The following post deals with issues of sexual assault, abuse, and rape. It also contains theological speculation that may be discomforting or upsetting to some readers.
A few years ago, I was in a religious studies class where the professor proclaimed to the class that “Passion of the Christ is a fine movie, but it doesn’t go far enough!”
What he meant by this was that the movie didn’t show nearly enough of Christ’s suffering to be accurate to the Biblical portrayal. According to my professor, Jesus suffered in every way imaginable to account for the sins of this world. As Christ took upon himself our shame in the form of physical suffering, he experienced the full weight of the evils humanity was and is capable of.
He said that Christ was not only beaten, but mocked, belittled, and sexually harassed. When the Roman guards “stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him” in Matthew 27:28 (it’s a purple robe in Mark 15:17), they were sexually harassing him by forcing him to stand naked in front of them while they ridiculed him as “King of the Jews.”
Now, the purpose of the portion of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion has a few interpretations, but they all focus on the fact that Jesus was shamed as a false King in the process of revealing himself as the true Lord and King of all creation, the act of humbling himself both there and on the cross being an enactment of the Kingdom of God.
But that wasn’t what I originally thought when my professor said this.
And at this point I want to give one more warning about the content and discussion that follows. I’m going to be talking about a hypothetical issue of faith that could possibly upset and offend quite a few people. I’m taking, from what I understand, a very unorthodox look at Christ and I want to give you the option to stop reading if you do not want to engage in speculative theology that will likely be controversial.
Initially I thought my professor was implying the Romans had raped Jesus. And as a Christian, this idea seemed so antithetical to everything Jesus is about. It’s the same reason many Christians reacted so strongly to The Da Vinci Code and the discovery of the “Tomb of Jesus” said to contain his wife and child.
Jesus, as the Son of God, full God and fully Man, is free of sin and blemish. He was tempted throughout his life and ministry on Earth in all the ways we as humans are, but the reason he was able to take on all our sins and transgressions was his status without sin.
Even the idea of Jesus having a wife and child goes against this, as Jesus came to save every human being from the weight of sin and he didn’t play favourites by marrying one particular human or spawning the son of the Son of God. We are all the Bride of Christ (2 Cornithians 5:12) and he has made us clean to we may enter the Kingdom as God’s pure, virgin bride.
So of course the idea that Jesus was somehow sexually violated went against this whole idea, that if he was molested and/or raped, this flew in the face of his divinity and status as sacrificial lamb for our sins.
But then… I thought about this a bit more. Why is this considered a sin? Of course the Bible is pretty clear about sexual sin and throughout history we have always thought of the victims of sexual assault and rape as being blemished, losing what makes them “pure.”
But going back to everything that Jesus suffered through for the sake of the world, what makes this one act stand out, really? When he is beaten, he doesn’t take on the sin of the beater. When he is mocked, he is not guilty of slander. So if he is violated, against his will, why is he suddenly guilty of sexual deviancy?
Now I want to make it clear, I’m not saying Jesus was in fact raped. If anything, it’s noteworthy how explicit the Gospels are about everything he suffered so if he was, it would likely have shown up in the text to some degree. But I think this is an important train of thought because it makes me think about why we treat rape as so different from every other sin.
And I need to clarify I am not an expert in this topic. I am not qualified, by profession or knowledge, to talk in depth about rape and sexual abuse. I can only talk about we see and treat victims, particularly within the church.
No matter how much we may sympathize with a victim, there is still an implication that the person, through no volition of their own, has lost their purity, is now dirty and used. That, even when they are attacked, they are somehow complicit. I know I have thought this many times, that one way or another, a person who is raped is somehow guilty. That they are now covered in sin.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
From some reason, we equate virginity and sexual innocence with purity. God, in all His actions, shows us that one is clearly more important than the other. Virginity cannot be reclaimed and sexual acts cannot be undone. But purity isn’t solely dependent on genitalia. Through Christ, purity can be reclaimed. Through Christ’s sacrifice, we can all be purified and made whole. This is how we become his bride, not through our own action or merit, but by his actions. By his wounds we are made whole.
So again, what if Jesus was indeed violated by the Roman soldiers? If we can truly distinguish where the guilt of the act of rape lies, how would this affect his sinless status?
In truth, I don’t have an answer. Maybe I’ve made some egregious theological error and this hypothesis doesn’t take into account a lot of important factors of related to the Trinity and homoousios. But I believe this idea is worth considering, just so we can take a hard look at how we view and treat rape victims within the church.
It’s no secret many, many Christians (myself still included) have been guilty of shunning those who have been violated and assaulted. So maybe we have to imagine Christ as one of those people in order for us to start following his teaching that whatever we do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, we do for him.