30 March [Good Friday]
The soldiers took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote with passion about what he called “the transvaluation of values.” His word, Umwertung, might also be translated as ‘revaluation’. All human values had been stood on their head, he maintained, by Christian faith and culture. Christians like to say this too, but in Nietzsche’s mouth it was not praise. He saw Christianity as the greatest curse, “the one great intrinsic depravity.” It was fuelled, he believed, by a spirit of resentment: the resentment of the weak against the strong, of the sick against the healthy, of the morbid against all that was natural and vital. He advocated a return to all that was natural, powerful, healthy.... Forty years or so after his death Europe got a taste of what that might mean in practice.
The image of Jesus dying on the cross summed up for Nietzsche all that was sick and despicable. Is there any credit at all due to this philosopher? Perhaps this: at least he didn't pass an unseeing eye over the cross of Christ, as most people do – Christians perhaps more than most. We have turned the cross into an ornament – something to take the bare look off a wall. By taming it we have robbed it of its power to shock and challenge our values and priorities. This is a bigger scandal than Nietzsche and all his explosive denunciation of Christianity. St Paul wrote, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24).
For St Paul there is a kind of power in the world, and a kind of wisdom, that cannot be compared with the power of armies and governments. In our own era there have been many witnesses to this kind of power: Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, and countless others. Like St Paul, they drew their inspiration from the man who said, “To the one who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the one who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic” (Lk 6:29). This looks like weakness, but it is stronger than human strength. “For God’s foolishness,” wrote St Paul, “is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1Cor 1:25).
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