Jesus was weak. At least according to the way we often think in terms of strength and weakness. Many believe might makes right. The one who is justified at the end of a debate, argument, or battle is the one who is able to silence his or her opponent by any means necessary.
It’s common to see people slandering others with whom they disagree, and never give it a second thought. We make those who think differently than us out to be idiots, and tell ourselves we are right. Hostile rhetoric is considered strong, and widely accepted, implemented and supported by those who self-identify as Christians. Those who take action, dash another to pieces, or “stand-up” for themselves are thought to be strong.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine mused about Jesus driving moneychangers out of the temple with whips. He talked about how Jesus “powered up” and “opened up a can.” All his talk made it sound like Jesus was strong. But this may not be the best picture of Jesus.
Let’s not forget what happened right before he tossed a few tables in the Temple. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. A donkey was an animal of peace, which was in contrast to a horse that was an animal of war. Kings rode horses. Generals rode horses. War heroes rode horses. Jesus rode a donkey.
Luke, in his gospel, wrote that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he cried. Jesus wept. His sorrow for those who were about to kill him was too much. He longed for their salvation, their peace, and their healing but it was too late. It was with this sorrow-laden heart that Jesus went into the temple. Was he angry? Sure, but his anger came out of a broken heart.
When we view Jesus as an angry cuss who “opened a can” against a bunch of crooks we may be seeing something that is not there. There was never an ounce of ego in the anger of Jesus. He operated out of a broken heart filled with love, not a heart filled with violence. What we often mistake as strength in our world is nothing more than violent weakness – that was never in the heart of Jesus, and it is never in the heart of God either.
Throughout the Bible we learn of a God who is heart broken over the plight of humans. Which of course raises the questions, “What kind of cosmic deity would ever let his heart be broken by mere mortals?” That sounds weak doesn’t it? In the ancient world deities were fierce, powerful, and didn’t tolerate the whims of mortals. Not this one; God grieved in his heart for humanity.
It is this cosmic deity that came and lived among us in the person of Jesus. The one who was led like a lamb to the slaughter. He was punched, mocked, falsely accused, spit on, beaten, and slandered yet never opened his mouth.
He was nailed to a Roman instrument of execution and taunted. Those who hated him said, “What’s wrong Jesus? Can’t you get down from that cross?” What they are really saying is, “Aren’t you strong enough?”
The answer is, of course, “Yes. He was strong enough.”
Strong enough to stay on that damnable stake that was a curse to humanity. Strong enough to look at those who were beating him with a whip and love them. Strong enough to not hit back. Strong enough to not return an insult. Strong enough to say, as he neared death, “Hey Dad, forgive those who are doing this to me because they don’t get what they are doing.”
If Jesus had of called an army of angels, crushed the Romans, and defeated those who were corrupt and oppressive he would have simply played the same tired game humanity has played since the dawn of time that says violence, power and might are what wins because that is what is strong.
Thankfully, Jesus did not play that game, because he knew that’s nothing but weakness. Jesus took an instrument of violence and power, and suffered on it in total weakness putting on display what true strength is.
This is why Paul said on the cross Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2.15). People in Rome would have laughed at the sentence. They would have thought Paul was out of his mind to think any victim of crucifixion “triumphed.”
They did not triumph. They died. In the mind of the Romans the cross showed the power the Roman Empire. It was a symbol of their political and military strength. Yet, Jesus bled and died on a cross and he triumphed, and that is the real victory. Because if the cross was the greatest weapon of Rome, and Jesus defeated it, then what power do they have left?
What looked like weakness was really strength.
And therein lies the upside-down nature of true power in the Kingdom of Heaven. It takes real strength to swallow your ego and not return an insult. It takes deep strength to bless those who persecute you. It takes tremendous power to love your enemies and pray for them. It takes supernatural might to forgive those who have wounded you.
May we struggle to come to grips with this mystery that tells us that unless we die we cannot live. This mystery that tells us until we release others in forgiveness we will never be free. This mystery tells us that weak is the new strong.
In doing so may we become weak, and may we have the eyes to see that our perception of Jesus is often too weak. May we come to truly contemplate his weakness put on display on the cross, so that we may be awed by his incomparable strength.