TW: There are some mild references in this blog to sexual abuse and rape which you may find disturbing. Please use your discretion in reading further. Peace be with you, and blessings should you need them.
Have you ever wondered why the Romans dressed Jesus up, only to put his clothes back on him? Seems a little strange don’t you think? Have you ever considered this means Jesus was stripped naked three times over, in public circumstances, for an intensely private man from an intensely private culture. He was beaten naked. I doubt his genitals were avoided. What would we call this, if not sexual abuse? The question posed by this book, is how far did the abuse go?
In a way, that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t say that to diminish it, I found it incredibly compelling in the potential presented (importantly, nothing claimed as fact) for Jesus as a victim of rape in the Roman praetorium, and it made sense of a lot of things for me that didn’t quite sit right before. This is shocking. I fully accept for some people it is a step too far, and that is absolutely your right to feel that way. Just, stay with me a moment though, please.
The sensitivity with which this book spoke about real survivor issues was just so touching. It radiated from every page, almost visible like the warmth from a candle. When I read about Thomas needing to touch Jesus’ hands to believe, and that being related to victims of rape having to undergo rape kits in the aftermath of their traumatic experience as part of their ‘proof’, I got that completely. When the book wondered if any reference to Jesus being a victim of rape had to be erased because that would make him less believable in our collective psyche, I got that completely too. How many women take the stand in rape cases knowing the actual person on trial for the truth is them? If they get that far …
I know there are concerns that this is a can of worms we really don’t want to open. Women I massively respect and care about have shared that view, and I want to honour that. This is a hugely sensitive subject with massively personal resonances that we must engage with carefully and prayerfully – or perhaps choose not to at all. Women’s experiences are being eroded all around us, and to bring focus on Jesus as a victim of sexual violence at a time when women are crying out to be heard on the issue may well have been a little unfortunate in the timing. That isn’t anyone’s fault, just the way it happened. My view, for what it is worth, is that if anyone of any gender expression has been subject to the power violation that underpins sexual violence, then embracing their need is a more urgent response than the political agenda of Feminism. But the latter must still be championed. Nothing is ever simple, but love is greater than struggle. I hope we can find a way to better balance the two demands.
Because for some of us, this is the most healing, the most true, the most empowering, the most engaging, the most direct and the most beautiful book that has drawn us the closest to Jesus we have been in years. And I repeat, in a way, the detail of what did or didn’t happen in that Praetorium, or how we interpret the penetration of nails into Jesus’ skin, or how we define enforced public nakedness, isn’t what matters. What matters is that we can have the conversation. What matters is that the potential for Jesus’ voice to be heard as part of the #MeToo movement is being recognised. What matters is that all of the noise in my head around my own experiences, life story and the somewhat radical theology I have developed to make sense of it all has just been reflected back to me in a book and I thank God for it.
And if you disagree, that’s ok. You are loved, and I thank God for you too.
Peace be with you