35″If he is the Messiah, let him save himself.”
“Build that wall! Build that wall”
“Go back to where you came from.”
“Pack your bags! Pack your bags!”
On the heels of a divisive and highly contested election season in the U.S., we are seeing mocking and taunting on a grand scale: on playgrounds, college campuses, airports, shopping malls, in social media and the streets.
I was taught that the way to fight playground mockers was to recite this: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I hate to say this, but it’s a lie. Words and name-calling do hurt. The intent behind the words hurt. They diminish the humanity of everyone involved-including the mocker.
This passage of scripture, if nothing else, is a snapshot of the mocking and taunting experienced by Jesus while he was physically vulnerable, hanging nearly naked on a cross.
“The leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”…
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,
and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
And finally, one of the criminals who was hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
In this passage, there are more details about the mocking than the actual crucifixion itself.
Each of these taunts challenges Jesus’ identity. They mirror Satan’s temptations in the desert that begin with: “If you are the Son of God.”
At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and at the end of his life, his identity, who he was, was mocked and challenged. Ironically, at precisely the same moment, his identity was revealed-through his response.
Jesus was the Messiah-the one who DOESN’T save himself SO THAT he can save others, including those who mocked him. His identity isn’t shaped by what the mockers say about him. Neither is it shaped by putting himself over and against them. Instead, he paves a holy third way outside the bounds of hate and rivalry-a way that is for both the mocked and the mocker.
Now it’s important to point out where Jesus is positioned in the midst of all this. He has taken sides; he is hanging on the cross next to other victims. He stands firmly on the side of the oppressed. What’s unique about his response is that, while he’s on the side of the mocked, and against mocking, he is not over and against the mockers. In a miraculous way, he has sided with the victim while forgiving the victimizer.
I don’t know how to do this. Sometimes I don’t even want to. I was taught that to stand up for myself and those being marginalized means to stand against oppression. I still firmly believe this. To demonize the oppressor makes this task even easier. But I also know that the call of the Gospel requires us to seriously live with this tension-to love your enemy and even to forgive them. People who oppress and marginalize others feel like enemies to me. My question and journey brings me to this: Can I stand against and still forgive?
As people who closely identify with Jesus, what authenticates our identity is clear. It’s how we enflesh the love of God-how we stand on the side of the oppressed, even unto death, while not standing against the oppressor. Jesus says, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Is Jesus really advocating for them? Really? I’m not sure how that is even possible and yet, there it is in black and white. Can we advocate for and defend the marginalized, even while forgiving the marginalizer? Let us pray that Jesus continues to show us the way.
Rev. Lina Thompson
Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Longtime Friend and former Board Chair, Street Psalms