Christian often focus on the intense physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross. During crucifixion, a victim’s body was torn with nails and his limbs stretched, as he slowly suffocated. Think of Matthias Grunewald’s angular, contorted Jesus.
The gospel writers pay little attention to Jesus’ pain. They understood that Romans reserved crucifixion for slaves and rebels. Crosses displayed Roman power while humiliating anyone bold enough to challenge it. Jesus’ suffering is social and political, not merely physical.
Luke’s account of the crucifixion is organized to highlight just this point. He places the mockery of the crowd at the center of a chiasm:
A. Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus’ cross, 23:26
B. Women follow Jesus, beating their breasts, 23:27-31
C. Criminals crucified with Jesus, 23:32-33
D. Jesus forgives mockery and abuse, 23:34-38
C’. One criminal mocks Jesus, the other believes, 23:39-43
B’. Events of Jesus’ death lead crowd to beat their breasts; women stand at a distance, 23:44-49
A’. Joseph of Arimethea puts Jesus in his own tomb, 23:50-56
The mockery doesn’t stand. At Jesus’ trial, “the people” joined the rulers to demand His death. At the cross, though, Simon and Joseph take Jesus’ side. One of the crucified criminals believes. When Jesus dies, “the multitudes” return to the city beating their breasts in fear and sorrow.
By forgiving His abusers, Jesus shatters the alliance of Romans, people, and chief priests. By showing mercy, He turns political shame into triumph and turns mockery into repentance.