Good Friday and the Scandal of Christ the Victim

Good Friday and the Scandal of Christ the Victim April 2, 2021

Yesterday I re-posted my piece on Christ as a victim of sexual abuse, drawing on what’s known about Roman crucifixion in history. And for the third year in a row, I had people accuse me of blasphemy and disrespecting Christ. I am used to this now. But I am not used to being tagged on purpose in a long complicated thread denouncing me as a blasphemer, so I took a look.

Mr. Conte accuses me of writing the article this year, for some reason; he’s apparently not familiar with my work. He then he goes on to say that my article is blasphemy because Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich had a vision involving a loincloth. I pointed out that the visions of Blessed Anne aren’t approved apparitions as far as I know, and that even if they were they would not be doctrine– not to mention, there’s some controversy as to whether she wrote them or not. And besides that, even people who do believe in the visions of Blessed Anne agree that they’re not historically accurate. Mystical revelations aren’t meant to be historically accurate. They are meant to teach us something about the Faith, not teach us our history, and what’s more they always reflect something of the mind of the mystic who is a fallible human being. That’s why the Virgin Mary appeared looking Mexican to Saint Juan Diego and European to Saint Bernadette, even though neither is what she looked like when she lived in Nazareth.

Conte then got obsessed with the notion that because Christ and Mary were free from “bodily corruption,” that meant it was impossible for them to be victims of sexual abuse or rape. He said this several times, vehemently. The poor man honestly believes that being a victim of rape is a bodily corruption– that being forcibly penetrated in the vagina or anus makes the victim corrupt in a way they wouldn’t be if they were only penetrated in the hands and feet. He was adamant that God the Father would never permit Jesus to be sexually violated, only every other form of violation.

It turns out that Mr. Conte is a very strange person; he has a website done up to look suspiciously like the Vatican’s impossibly cheap Catechism website, wherein he displays his own “catechism” of personal opinions all about sex. He professes all kinds of heterodox things, such as that it’s a sin for married people to use the hands during foreplay. One commentator told me she was very upset when she came across his website thinking it was actual Church doctrine.

Mr. Conte promises to write about me on his blog, which is apparently supposed to shame me. And I don’t know what he said after that, because I blocked him so that I could meditate on the Seven Last Words  and drop some groceries off at the Friendship Room. One good observation that came out of that ridiculous train wreck of a Twitter thread was this: a commentator mentioned that “I think regardless of the historical questions this is an interesting debate. Normal torture and murder is okay but sexual violence is taboo. One could write an essay how that has theoretical connections to victim blaming.”

 And my commentator is absolutely right.
It’s a common notion that being a victim of all manner of terrible violations doesn’t make a person unclean, but that being a victim of sexual violation does. People are supposed to be silent about their experiences of sexual abuse. We don’t want to think about it. We don’t want to hear about it. We shut them down when they try to talk about it. We tell them in all manner of ways that it must have been their fault because that protects us from thinking rationally about it; it allows us to stay in denial and pretend that such an agony could never befall an innocent person. And so the victims of the worst suffering walk among us, bearing it in silence or being traumatized even more severely when they speak out. It’s natural that we should consider being a victim of sexual violation to be something so nasty that God would want nothing to do with it.
But Christ disagrees with us.
God could have chosen any means of saving us that He wished. He could have done it with a snap of His fingers or a single word. Instead, He chose that the Son should become incarnate and offer Himself to the father as a man, and in so doing offer the whole of human experience to the Father as a Godly thing. The Son of God could have descended from Heaven to Earth to become any kind of human He wished– a movie star, an emperor, a model, a billionaire. He chose to be a member of a persecuted race in an occupied country. He chose to be an only child in a culture where a large number of children was considered a sign of Divine favor. He chose to be the stepson of a manual laborer who never had much money.
Throughout His life on Earth, Christ could have chosen to spare Himself from any difficulty He wanted– and indeed, we see Him miraculously saved from the massacre in Bethlehem and from the angry mob trying to hurl Him off a cliff, because it wasn’t His time yet. But He did not choose to save Himself from being a refugee child forced to settle in a foreign country. He did not choose to save Himself from poverty or prejudice. He did not choose to save Himself from being tempted by the devil or ridiculed and misunderstood by His own people. He could have chosen a different death as well, but He didn’t. He permitted the most shocking, brutal, horrendous, scandalous death that His culture had to offer: the physical, emotional and sexual torture of a Roman crucifixion. He consented to being a victim of the most taboo thing that existed in His world, willingly.
And I believe that He did that to show us that the worst physical, emotional or sexual suffering or abuse you could possibly be endure, cannot separate you from the love of God. The love of God is for you– you, you reading this, no matter what you have suffered. Nothing can “corrupt” you in the way Mr. Conte superstitiously supposes. Your suffering is drawn up into the life of the Holy Trinity. God knows it and suffers with you. Your life is sacred, every bit or more sacred than the life of someone who hasn’t suffered as much.

Three blog posts have gotten me the most hate and anger in my entire writing career– I’m not talking about ordinary controversy, I mean people were furious with me, personally. In some cases they called me names and followed me to my friends-only page to complain. They accused me of blasphemy and hating the Church. They taunted me that I should be sued or go to prison. The first of these was when I said that a gang of unruly boys from a certain Catholic high school should have behaved themselves and respected their elders rather than making racist gestures and carrying on, even though others were trying to provoke them. The second when I said that Alana Chen should not have been bullied to death for being a lesbian. The third was when I said that Jesus was a victim of sexual abuse.

From this I’ve drawn the conclusion that there are three things you must not do if you want to be popular: you must not critique the actions of the well-to-do privileged males. You must not defend women who are victims of a stigma. And you must not contemplate the suffering of Christ in any real depth. In short, you must have a tidy, sterile, well-mannered approach to Christianity which neither comforts the afflicted nor afflicts the comfortable, and shies away from the cross.

And every time I look at the Gospel, I see that if you want to be a follower of Christ, you have to do just the opposite.

Am I like Christ? Not hardly a bit. I fall short in a thousand different ways. But I do believe that if we’re going to be serious about following Christ, we have to speak truth to power even if it kills us. We have to defend people our society stigmatizes, no matter what. And we have to be willing to accept the real scandal of the crucifixion. Because Jesus did, for our sake.

Good Friday is an excellent day to ponder this mystery.

Every day is a good day to live it out.



Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy. Steel Magnificat operates almost entirely on tips. To tip the author, visit our donate page.

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