A non-religious interpretation
If one isn't Christian, can the crucifixion of Jesus carry a message?
Most history scholars agree that Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, outside Jerusalem, around the year AD 30. This brutal act only happened once but is commemorated every year by millions around the world as a redemptive deed for mankind endured by a supposedly immaculately conceived son of God. Some cultures even re-enact it, with people choosing to be crucified, although they are taken down from their cross before they die.
If one isn’t Christian, can the crucifixion of Jesus still carry a message?
I think so, and here it is.
Let me assume for the sake of this article, that Jesus was a Jewish spiritual leader, but not immaculately conceived. He was a real man, with DNA from Mary and Joseph. Somehow, he became what modern people call enlightened. His teachings comforted the common people and annoyed most of the Jewish religious elite and the Romans. So he was crucified, an unfortunately common event in the time of the Roman Empire.
Although I wouldn’t call myself a Christian, the crucifixion of Jesus still “speaks” to me. The words he spoke while he suffered hold messages. They tell me how to live when life gets hard for me, or other people I’m involved with.
The slow process of crucifixion is about suffering and death. It’s not like being shot: bang and you’re dead. It involves public exposure, excruciating and sustained pain, blood loss, dizziness, nausea, flesh being torn, bones dislocating, a sense of suffocation, and despite all this, an immense human desire to keep breathing in order to stay alive until it all gets too much to bear.
Then you surrender, willingly, to death.
Biblical records state that Jesus said seven things during the crucifixion process. They are worth examining.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. A reminder that those who hurt us are hurting too, although they don’t know why. Perhaps our suffering will help them see their own. Or not, of course.
Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. Perhaps death is a doorway rather than an end.
Woman, behold, they son! And to his disciples he said, Behold, thy mother! Two messages here: fully face the anguish of those we love, and care for those who are grieving.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? When suffering, we can look momentarily outside ourselves for deliverance. But “God”, “Father”, “Universal Oneness” (or whatever name you choose) forsakes us (leaves us, disappears, dissolves into nothing) if we perceive it as something outside of ourselves, not our total beingness (to put it awkwardly).
I thirst. We’re human. We have physical needs. Explain what we need when we are suffering. And listen to those who are suffering. What do they need that we can give them?
It is finished. Acceptance. Simple, pure acceptance.
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Physical bodies die but spirit, which suffuses the materiality of our being and comprises all things, doesn't.
After these words, Jesus died on the cross, although there are some who believe he survived the ordeal and lived out his life elsewhere. The BBC has produced a documentary presenting an interesting case that Jesus was not only a Jewish spiritual teacher who survived his crucifixion but was also a Buddhist monk. This seems more possible to me than that he was immaculately conceived. It’s worth viewing.
Jesus’s crucifixion is a yearly reminder to me to surrender to what life is giving me. Of course, if I could avoid crucifixion I would. Given the chance, I’d run and hide from the authorities. I’m not advocating asking for suffering, but when it comes, as surely it will, I hope to accept it as willingly and graciously as Jesus finally did.
We all have a cross to bear. The cross of Jesus is symbolic of the suffering life inevitably presents to all of us.
He showed us how to transcend suffering by accepting it.
He was both flesh and spirit, human and divine, as we all are.
With love, Marlane