Monday, April 11, 2011

Men Are Not Beautiful

   Last Wednesday, I got to lead a Willingdon young adult's small group for the first time. Although I had led small groups at SFU while I was doing graduate school, they were always mostly filled with friends that I had known for some time. This was the first time that I was leading a small group where almost everyone was new, as well as hosting it at my house. As things went (quite well ^^), we were doing a study of John 19:1-16 on which the sermon of last week was based, titled "Behold Your King!". One of the initial questions asked in the study notes was: "If you were to describe the perfect man (or woman) by our culture’s standards, what characteristics would you use to describe them?"

    After the Bible study got over, I recalled a poem that I had seen on a Vancouver bus last December, as part of a series commemorating poets of British Columbia. Written by a poet named Kate Braid and titled "The Beauty of Men", the poem went as follows:
"The Beauty of Men" (Taken on a Vancouver Bus)

"It is not violence, but muscle-the force to do-
curling and bent and burning

They deny it. Hide it. Rip it out
With hammers and knives and guns, even crosses
if they have to.

These are the signs of the beauty of men:
set jaw, the shimmer of muscle
eager to lift beyond any limit, lost

in the wild pleasure of motion. They will move the world
with their own two hands, force it if they have to, doing
what mere thought didn't know had to be done."

    As I reflected on this poem and all that our culture uses to talk of, describe and envision men that they admire or perceive to be ideal - whether the mythological Achilles and Hector of Homer's Illiad, or the icons of our present time. The parameters are as vast as they are superficial, and as demanding as they are elusive - physique, fame, wealth, power, prestige, enemies killed, drive, ambition, success, looks, athletic ability, property, lineage, social status, glamour, sexual conquest, capacity for alcohol, toys, clothing, vehicle that they drive...

    And in the midst of the posers and self-styled sophisticates, my mind's eye falls on Jesus, as He emerges from the pages of John 19:1-16 - having not slept for 30 hours, tried, beaten, mocked, spat on, and finally put through the Roman 'verberatio' with every indignity and shame possible heaped upon Him. I thought I'd quote John Neufeld from the detailed description that he provided during his sermon:

   "In Roman law, there were in fact, three described, one more severe than another, whippings that were to be given for numerous offenses. The most severe whippings, the one that Matthew and Mark speak about, that happened at the end, was called by the Romans, the Latin word is the 'verberatio'.

   The verberatio was a whipping that was terrible beyond belief. During the verberatio, the victim was stripped naked, and he was tied to a post, and then he was beaten not by one, but at least two soldiers with whips so that they would beat one after the other as drumstrokes would come down...I've also pointed out in the past that the whip that would have been used was a leather whip made of numerous strands and each strand would have found, in that strand, braided bits of bone, and braided bits of metal, perhaps braided bits of lead with hooks in them so that when the whip goes down and its pulled up it tears out the flesh from the victim. In normal cases the verberatio would have gone on until the soldiers, who were battle-hardened men in physical condition would then have become so weary that they simply couldn't lift their arms to go on. From the eyewitness accounts that we have in our day, from the verberatio, that whipping, we find that a number of them describe that large sections of the bone would have been exposed in the victim, and in some cases, intestines would have been left hanging out of the back. Many died of this treatment. 

   That is why, when Jesus received the second whipping, recorded in Matthew and Mark, He could not even carry his own cross, his body was simply beginning to fail Him, and go into shock...and because Ceasar would sometimes wear what was called the 'radian corona', that is the olive leaf around his head...they make His radian corona, and they made it out of thorns. Many bible teachers believe that the kind of thorns that would have likely to have been used come from the date palm, which is abundant in that area. The date palm, interestingy enough, has thorns that are up to 12 inches long. They are huge, they are like spikes. And if this is right, they would have taken this and it would not have been just prickly things, but would have been spikes that would have driven into His skull. The response would have been an instant result in heavy bleeding, and would as many commentators have pointed out, would have distorted His facial features...His appearance in the end, by the time He was on the Cross was then so marred that He was unrecognizable."

    When I first heard this delivery, I was left in silence. I am still rendered silent as I listen to it now. In the midst of the political/cultural/academic/musical/mythical personalities that we put on pedestals and ascribe titles such as "icon", "visionary", "revolutionary", "guru", "trailblazer", "figurehead", "iconoclast" "powerhouse", "maestro", the person of Jesus seems ludicrous. The idea of giving Him any recognition is laughable to those who would would point to 'common sense'. Yet as one approaches the indistinct silhouette of this figure, He swells to towering proportions over all who aspire to be given titles and remembered. Long after the Shakespeares and Ceasars have vanished off the historical landscape, the Christ and His cross still overpower the imagination of all who come to know Him - including me.

    The more I come know to Jesus, the more I am forced to ask the proverbial question: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?" And the image that appears is not me. Or any other human being I know.

And the more I know my Christ, I don't want it to be me. It must never be me. Ever.

    Psalm 147:10 says of God that: "His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who delight in his steadfast love." Romans 3:11-12 quotes Ps. 14:1-3 and 53:1-3 in saying: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." And in a scathing indictment against us, John 3:19 says of Jesus: "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."

    There is nothing beautiful about men who do not want Jesus. But there is everything beautiful to be found in the Christ, the only perfect Lamb of God. Even as His suffering is just beginning, as He stands in the horror of all that has been done to Him and awaits His crucifixion, my Master is beautiful.

May I not be ashamed of His beauty; May I not turn my face away from Him.
- The Wisdom Seeker