Today: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

More than pain    (3/26/2017 )

The extreme suffering that some people go through can be beyond description or imagining.  It is some comfort that modern medicines can provide some relief to dull the pain of some kinds of suffering.

But suffering inflicted by one person on another can be even worse than the suffering of painful disease or some long term condition.  Abuse or violence or deliberate harm inflicted on someone can be terrible.  All the more so if these are vulnerable people, unable to defend themselves, or if we should actually be caring for them and protecting them.

Tragically, there seems to be an evil streak in human nature, from which none of us is entirely free, that takes pleasure in inflicting pain, and that is dead to compassion or humanity.

That might explain, though not excuse, the awful treatment inflicted on Jesus after his arrest. He was taunted, mocked, ridiculed, before undergoing the agonies of scourging. Scourging was one of the most brutal of punishments in the Roman empire.  Scourging involved a savage whipping with leather or rope lashes with bone or metal barbs designed to tear the flesh from a victim's back. It could be enough to kill a man. After that, Jesus suffered the brutality of crucifixion.  What he went through is horrifying and hard to imagine.

Justice and forms of punishment have moved on since then, yet there are still places where extremes of violence are happening, where injustice seems to have the upper hand.  All the more so when you think of the purpose of much violence, which is to break a person's spirit, shatter any resistance, depersonalise and destroy them.

There is no doubt that Jesus suffered extremely.  It is the Christian understanding that he suffered in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous - the good instead of the bad - so that we might not suffer the consequences of our wrongs. And he went through suffering voluntarily to bring us forgiveness and peace.

He did not choose the suffering - others did that to him. But he did choose to endure it and to turn it into an act of sacrifice to draw us back to God.

The whip was awful, but the barbaric scourge is for us now not just a symbol of violence, but, like the cross itself, much more a sign of Jesus' willing sacrifice and his life laid down for us.  It was a high price to pay, but he went through it out of love for us and for all God’s broken and suffering world.


Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you
for all the benefits you have won for us,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for us.
Most merciful redeemer,
friend and brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

(Prayer of St Richard of Chichester, 1197-1253)

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