Here, on Good Friday, in Matthew 27, we see the vulnerability of God.
This isn’t new; Jesus didn’t appear just in time to get crucified. For over thirty years, God became human, growing from a helpless child into a man who spent at least three years of his life in the firing line. This is the paradoxical, near incomprehensible truth of the Incarnation; that the God who appeared in fire and blazing light became small, became approachable, became vulnerable.
He wandered the desert, vulnerable to hunger and heat stroke and wild animals. Throughout his life, he was vulnerable to colds and measles and broken bones and headaches. He needed food and clothes and shelter, to go to the bathroom, to cut his nails, to cough and sneeze and belch, to the possibility of accidents or cancer or plague.
He became vulnerable to death, not just his own but the death of loved ones, of a father, of friends, to watch the tears and to hear the wailing and to sit quietly comforting. He cried, he yelled, he got overwhelmed and scared. See, there, in a garden, the man crying and praying and sweating blood – that’s God and he’s vulnerable.
He was vulnerable to authority, even when that authority was oppressive, even when it engaged in cover-ups and conspiracy, when it fabricated evidence against the innocent and plotted to save itself from a perceived threat. He became vulnerable to corrupt police, scheming politicians, occupying invaders and a friend turned informant. The Son of God, victim of whispered conversations in shadows and broken authority structures, collateral damage in the pursuit of Religion and Empire.
He was vulnerable to his principles, because they got him killed. His wasn’t a message of flower power and kittens, it claimed that kings and priests had it wrong, that their palaces and temples would fall. He confronted people about the things that kept them from God. Sometimes that lead to freedom; other times it just lead to rage.
He was vulnerable to violence, a God capable of being beaten and broken. Skin gives way to flesh, to blood and God is vulnerable to sticks and thorns and spears and nails. He becomes a victim of torture, of unimaginable pain and the equally unimaginable anticipation of that pain. His friends are nowhere to be found, his family are far away. abandoned by those who know what’s going on, isolated from everyone else. It’s just him and a group of soldiers, the swords of the emperor. He’s vulnerable to mockery, a whipping boy for people who probably didn’t care who he was, just another outlet for the boredom and frustration of men who were probably just obeying orders.
He was vulnerable to gossip. Well, that’s no surprise, I mean, everyone thought Joseph was his dad, but if you ask around in Nazareth you might hear different rumours. And then he started implying he was the Messiah, that he was God, but he was from the back-end of nowhere so maybe he was just a crazy person, but then he does hang around the wrong crowd… I heard this, I heard that, all the snarky whispers and knowing looks. He was aware of them, of course, people always are, as much as the gossips try and tell you that this is just between you and me.
He was vulnerable to politics, a nuisance to be disposed of. He was vulnerable to spiritual abuse, a church more interested in structures and power than in revelation or the possibility it was mistaken. He was vulnerable to the mob, a conquering hero at the start of the week, the latest hate figure at the end. He was vulnerable to a twisted public morality, a terrorist favoured over a peacemaker, a healer rejected for a killer. Why? Well, it was more lucrative to back the killer, and besides, everyone loves a bad boy.
He escaped a mass slaughter that claimed the lives of other children, and in doing so, he fled to another country, a country in which he was a stranger, an immigrant, the suspicious Other.
He was vulnerable to blunt force trauma and nails through his hands and thorns tearing his flesh and suffocation and organ failure.
Here is the mystery and the majesty of the Incarnation – that God became, in Jesus, vulnerable to the things to which we are also vulnerable. He stands alongside the beaten, the oppressed, the innocent, the survivors of torture and rape and child abuse. He was on the receiving end of anger and malice and gossip, of violence and conspiracies and betrayal. As Jesus hangs there on the Cross, he’s the victim of all these things the world finds so powerful.
In one way he hangs alongside countless millions; but in another… This is the Servant King, the Vulnerable God. And that cross, instrument of torture and oppression is now so many other things beside. The world is being transformed, a new kingdom is on the horizon, and those things that once made us feel strong will be thrown aside and broken. But for now it’s Good Friday and the story of a vulnerable God.
Who are we standing next to?