Just a heads up for my friends who have been abused, I’m going to be rather graphic in descriptions of Roman Crucifixion and the sexual abuse that often went with it today, so consider this your content warning.
One of my readers, who is herself an abuse survior, seemed surprised when I mentioned that Jesus endured sexual abuse in my post from last night. Apparently no one had mentioned it before. I find it’s a topic that’s not discussed very much. Catholics are accustomed to the most graphic descriptions of the sufferings of Christ, yet they don’t always tend to talk about the sexual aspect of it all.
This is so unfortunate, for those of us who have survived sexual violence. Going through something like that can make you feel so dirty, it’s easy to believe that Christ’s suffering must be a completely different kind.
But it’s something we ought to face.
The Gospels are clear that Christ was scourged, then dressed up like a king and beaten and mocked, then dressed in His own clothes again. Think about what that means. Pretend it’s the first time you’ve heard that story. The ancient Romans were, as a culture, sadistic. They got off on hurting and humiliating people. And a gang of sadistic Roman soldiers ripped a Man’s clothes off and whipped Him while He was stark naked, then they forcibly dressed Him in a humiliating costume, beat Him up again, ripped the costume off, and threw His own clothes back on Him.
That’s sexual abuse.
And then there was the crucifixion itself. We’re all accustomed to seeing Jesus on the cross in a cute white loincloth, which would have been bad enough according to the cultural taboos of His day. But the Romans actually crucified people naked. Part of the torture of crucifixion was the humiliation of hanging naked with the erection that can result when a grown man is hung by the arms like that. Sometimes they did worse things involving stakes, to increase the pain and humiliation. That’s how Christ died: naked, possibly with an erection, with the leaders of His people staring and laughing at Him.
That’s sexual abuse.
We know that that much happened, because it’s written right in the Gospel.
And then there’s everything else Romans were known to do to prisoners and crucifixion victims. Anal and vaginal rape were expected parts of that torture according to contemporary historians, as a Patheos colleague has already pointed out; they were what Roman soldiers did to the people they were charged with torturing. To me, it’s not only likely that Jesus was literally raped at some point during His passion– it would be surprising if He wasn’t.
I have heard well-meaning people give a very silly answer to this line of thought. They say “God wouldn’t let that happen to Jesus” or even “Mary wouldn’t let that happen.” I don’t know what they think the Blessed Virgin could possibly have done to stop the Romans from doing what Romans did. Part of the agony she endured was not being able to do anything. And as far as God intervening– the whole point of the crucifixion is that He didn’t. This was how God chose to bring about our salvation. He could have saved us just by willing it, but He chose to do it this way– by God the Son coming to earth as a human and allowing us to do whatever we willed to Him, so He could suffer our helplessness, pain and death with us. Jesus could have called it off at any time, but He didn’t. God the Father could have put a stop to it, but He didn’t. God willingly submitted to be like us in all things but sin.
And being a victim of sexual violence is NOT a sin.
Being a victim of sexual violence, means a terrible sin was committed against Heaven and against the victim. But the victim didn’t sin.
Christ was sexually abused in horrendous, traumatic ways– he was stripped and humiliated for the pleasure of sadistic men. He was likely also raped. And He was not guilty just as all victims of sexual violence are not guilty of that violence.
And those who followed Christ and found themselves victims of sexual violence, also did not sin when they became victims. The “virgin martyrs” of the early Church were victims of rape and all other forms of sexual abuse and humiliation; there’s no reason their torturers would have spared them that. But they didn’t sin. Joan of Arc was raped and didn’t sin. If Maria Goretti’s murderer had successfully raped her before he was caught, Maria Goretti would have gone to Heaven not guilty of his sin.
This is why we need to talk about things like this. That’s why it’s so wrong to paper it over or say ridiculous things like “God wouldn’t let that happen.” Victims of sexual violence feel so filthy. We feel like it’s all our fault. That’s one of the sufferings we have to endure: so often, we feel like things from hell, unworthy to lift our eyes to Heaven, not for our own sins but for something somebody else did to us.
And there, in Heaven, is Christ, who not only knows exactly how we feel by virtue of being God, but also knows by virtue of it being done to Him when He became man. And here, beside us, within us, suffering with us, offering our pain to the Father as His own Passion, is that same Christ. That’s what the Passion of Christ is: us being brought into the Body of Christ and Christ taking everything that’s ours into the Life of the Holy Trinity– everything, including our deepest suffering.
That’s not something we should be embarrassed to talk about.
Of course Jesus was sexually abused: because He knew some of us would be.