Photo: Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Westchester, Illinois
© Daniel Plasman
Today is Good Friday, a day holy enough to warrant the closing of the New York Stock Exchange. On Good Friday, a Jew named Jesus of Nazareth was executed by the Roman government. He was charged with disturbing the peace, inciting the crowds, threatening the power of Rome. All of it true.
Rome, like all superpowers, knew how to take care of troublemakers. Though they didn’t employ water-boarding or electric shock or needle injections under the fingernails or drone attacks on civilian populations, they did have crucifixions. Jesus didn’t just die, he died in a publicly humiliating way. He was crucified.
As Jesus died, the Roman soldiers divided up his net worth, his clothing, among themselves. Because Jesus’ robe was a seamless garment, making it more valuable than one sewn together from two pieces, the soldiers opted to gamble for this coveted prize.
Like all the condemned who were publicly crucified, Jesus was stripped of his clothing. For reasons of modesty, nearly all the paintings of the crucifixion show Jesus’ waist wrapped with a loin cloth. It’s hard to imagine, however, Roman soldiers allowing a condemned man this last shred of dignity. Jesus probably died as naked as the day he was born. Genitals fully exposed. Nothing covered.
By including this detail, the gospel writers establish a clear connection between Jesus and the lament of the psalmist, “I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and gamble for my clothing” (Psalm 22:17-18).
The irony of misplaced values is obvious — soldiers gambling over Jesus’ clothes while killing the person who once wore them. The irony of misplaced values today, however, isn’t always as obvious; when it is, one can choose to ignore it.
How else do we explain the inordinate amount of time and energy we put into acquiring things we really don’t need or want? Why as a nation are we satisfied with substandard inner city schools yet produce war weapons of the highest quality? More than thirty cents of every federal income tax dollar goes to supporting our militarism. Knowing the Sermon on the Mount, how do we justify the rich and powerful dividing up the wealth while the poor and the most vulnerable groan on their crosses? Are we so different from the Roman soldiers when we strip away the dignity of those of other sexual orientations or of people who pray to the God they call Allah or Krishna?
Today is Good Friday. Jesus died stripped naked, which is pretty much how he lived.