One morning this week, while reading Mark 15:12-21, verse 16 caught my attention: The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. Jesus has been tried before Pilate, and the soldiers now have time to have some sick fun with Jesus before his crucifixion. So that no one misses out on the “fun” they gather the entire regiment. I had not noticed that detail in previous readings of this passage. Did all the soldiers who were called up want to be there? Did they all enjoy mocking Jesus? Or were there those who were uncomfortable with the events but failed to speak up? And then, I found myself among them, the events of an earlier day flooding my mind.
I was with friends when some of them began talking about local news and politics. Displeasure with the actions of some of our leaders was expressed, accompanied by derogatory remarks. It certainly wasn’t any worse than what you hear in the media, but I don’t think anyone commenting would have made such remarks to the leaders’ faces. While I didn’t engage in the conversation, I said nothing to discourage it. Reading about the treatment of Jesus at the hands of the Roman soldiers, I realized that I was no better than they were. My silence did nothing to remedy the situation, just as their silence did nothing to end the abuse of Jesus.
We are told in Genesis that we are created in the image of God. Therefore, when I speak ill of another, I am speaking ill of God. When I mock another, I am mocking God. No wonder Jesus says these words in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” (Matthew 5:22)
Cursing God was a big deal according to Jewish law, but Jesus reminds me that when I say ugly words about another human being it is no different than saying the same thing about God! Notice that Jesus didn’t limit this to certain people—so I don’t get a free pass to criticize those of other denominations, or no denominations, or even non-Christians.
However, should I be able to muster up the courage to speak up in defense of the person or group being criticized, whatever I say must be said in the spirit of love and gentleness, otherwise, I run the risk of murdering the offender, becoming an offender myself. Speaking the truth in love is not an easy task! Shane Claiborne, in The Irresistible Revolution puts it this way: “When we look through the eyes of Jesus, we see new things in people. In the murderers, we see our own hatred. In the addicts, we see our own addictions. In the saints, we catch glimpses of our own holiness. We can see our own brokenness, our own violence, our own ability to destroy, and we can see our own sacredness, our own capacity to love and forgive. When we realize that we are both wretched and beautiful, we are freed up to see others the same way.”
If I can look through the eyes of Jesus, I can see God in others and in myself, and maybe, just maybe, I can honor and love God in them and in myself, and in so doing, not only begin to act more Christ-like but also begin to see the Kingdom of God in the world right now.