The Passion of Christ Revisited

Disclaimer: If you feel the need to believe in Jesus Christ’s passion, don’t read this. But if you have doubts, or you’re interested in looking at the crucifixion from a fresh angle, then this post may be something for you.

In a couple of Philippine provinces, Christians re-enact the crucifixion during Easter. They literally crucify – nails through hands and feet. Those crucifixions only last an hour or two, but it still surprises that the guys can walk home afterward. Where on earth is the torment that redeemed all people’s sins, innumerable thefts, rapes, robberies, murders – not to mention genocides? Something doesn’t add up!

How do people die on the cross? It’s not the nailing of hands and feet, it’s suffocation. When the legs give in, the body sags and the lungs choke. This means that the crucifixion becomes torture only after half a day or so, when the legs can’t hold the body weight anymore. The torture in question is sleep deprivation and suffocation. Crucifixions lasted days and the Romans roped convicts to the cross. If they nailed Jesus to the cross it was a Biblical exception.

Was There Really a Passion of Christ?

The thing is that Jesus died after three to six hours, depending on which gospel you read. How come? Good question! If the crucifixion didn’t kill him, what did? Flogging?

In this case, Jesus would have died by a hypovolemic shock – a medical term for shock caused by low blood volume. In case of hypovolemic shock, the heart rate increases to make up for decreasing blood volume. Jesus would have been prone to collapse (which he did while carrying the cross), and he would have experienced strong thirst. He asked for water once, but anyone would get thirsty hanging on a cross in the sun for a few hours. Noteworthy, a hypovolemic shock causes fluid to gather around the heart – that’s called pericardial effusion. Also, if someone dies due to asphyxiation (suffocation), fluid can build around the heart. These two factors could have been the cause for the water flowing out of Jesus’ wound.

All right, that’s it: Jesus died by flogging. Hmm … this raises two new, controversial questions:

1. Flogging was the daily bread of an African-American slave, why did Jesus succumb to it so readily? Maybe, Jesus’ flogging was exceptional. The Romans liked to flog victims before a crucifixion with the so-called flagrum. That’s a nasty whip with metal balls and sharp pieces that could indeed cause blood loss. But I don’t think that the Romans were interested in death by flogging. They wanted people to hang on the cross for a few days and die slowly. The other two men crucified with Jesus survived the flogging and the Romans had to break their legs so they suffocated on the same day. Jesus’ legs weren’t broken – a fact pointed out in the gospel. Last but not least, Jesus’ flogging was hardly mentioned in the gospels and there is no indication that the flogging was exceptionally brutal.

2. The catechism claims that Jesus’ redeemed the world’s sins by dying by crucifixion, not by flogging. If we settle on the only possible scientific explanation we mess with the catechism.

Maybe, the church fathers didn’t like death-by-accidentally-tough-flogging, because that’s not as inspiring as a crucifixion. They may have worried too that flogged people would identify themselves with Christ. That would have deprived authorities of one of their measures to keep people in line.

Jesus’ death is obscure, to say the least. This prompted some people to believe that Jesus didn’t die on the cross at all. Other’s claim that Jesus faked his death and that his resurrection was actually a resuscitation. Well, your guess is as good as mine as is theirs.

Why this fuzz about the crucifixion? If Jesus didn’t suffer that much – three to six hours ailing from flogging – how could that redeem all people’s sins? Sounds a bit cheap, doesn’t it?

How if we got it all wrong? How if his resurrection was the sensation that turned Christianity into a world religion, not the crucifixion? It stands to reason that people at Jesus’ time didn’t get excited about the crucifixion, which compares to the electric chair today. But when Jesus resurrected his body and reappeared, people had the proof (not faith!) that Jesus had found a way to vanquish death.

This raises another interesting question: Why and when did the crucifixion become the prime Christian symbol? Why are Jesus’ glorious forty days after his resurrection barely mentioned in the gospel?

When Christ’s passion is questioned, the fundamental Christian reaction is almost unanimous: rage. For many Christians, the passion of Christ is essential to their faith. They can’t do without  Jesus’ suffering. Why so? Many people turn to God and Christianity because they suffered in one way or another. It’s a crude generalization, but happy, wealthy, famous, or powerful people don’t feel the need(!) to go to church. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong in seeking solace in Christianity and many people, who resurrected their faith did become happier people afterward. The crux of suffering is that we always suffer alone. Nobody can take our pain away. Friends and family can ease the pain a bit with their presence and comforting words, but that’s it. At the end of the day, we have to work through suffering on our own. But Christianity came up with the Great Solace: Christ suffered with and for us. We’re not alone anymore, and it was God on top of it. That’s why many Christians feel that the passion of Christ was their most profound religious experience. But this isn’t a religious experience, it’s a psychological one. A religious experience is facing God and conversing with Him, not to fix emotional issues.

It comes to mind that God’s sacrifice for people may have been a marketing stunt. At Jesus’ time, Rome ruled and with it the Roman religion. Roman religion dictated people to sacrifice for the Roman gods, in particular, the people of subdued countries. Christians turned religion upside down: God sacrificed His only son for people.

Some Christians are in need of Christ’s Passion because they would return to their solitary suffering. And with that, this post is stuck in a dilemma. If it comes to people’s lives, value matters more than truth. But the solace of Christ’s Passion is just a placebo and doesn’t remedy the causes of suffering. What now? What does a doctor do? Well, he shuts up as long as the placebo works. And what would Jesus say in the matter? Since he was filled with empathy for all people, he’d say, “Use me any way that helps!”

But what if the placebo stops working? What is the true medicine to suffering? The ultimate psychological and spiritual medicine is the dissolution of the sense of separation. The root of suffering is the thought that we are separate from God and other people. And here we need to turn common sense upside down too. Below the surface of our individuality, we are united! We can’t help sharing in other people’s karma. Karma is collective!

On a deeper level, our unity is even more intense: we’re not just united, but one and the same! Mankind has a single self: the Cosmic Christ, who was, is, and will be inside us. Meister Eckart took to heart the notion that Christ wasn’t born just once, but is eternally begotten. He reasoned, “It was God’s intention to become human in Jesus Christ so that he would be born in all people. Christ isn’t the lonely endpoint of the history of redemption, but rather the universal broker of salvation, who passes his unity with the Father onto all people. Meister Eckhart made a great point in his famous Christmas sermon: “We celebrate Christmas so that this birth takes place inside us too. If it doesn’t happen in me, how can it be useful to me? That it happens in me is all that matters.”

We don’t need a substitutionary atonement (say that three times fast), because we were never separated from Christ. He has suffered and rejoiced with us, suffers and rejoices with us, and he will suffer and rejoice with us. 

We are in this together: God, Christ, and us. The universe is a cooperation! At the beginning of time, God sacrificed Himself to create the world and us. He sacrificed His unity, His eternity, His limitlessness, He even gave Himself as the substance of the world. Who can imagine the cosmic pain of His labor?

Christ has been sacrificing Himself for the sake of people’s evolution. Evolution isn’t a single quantum leap into Heaven, it’s a process. And so, we sacrifice all the time too – the lesser for the greater, the old for the new, handbrakes for evolution.

Touch Christ, your True Self inside your heart, and you will discover a solace that goes beyond your wildest dreams: You are Christ too and nothing can change that!

Picture attribution: contrat @ www.123rf. com

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