In Prof. John Barclay’s recent popular rendition of his scholarly work on the theme of grace in Paul, he takes time to note how Paul, in the name of the gospel, confronts the worldliness of Corinth, in thrall to the worldliness of Rome—and the worldliness of my own Canadian heart.
Paul, Barclay says, doesn’t speak of Jesus who just died, but of Jesus who was crucified. He thus drives the stake of the Cross into the heart of Corinthian, and Roman, and Canadian values: the love of power and prestige.
For crucifixion was used to humiliate irritants to Rome as a gruesome warning to everyone else to stay in line, to remember who was boss and who would always be boss. Disobedient slaves and provincial rebels were frequent victims, “deliberately elevated high, both for public visibility and to mock their claims to power. In this parody of elevation, the crucified were pinned helpless and naked. Gradually losing bodily control, they were shamed and degraded, rendered subhuman, their corpses normally left as meat for the vultures or crows” (117).
Jesus, mocked by soldiers, priests, officials, and trolls, yet mocks Rome—from the Cross!
For he was no disobedient slave, but the Suffering Servant perfectly performing the will of his Lord. He was no provincial rebel, but the one whose kingdom was not of this world and who would soon ascend to the right hand of Majesty to rule the globe. Of course, as such he was indeed a disobedient slave of Rome and a provincial rebel toward Rome. But he had greater business to do and a much, much higher loyalty.
Jesus thus truly deserved to be lifted high, albeit on a throne, not a cross. It was his stupendous strength of loving purpose that held him there, not Roman nails, not Roman power—and protected the world that tortured and murdered him from God’s own fury.
He was not a shamed subhuman, but the transcendently Human One, the very Son of Man, fulfilling the highest role a human has ever played.
His cross did not symbolize Rome’s enduring domination. It became instead the greatest, most honoured symbol in human history as the sign of the impending global triumph of, not Rome, but Jesus Christ.
His flesh would feed others, yes, but not as carrion. His body would feed the world as heavenly, life-giving bread, and his blood would bring us the water of life, the wine of joy.
On the margins of the margins of the margins—a crucified one outside the small capital of a minor province of a disappeared empire—is the Centre, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Here is strength and honour and all good things.
Here, Corinth and Rome—you fools!
Here, John—you fool.