“He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”
“There was no more terrible death than death by crucifixion. Even the Romans themselves regarded it with a shudder of horror. Cicero declared that it was “the most cruel and horrifying death.” Tacitus said that it was a “despicable death.” It was originally a Persian method of execution. It may have been used because, to the Persians, the earth was sacred, and they wished to avoid defiling it with the body of an evil-doer. So they nailed him to a cross and left him to die there, looking to the vultures and the carrion crows to complete the work. The Carthaginians took over crucifixion from the Persians; and the Romans learned it from the Carthaginians” (William Barclay).
It is strange how someone hanging on a cross can inspire so much awe and respect. The distance of 2000 years from this form of public execution can soften its blow for us. When Pilate hung the inscription above Jesus, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” he made a buffoon of our Lord as He hung under it.
What can anyone find attractive in someone hanging naked on a cross fastened by nails through His hands and feet? Such a spectacle of someone dying in such an excruciating death robs that person of all human dignity. As if crucifixion wasn’t enough, it not only killed the criminal, its purpose was to kill the meaning and purpose He held in people’s minds and hearts as well. Its horror was meant to shock people with a lasting memory. “He looked like a worm, and not a man someone to be derided” (Isaiah). Jesus gave up every last ounce of dignity he had as man and as God.
This can be seen by how many people, including His disciples, abandoned Him when they knew He was really going to the cross. Only a handful of people, mostly women, stayed by Him as He hung from the cross for three hours. Peter’s denial lets us in on how embarrassing it was to be associated with Jesus during His Passion. He was a threat to their safety. What would stop the Romans from killing His disciples to ensure the death of Jesus meaning and purpose?
Abandoned, alone, Jesus embraced our sinful state in His Passion. It’s surely not the horror of the Cross that attracts us. It’s the love He has for when we are at our worst. It’s the hope that with his help we can finally turn things around, no matter how bad they are.
It would be good today to take stock of all that Jesus sacrificed as He hung upon the cross. What makes me worth it for Him to give up so much?
Let us ponder the words Jesus spoke to St. Faustina, “Behold the Heart that loves so much and is so little loved in return.”