Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56, 57, 58; 145, Joshua 24:16-33, Romans 16:1-16, Matthew 27:24-31
What is it about humiliating others that appeals to so many? Words that should be bitter on the tongue are savored like sweets. We see or hear examples every day: children (and adults) bullying each other, politicians launching personal attacks, reality television, petty vindictiveness as couples separate, and on and on. On the world stage, terrorism aims not simply to overcome the enemy, but to demoralize and spiritually destroy it. In Matthew’s gospel, after Jesus is sentenced, soldiers make sport of him by dressing him in a mockery of royal attire, including a bloody crown of thorns. Yet at no point does Jesus so much as belittle those who persecute him. To the end of his life, he prays for them and asks God to forgive them (Luke 23:34). People truly working for justice and righteousness do not stoop to humiliation as a tactic. Without oversimplifying the psychology of such behavior, can we see a correlation between the need to humiliate an enemy, and an awareness on some level that one’s cause is unjust?
People of faith are not immune to desires for humiliation or vengeance. The author of Psalm 58 uses such vicious imagery it has been dropped from most recent lectionaries. The psalmist wants God, among other things, to: break the enemies teeth in their mouths, let them be trodden down like grass, and let them dissolve into slime. He yearns for the righteous to bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. These examples are specific and extreme, but modern equivalents exist. Fortunately God is not obligated to grant everything we – or the psalmists – wish for.
A desire to see one’s enemies humiliated may be part of the human experience, but Christians are called to a higher path of resisting such temptation, and following the example set by Jesus. Owning up to our own vindictive tendencies can be enough to give us pause before we act on them. Perhaps such temptation may indicate our own motives are less than noble. While humiliation is a tool of the weak and immoral, love and justice are always positions of strength.
Comfort: Humiliation is rendered powerless in the light of God’s love.
Challenge: As you go through the week, watch for examples of humiliation or vindictiveness. When you see or hear them, reflect on what these tools say about the cause or person using them.
Prayer: Merciful and loving God, may my words and actions be worthy of you. Amen.
Discussion: Has anyone humiliated you? Have you humiliated anyone else? What were the effects?
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