For Catholics, each Friday of the Lenten season finds scores of the faithful in every church recounting these final days through the Stations of the Cross. It is a relatively brief period of prayer and reflection each week. And what stands out for many is the unbelievable inhumanity visited upon Jesus as He was condemned, beaten, forced to carry His own cross, nailed to that cross with spikes through His hands and feet, taunted while hanging there, and finally struck with a lance to see if He was dead. All the while, the crowds were cheering, jeering, and reveling in this sadistic exercise.
It is easy to dismiss this story as the results of a barbaric age, a less enlightened time. For non-believers it is easy to deny this story as a literary flourish designed to evoke sympathy for the cause of Christianity. But the unfortunate fact is that this sadistic brutality continues today.
While two thousand years have passed since the death of Christ, we are reminded daily of the atrocities that man can impose on other men. Just since the advent of the Twentieth Century, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi followers exterminated six million Jews simply because they were Jews. In the process they utilized the innocents as disposable labor, guinea pigs for bizarre and malevolent medical experiments, and entertainment for bloodthirsty soldiers. Josef Stalin and his Soviet communists did Hitler one better as he murdered somewhere between ten and twelve million of his own countrymen simply because they disagreed, or more often, he thought they might disagree. And to complete that modern day triad, add the name of Chairman Mao who may have killed more than either Hitler or Stalin simply because there were more Chinese to kill.
While they may have been the big three, they certainly didn’t have an exclusive franchise for ritualistic murder and mayhem. There’s Saddam Hussein who tortured, raped and murdered his political foes and sought to eliminate a whole section of his country by gassing the Kurds. There are the opposing sides in Kosovo after the breakup of the old Yugoslavia where rape, torture and dismemberment were both a form of entertainment and a punishment for being different than the perpetrators. The African continent has been wracked by tribal and ethnic warfare for as long as I can remember – the Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, the Congo, and on and on – and in each instance the brutality and the celebration of that brutality goes beyond any notion of war. And the latest entry in these displays of barbarous rituals are the Islamic fascists who engage in the torture, beating and beheading of their foes and produce waves of suicide bombers to murder the innocents in the Middle East and the silence of the civilized world remains disgusting.
The brutality of man lies just beneath the surface of every civilization. There are monsters out there that will encourage and feed upon that brutality for their own ends. And there are events that will strip back the veneer of those civilized societies and rekindle that brutality in an instance.
In contrast, however, there is the end of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. As He hung dying on the cross, Jesus spoke these words. “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” In the end, it is about forgiveness and redemption. Where do your instincts lie?