In one of my favorite passages from Kristin Lavransdatter, Kristin’s brother-in-law meditates on the Crucifixion:
But he loved humankind. And that’s why he died as the bridegroom who has gone off to rescue his bride from the robbers’ hands. And they bind him and torture him to death, but he sees his sweetest friend [the bride] sitting at the table with the executioners, bantering with them and mocking his pain and loyal love. (2006, 449)
In artistic depictions by Angelico or Bosch or Grunewald, Christ’s tormentors are less than human, their faces twisted into hideous masks of mockery and spite.
This depiction illustrates an important spiritual truth–that we are degraded by sin, and that every kind of sin and weakness is found among the executioners in the Passion story (cowardice, apathy, bloodlust, greed, political manipulation). But it obscures an equally important truth–that Christ loved them nonetheless, that they were his Father’s beloved children.
I can’t imagine a worse fate than to suffer at the hands of one’s children or spouse. What if my daughter were to grow up evil, what if she stole from me, tormented me, mocked me to her friends? Any material suffering she would cause me in such a scenario would pale in comparison to the suffering caused by my helpless, rejected love for her.
So yes, Christ’s tormentors had ugliness in their souls. But Christ also saw the spark of goodness and beauty in them–the spark that he came to save, but which would dwindle and die out unless they they allowed him to tend it.
I wish I could love all my enemies in such a way.