I know, it’s been a very long time since my last blog post. But, in my defence, I’ve been very busy writing the next book. Therefore, as a reflection for Good Friday, and a teaser of what’s to come, what follows is an unedited extract;
Of all the scenes in the bible, there’s one that strikes me as the most poignant and telling.
Jesus has just been stripped naked and nailed to a cross, condemned to die under the torturous process of Roman crucifixion. His beaten and scourged body now finds itself under tremendous pressure as it hangs suspended by its upper limbs, making each and every breath agonising and difficult.
It’s an excruciating way to die—a word which derives its meaning from crucifixion—and it can’t have been at all pleasant to watch. And yet, Jesus’ crucifixion has gathered a crowd of spectators. There’s a mixed assembly of friend and foe, mourners and trolls, gathering about the suffering saviour of Golgotha. The execution’s atmosphere is saturated by a cacophony of tears and jeers, as the sound of genuine lament finds itself discordantly enmeshed with the scoffing and insulting voices of those who wish to get in a last word whilst the Teacher struggles to grab what little breath he can.
However, it’s not just the activities of human weeping and cheering that find themselves being expressed at the cross. Even here, at the place of torture and death, profiteering (mining) flourishes.
The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all mention the story of the soldiers who crucified Jesus casting lots for his clothes. Jesus’ garments find themselves being distributed equally between the four of them in some silent, mutual compromise until they finally come to his robe. The robe presents them with a problem. The mantle of Jesus somehow disturbs this faux equality; an equality which is reliant on a scapegoat. You see, this is a robe of quality, woven in one seamless piece; far too good to be torn in pieces and shared, or so the accounts tell us.
Which makes me think, if the robe was too good to be torn does that mean the other garments of Jesus were shared by tearing, slashing or ripping them apart into equal portions of scrap material? If so, this division wasn’t about acquiring some new additions to the centurion wardrobe, it was just about depriving someone else of clothing; ‘better we have rags to clean our weapons with, or to wipe ourselves with, then someone else have clothes’.
However, the robe of Christ adds a prophetic tension into the corruption-steeped, amicable division of the spoils of war and colonialism. The robe’s worth keeping, such quality shouldn’t be subjected to violence. So, as a means of keeping the peace—ironically, in the blood-stained shadow of Rome’s symbol of peace—the soldiers decide to cast lots, to throw dice.
To us, this seems to be nice, nonviolent solution to the problem; a fair means of selection. Just like us tossing a coin, or drawing the short-straw? But not everything is what it appears to be on the surface. There’s something subtle being suggested in this act.
When we throw dice today, we understand that it’s a game of statistics; the outcome is strictly chance. If you role a pair of dice one hundred times, eventually percentages should play out and you’ll role a double six. Or maybe not. It’s likely, but never certain. For us, dice is a game of probability. No one controls the outcome, ergo, it’s fair (unless someone plays with loaded dice).
But not in the ancient mindset of the first century citizen. To them, casting lots or throwing dice aren’t just the means of making a decision, but the means of invoking a god’s decision. Superstition highly nuances this game. What results isn’t chance or luck, but divine ordination. God controls the outcome, ergo, what transpires is more than fair, it’s decreed.
Apparently, in this ancient game—which carries ideas which are still prevalent today—it’s God who decides who rises and falls, who succeeds and fails. God is seen on the side of the winner, not the loser. In a roundabout way, it’s God who draws the lines between “us” and “them”; it’s God who blesses and sponsors the competitive instinctive for material progress. God, in this thinking, personally elects the world’s champions; they’re the ones who’ll receive the material award. The divine intervenes and, in this scenario, the victor will walk away with a seamless robe.
What a contrast.
As four roman militia roll dice, invoking the divine to act on their behalf and choose who should be the worthy owner of a fine robe, God hangs bleeding and choking for breath on a cross mere feet away from them. In the shadow of the cross, all this so-called “divine ordination” is exposed for what it really is, and what it has always been; men using god as a scapegoat to their schemes and dreams.
The cross unveils the truth. God is not the one blessing and legitimizing the human activity of tearing and ripping and gambling over his garment. God is not the one advocating a “winner takes all” philosphy, or defining “us” from “them”, or prospering his favourites by giving them what they desire. God is not the one deciding who has, and who has not. God’s hands are pierced, and he hangs naked, unclothed before the world, giving himself for the healing of the nations.
At the cross, the tree of life for all humanity, mankind is revealed to be grasping for the power to coerce and control, and invoking the heavenly powers to perform to their will.
At the cross, four individuals, undeterred by the surrounding sound of lamenting and grieving, raucous and jeering voices, toss dice over divine property using a twisted concept of divine privilege.
And yet over this act, through what must have been a weakening and spluttering voice, piercing the atmosphere of dissonance, Jesus cries out with what little breath he has remaining, ‘Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing’.
Just like the creation story, God speaks his loving and liberating oration into a world caught in the oppressive grip of chaos and darkness.
But I wonder, how many in the swarm about him gave any credence to these words?
It’s a powerful scene. A moment of history which highlights the difference between God and men.
It’s sobering to consider this contrast between human and divine acts; this distinction between what we think God wants and does, and what God actually wants and does.
The above is an extract of Living The Dream? (Writing in progress).
Tristan Sherwin is the author of Love: Expressed (available now)