is thought of as good, adequate, and even innocent. It is who I think I am before I do any shadow work and see my own dark sides. It is when religion stops at the “cleaning up” stage and never gets to “growing up,” “waking up,” or “showing up” for others. Only when we let go of our attachment to any good, superior, or innocent identity do we begin to grow up spiritually.

It is precisely the beloved and innocent “lamb” that must die. We must accept that we are all complicit and profiting from the corporate “sin of the world” and no one is pure or innocent. “No one is good, not even one,” as Paul daringly quotes Psalm 14:3 (Romans 3:10-12). This is an offense to our ego, and is precisely the status that Jesus accepts and allows. This is a huge but necessary recognition and surrender for most people.

The “Lifted-Up One” is the image of the bronze serpent that Moses lifted in the desert which has become a symbol for doctors and healers to this day. YHWH tells Moses to raise up a snake on a standard, and “anyone who has been bitten by a serpent and looks upon it will be healed” (Numbers 21:8). The very thing that was killing them is the thing that will heal them! This is the nature of vaccines and other medicines that give us just enough of the disease so we can develop a resistance and be healed from it. The cross was meant to be an inoculation against all sacralized violence and hatred. The cross dramatically reveals the problem of ignorant killing to inoculate us against doing the same thing.

Jesus becomes the seeming problem and the cure for the same—by exposing it for what it is, “parading it in public” (Colossians 2:15) for those who have eyes to see, and inviting us to gaze upon it with sympathetic understanding. The prophet Zechariah calls Israel to “Look upon the pierced one and to mourn over him as for an only son,” and “weep for him as for a firstborn child,” and then “from that mourning” (five times repeated) will flow “a spirit of kindness and prayer” (12:10) and “a fountain of water” (13:1; 14:8).

I believe we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified and to realize that God the Father suffers with Jesus. This softens our hearts toward God and all of reality. We see that God’s heart has always been softened toward us, even and most especially in our suffering.This softens us toward ourselves and all others who suffer.–Richard Rohr, adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 189-192.

Sign up for daily meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.