We have been talking about satirical cartoons in recent days, so, in order to demonstrate his commitment to the free speech which he supports, Brother Ivo reproduces the earliest example of an anti-Christian one. It is savage, dates from the 2nd century, and was found during excavations of Carthage in North Africa.
A man beholds the crucifixion of a donkey, and the inscription reads
” Alexamenos worshipping his God.”
We do not know who Alexamenos was. He probably did not kill the cartoonist.
We do know that to the average person of the 2nd century the conflation of the divine and the crucified was as outrageous as it was ludicrous. That form of execution was designed not only to be literally excruciating and prolonged, but so demeaning, as to be as far removed from godly presence as it was possible to conceive. It ws also a warning against following.
No legitimate prophet would embrace crucifixion and only a fool like Alexamenos would worship such a figure.
So outrageous was the melding of the crucified and the divine that it was a major point of difference between those we now call “Orthodox Christians” and heretics like the Arians, who devised a very different theology of the crucifixion, arguing that since God was so holy that he could neither be humiliated or die, the reality of the crucifixion must be different. The crucifixion could therefore only be a show, a cosmic deception – a practical joke even. The ” real Jesus ” escaped such humiliation rejection and pain at the hands of mankind.
It was this controversy that resulted in our Nicene Creed in which the winners (by only one vote) insisted on the unambiguous credal statement that Jesus “was crucified, dead and buried”.
Imagine the late Ian Paisley thumping his fist on the table next time with each word as you next repeat that phrase and you will get a sense of the controversy.
People died during that hammering out of orthodox expression of what happened at Calvary, Christians killed each other over that point of interpretation, and the defeated Arians retreated to the Arabian peninsular where, one might speculate, its continuation in the currency of theological thought would have been encountered by Mahomed in his trading days.
Islam rejects the idea of Jesus dying for our sins on that outrageously offensive cross. Muslims deny the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In a rather vague reference to the events of Calvary, there is clarity of assertion that Jesus did not die, and some Islamic schools of thought continue suggestion of a substitution, some say that it was Simon of Cyrene who was substituted.
Here is the actual Koranic text
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, theMessenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power,
—Qur’an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157-158
In short, the Muslim shares the view of Alexamenos’ tormentor that Godliness has no place on the cross.
This matters greatly in defining our understanding of God.
A God who embraces our humanity, enters His creation, shares an ordinary life within His creation, and dies the worst of deaths is very different from a God who, by sleight of hand, excuses himself from the sufferings of his children.
We now meet a very considerable irony.
The only newspaper that carried any of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons was the Sun which printed three front covers on an inside page. One was an anti-Christian depiction of the crucifixion which bore the slogan “I’m a celebrity, get out of here”.
Charlie Hebdo shared the Islamic incredulity that God redeemed us by the suffering on cross.
So here we have the same idea spanning two thousand years; the mockery rejects the centrality of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.
We hear the Parisian murderers described as radical, and outrageous.
Perhaps they are not.
It is we Christians, who are are asserting the greatest historic outrageous challenge to a world which insults and rejects our message of Christ’s embracing of the cross. That rejection unites Roman, Muslim, and modern day Atheists alike.
And what is the proper response of Jesus s followers?
Why, to suffer the insult and repay it with love.
That is the transforming example of Christ and what sets us apart, and sets us on “The Way”