breaking legs for God

The Apostle John thoroughly describes the scene when Jesus dies at his crucifixion. This part struck me tonight as I meditated.
John 19:31 It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn't want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. (NLT)
 by James Tissot ca. 1890

These guys were hanging on crosses, being executed in one of the most barbaric ways concocted by the Romans. I am sure it appears merciful to ask Pilate to hasten their deaths by breaking the legs, hastening death by suffocation. John is clear that mercy is not the motive of these religious leaders. No, they were motivated by religious inconvenience. They had a high holiday to attend to and these executions were about to run over and put a blot on their religious score cards. Thus they went to Pilate, agent of oppressors, Rome, and asked him to move things along.

Religion, including Christianity, has a schizophrenic reputation. On the one hand, it can be be a community that can bring a great source of comfort, but in other situations, especially towards those who do not conform to the group think, it can also twist the screws, increasing the pain.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in response to the discrimination free blacks encountered in Pennsylvania, where they were forced to sit separate from whites and ordained black preachers were only allowed to pastor black congregations. They finally distinguished themselves in the early 1800's. The revivalist religion of Methodism did so much good, yet remained blind to the implications of the key teachings of the New Testament, love of neighbor, treatment of the least among us, and no distinction in Christ. Christ's law of love is so radical, exceptions had to be made. Exceptions were easy to find in the Old Testament as well as common sense/group think/ good manners/ chain of being/ etc.

It is easy today for us to cluck our tongues at those foolish episcopalians. But true racial equality still escapes American culture, and white American church culture is hardly different. American preachers can be found on YouTube today railing against inter-racial marriage. They have the Bible proof texts.

Religion has a difficult time with dissent and minorities.

Jesus preached that the focus should be love. He also claimed to be God. If they didn't believe he was God, why not let him be the crazy love preacher who healed and fed people? But he was a dissenter and a critic of the establishment. He overturned the Old Testament by selectively quoting it and reinterpreting long held beliefs. So they killed him. Out of "mercy" they sought to hasten his death.

When the soldiers got to Jesus, he was already dead. Religious aggression stops with Jesus.

I've been a shin breaker for Jesus myself, something he never asked me to do. But when people were down, already hurting for whatever reason, I've swung the Bible bat at them, making it worse, rubbing it in. "I know you are hurting, but God will make it all better if you simply stop doing this other thing." Job had friends just like this. They were wrong. At the end of Job's story, God tells Job's friends they were wrong and Job did nothing wrong to bring on the trial he was suffering. God did not even explain why Job was suffering. But he was with Job in the suffering.

I have apologized to a few people from the past who I have offered such "mercy" to, and they have graciously forgiven me. I have put down my Bible bat. I'd like to be more like Simon, a North African. Luke 23:26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. Breaking legs is not merciful, but sharing a burden is. Hence I try to be an ally of sexual minorities in the church today.


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