The Tortured Christ Is Our Brother

Today’s Moltmann Monday reading comes from Jesus Christ for Today’s World. It’s a great little book of essays and pretty readable, too. He talks often in this book about the arms race, and about Chernobyl, and I was saddened as I skimmed through it this morning that, though these events are far behind us, we also haven’t really changed. The arms race is happening other places, and in other ways. Chernobyls echo here and there as we see the negative effects of our actions in our global health and ecology. How do we respond? What do we do? How then shall we live? Well, let’s consider how we view other people, particularly people who are being harmed, tortured, oppressed, discriminated against, murdered. Here’s Moltmann, on that point:

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of a passion: the history of the betrayed, denied, tortured and crucified Christ. No other religion has a martyred figure at its center. This has evoked revulsion among many aesthetes..But among feeling men and women it has evoked sympathy too. The helplessness and forsakenness of Christ awakens our compassion, just like the helpless baby in the manger. What does the torture of Christ have to say about torture in general? Does his torture justify torture by Christians, or the torture of the enemies of Christianity, either here on earth or–even more–afterwards in hell? Or does the tortured Christ mean the end of torture, because he is the end of every possible justification of torture, whether it be religious or secular?…

The evangelists tell the story of Christ’s passion in detail, but never with masochistic pleasure over the history of someone’s suffering, and never in order to arouse sympathy. They tell it as God’s history: God with us- with us in our suffering and our torment; and God for us- for us in our guilt. They talk about the solidarity of God-become-human– his solidarity with us until death– and about the representation of the God who intervenes on our behalf.

Between ISIS and Ferguson and Gaza, it feels to me like there’s violence in every direction. I’ve heard people say some pretty calloused and terrible things about these situations, and though I understand that people disagree on the complex politics and worldview behind these issues, what bothers me most is how so many of the remarks are made with such…distance. I think we should all be worried by the indifference and self-righteousness that underpins so much of the conversation. No matter  your politics, our ground floor response ought to be something other than indifference, to be sure. And certainly other than disdain, or dismissal, or, God forbid, hatred.  If we are to respond, should we not begin with love?

Well, yes, of course. But let’s just be clear about how radical Christianity is: No other religion has a martyred figure at its center. Can we just think about that for a minute? We are some kind of strange, we Christians, because we follow a God who, in the face of violence and death, died rather than fighting back. In that act, Christ identified himself with all who suffer, all who are tortured and murdered and betrayed. What that means for us is that, as Christians, we can’t be indifferent to suffering. Because when we see someone suffering violence, we are reminded of Jesus. We don’t have to equate them with Jesus, but we notice that they are suffering in the same way that Jesus suffered.  This should provide us pause, because every time, it’s a reorientation of everything we tend to think about God Almighty. Jesus is like that person. More importantly, Jesus is with that person.  Jesus allowed himself to become like them–rejected, despised, scourged–so that they would never be without him.

And I don’t mean that in a “take away your personal sins” sort of way. I mean that in a “here to change the world and the systems of the world so that they become more like the Realm of God” sort of way. Jesus is with those who suffer personally, but this is far more than a personal thing. It’s a cultural, political, sociological thing. And we can’t sit on the sidelines and focus only on a “personal” Jesus who doesn’t also care a great deal about the suffering ones. What I’m saying is: clearly, the world in all its violence is broken, and if we follow Christ, we have to be part of trying to fix that, take ownership of that, take responsibility for that, take that in a new, healing kind of direction. We are not to make snide comments from the sidelines. Let’s be reminded of Jesus when we see suffering, and respond accordingly.

The tortured Christ is our brother. And because of that, we also remember this: the tortured brother is loved by our Christ.




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