Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”
Of all of the passages describing what the religious leaders and their crowd did to Jesus before his crucifixion, it’s the verses above that get to me the most. The description that makes me shudder.
It’s interesting how little space is given in the Gospels to describe the crucifixion act. There’s none of Mel Gibson’s mawkishness from The Passion about the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels. It’s very matter-of-fact.
But as I read those verses above from Matthew 26 this morning I felt a little knot in my stomach.
To spit in someone’s face. To slap a person in the face.
I’ve seen it happen on a crowded bus.
I’ve seen it happen in a testosterone-fuelled sports change room.
It’s designed to announce indignity. To declare that the person to which you have done it to is beneath you. To be less than the human you are.
And, ironically, in the process, it dehumanises you. It defies the image of God you were created to be.
A crucifixion is obvious and cruel and ghastly. The enormity of the action itself transcends even the person to whom it is being done.
And for the Roman soldiers crucifying Jesus and the two brigands, it was just another day at the office. A “more than my job’s worth” moment for the soldiers who drew the short straw that morning and had pin them up.
But for the religious leaders of God’s people to spit in, and slap the face of a the fully man, Jesus, makes a mockery of their concern about his blasphemy.
I wince when I read it. I realise what it says about us as humans who spit in the face of God in so many metaphorical ways.
But it’s the damned reality of it that gets to me this Easter week. That those to whom Messiah had come to save, would demean him as such.
Which is merely proof that we would demean him as such. The point of Matthew 26-27 is that true faithful Israel, true faithful humanity, has been whittled down to one person – Jesus – and then the religious and irreligious together, conspire to destroy him, while his friends have scattered, and are nowhere to be seen. Indeed the best of them – Peter and the women who looked after him – are described as “standing at a distance”.
Spitting, striking and slapping. Hell will be full of all three.