Then Pilate had Jesus taken and whipped. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. Over and over they went up to him and said, “Greetings, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
Where have we heard this story before?
There’s nothing special about this story. Prisoners, political or not, are stripped and whipped everyday. And if not the prisoners, then some other troublemaker.
Here’s another story – a true story – just like it. It goes like this:
The sun shines in a blue sky over a small city. The place is full of people and music and celebration. Members of the local LGBTQ community march and dance their way through the streets. This is their annual PRIDE Parade, and the air is filled with flags and balloons and placards. Perhaps Jesus is there dancing with the drag queens.
Crowds line the streets to watch the parade. They cheer and wave. Maybe that is where we’ll find Jesus.
At city hall, behind a metal barricade and flanked by police, stand a group of protestors. Neither smiling nor dancing, many of them hold Bibles – others hold signs declaring eternal judgment on the sinners they call Sodomites. They are certain Jesus is with them.
As the parade weaves its way through the city, a small ecumenical group of folk – perhaps 20 of them at most; both LGBTQ and their allies – march together under a banner declaring their Christian faith, LGBTQ identity and solidarity. They are the first to ever do so in a PRIDE parade in this town. The crowds of onlookers applaud the sight – they know exactly what the religious status quo is because there is barely a pulpit that doesn’t preach it to be found.
As these marchers reach city hall, they come to a stop. They turn in unison to face the protestors and time itself seems to stop. The protestors wield their Bibles – the very same Bible that contains the story of Jesus being mocked and brutalized before his execution – and shout scripture verses. The marchers silently lift their signs on shaking arms and one of them rings a church bell. They silently pray that Jesus is with them. Their placards bear good news: God Loves You. Jesus Welcomes Everyone. The Bible is not a weapon.
Like a distorted mirror, these two bands of Christians face each other. The noise of applause and whooping swells in a crescendo of encouragement as the onlooking crowd draws in closer and joins this dramatic tableau and cheer to drown out the protestor’s cries of “Hell,” “Damnation,” “Abomination!,” “Repent!” A young man in the crowd reaches out to grab a Bible from the grip of a protestor and a scuffle breaks out – a literal tug of war over the Good Book.
Time restarts, and the marchers, grinning with relief now and shouting thanks to the crowd turn away from the protestors and walk on. This was a moment of small triumph. No one would ever be this first in this town again. But that is not the whole story.
Just a short distance from city hall down a small side street, a cleric who had walked with this LGBTQ Christian banner, is set upon by thugs and thrown into the gutter to be kicked and punched. His assailants taunt him with spitting slurs as they try to rip his clerical collar from his throat. These thugs were not wielding Bibles in the name of a f*g hating God, but they were enforcing the same doctrine of hatred all the same. If Jesus was to be found anywhere in the city that day, he was surely there lying in the street – bruised, bloodied, mocked.
This violent anger, wherever one finds it, is directed toward the one who dares to be hopeful, self-determined, declaring and demanding their human dignity, or the right to live in peace, or the right to breathe.
The mockery, punctuated by an open-palmed slap or the punch of a fist or the kick of a jackboot, seeks to humiliate its victim for having the audacity to think the system might change, that the brutality of the status quo might be upended.
The powerful, the privileged, rely on thugs to keep troublemakers, non-conformists, freedom fighters, illegals, the less-thans, the Others, in their place. Always have. Always will. In a prison, at a border gate, a lynching tree, a political rally, a traffic stop, lunch counter, school or even in one’s own home, the thuggish do the dirty work for the respectable. They often do it in uniform.
In his silence, Jesus held up a mirror. So Pilate washed his hands of him and let the brutes do his dirty work while he looked the other way. This is the everyday, banal, commonplace brutishness necessary to every system of domination. Most of the time, men like Pilate don’t even need to give a command.
Just as they rely on thugs, so too they rely on the crowd. They expect onlookers to turn away, too; to be silent, to not make a loud fuss, to disapprove of trouble makers and uphold the status quo by their very passivity and weakness because mere politeness is next to godliness. Declaring solidarity might cause offense to those who think their oppressive doctrines and opinions are worth more than the human dignity of the oppressed, aren’t they?
It is the job of priests and kings to prop up the existing power structure. The soldiers mocked Jesus with a crown of thorns and regal dress, just as the taunting thugs grabbed at the cleric’s collar, precisely because Jesus wasn’t doing the job of a king.
The Way of Jesus sought to overturn the domination system by living and loving into its diametric opposite. To proclaim a vision of a kingdom of solidarity ruled, not by brutality, but by its empathy, compassion and imagination for those who are oppressed – for those who don’t need to be told what it means to live as an Other.
Will they know we are Christians by our allegiances?
Will they know we are Christians by whom we resist?