Wednesday, 31 March 2021

The Death of Jesus v the Death of Socrates

The death of Socrates is very different from the death of Jesus. Socrates dies with equanimity, almost elegance. With a bit of philosophizing, he helps others see the necessity of his death, and so he then dies with great dignity. This is very different from Jesus. Jesus sweats blood. Forget the question of whether that is physically possible. It's a great metaphor for Jesus' inner anguish as he approaches death. 

At the last supper, Jesus gives a portion of bread to his betrayer. Is this an act of forgiveness, an offering of his 'body'? (See here.) Whatever you think of that, one can't help feel the poignancy of the moment. Jesus' world is collapsing and he still offers the bread to Judas. And then Jesus makes his way to Gethsemane. He needs his friends as his world darkens, but they fall asleep. "Take this cup from me ..." The God who has been so diligently responsive throughout his public ministry is now silent. Where will this end? On the cross, with loud crying (Hebrews 2:7) and a cry of lament, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" His inner turmoil is apparent as he experiences God's absence. Jesus dies a lonely, isolated figure, and I feel our common humanity in his suffering and anguish, made intolerable by desertion and godforsakenness. His end is extreme, but we know something of anguish, isolation, and suffering. 

Jesus' death is so different from the death of Socrates. It is hard to imagine Socrates crying over anyone, but Jesus cried over Jerusalem. Jesus felt a deep sympathy with those he healed, so much so that the New Testament says that, in respect of his healing ministry, Jesus 'took our infirmities and bore our diseases.' (Matt 8:17. See Isaiah 53:4-6.) Jesus is no philosopher like Socrates. He is a High Priest offering himself in the depths of his humanity and ours for the salvation of the world, a path that leads right through the middle of suffering not around it. Jesus could relate to people and heal them: not because he was distant from them, but because he knows us from the inside. (Heb 2:14-18) And it is why we can relate to God through him. We are not leaving behind our humanity when we come to God through Jesus, but are invited into a more intimate sharing of our common humanity. We are not less prone to inner anguish, but more prone to feel the world and its pain. 

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