By complicit, I don’t just mean in a general everyone-has-sinned-and-fallen-short-of-the-glory kind of way, although that is true too.
I mean, the cross reveals the specific ways that we, as individuals and as a society, are complicit in evil and injustice. I don’t believe Jesus was just bearing our sins in a general way, Jesus was experiencing the full gamut of humanity’s complicity at the cross.
The cross calls us to deep examination of our hearts and the forces of dehumanization, violence, and oppression operating around us and in us at all times. The cross holds up a mirror to humanity so we can all see where we are complicit in the systems of violence and death in our world.
But too often we see the cross through our narrow theological and ideological lens. For the conservative, the cross is the symbol of forgiveness of personal sins (like pride, haughtiness, sexual sin) and for the liberal, the cross shows the solidarity of Christ with the marginalized poor and oppressed in the face of injustice. The problem with this dichotomy is that in the conservative viewpoint, it’s the arrogant and sexually promiscuous liberal who is the main culprit at the cross, and in the liberal view, it’s the ignorant and oppressive conservative. Both sides see themselves as the faithful ones standing with Christ and being persecuted by the other.
But any serious reflection on the cross won’t let us get away with this binary. The cross forces us to see what we don’t want to see: our own complicity.
The cross keeps us from demonizing our enemies and idolizing our allies. The cross reminds us that every political party is vulnerable to corruption. Every religion has its extremists. Every empire has its injustices. Every nation has its hypocrisies. Every follower of Christ has their dark side. Every person is both complicit in evil and injustice and a victim of it. Everyone reflects the image of God and the brokenness of humanity.
At the cross, we see how the religious conservatives of Jesus' day colluded with the politically powerful to maintain law and order at the expense of compassion and justice for the marginalized. But we also see how political revolutionaries (like Judas) sell out Jesus for the promise of power through violence.
The cross calls us all out.
At the cross, we see how the dominant culture fights minority voices and squashes grassroots movements that threaten its dominance.
We see how dehumanization of those who are different from us leads to justifications of violence against them.
We see the dangers of the mob mentality and groupthink when we don't caution it with compassion and critical examination.
We see how those in power are often blind to the ways their policies are felt by those on the bottom of society.
We see how those entrusted with protecting order and enforcing punishment easily succumb to cruelty and excessive force without community accountability.
We see how human instruments of punishment are prone to error and often take the lives of innocent people.
We see how Christ's disciples fail to stay woke in critical moments in history and often move as far away as possible from the traumatized poor rather than choosing to stand with them.
We see how our instincts to defend ourselves with weapons only creates more violence and contradicts Jesus’ way of peace.
We see that the masses of people who stand by and watch injustice happen are as complicit as the ones who order the actions and enact the violence.
We see how silence is complicity and “indifference to evil is more evil than evil itself.”
We see how the failure to love our enemies perpetuates cycles of violence and death.
We see how Christ demonstrated a love that not only forgave personal sins, but exposed society’s collective ones, and in the process modeled a love for enemy that forged a new way for peace for all humanity.
At the cross, we are all complicit and we are all exonerated by Christ's love.
At the cross we are called to come clean about our personal and collective complicity and love our enemies in theirs.
After all, it’s not our ardent defense of our ideologies or theologies that make us Christlike, it is our capacity to love our enemies and wear down evil with good.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that the cross was not only a one-time event, it was a way of life for followers of Jesus:
“I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.... But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
We can bear the cross of love for our enemies because we know that love triumphs in the end. Easter is a reminder that love is greater than hate, hope more durable than fear, and peace more enduring than violence.
The cross and resurrection remind us that we can break the cycles of violence and death in ourselves and in our world through Christ's nonviolent way of love.
photo credit: "The Elevation of the Cross" by Peter Paul Rubens
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