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‘Those Who Passed By’: a Good Friday Reflection by Taylor Carey



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Mark 15:29-32

In a culture which grasps rather than attends, and abstracts rather than embodies, we have a problem with human weakness. We are, in fact, disgusted by it, for it shatters our illusion of omnipotence. And the trouble is that we prefer the fiction.

And so we project our disgust onto everyone and everything that dares remind us of our inescapable messiness, limits, and diversity. ‘We hate the poor’ (or words to that effect), said a provocative advertisement on Market Street some weeks ago. And the truth is that too much of our culture, including much of what passes for our religion, can find nothing but contempt for those who would muddy the crystalline waters of our imagined perfection; those who persist in being poor, female, mentally ill, gay, or just in disagreement with us. We heap our disgust onto them. But this is a terrible continuation of a costly fiction. Projective disgust involves ‘the displacement of self-repudiation’ onto those too vulnerable to wrench themselves from their cross.[1]

‘Those who passed by hurled insults at him’. If our most cherished fiction is our total self-reliance, our untrammelled ability to manipulate the tool shed we call ‘the environment’, is it then surprising that so many regard the image of a helpless God, nailed to a tree, as offensive and disturbing? Yet, this is where God is to be found, and found as most totally being God. The Cross is not some mechanical process of celestial justice; it is – radically – the outworking of God’s inner nature. He is to be found most supremely in the very depths of rejection and despair. And Christian thinkers like Martin Luther and St John of the Cross have recognised the need for us to spend time kneeling there with Him, letting our own projects and projections break against the gnarled wood of that blessed tree. Here is the ‘fairest of the children of men’ who, at the same time, in the words of Isaiah, has ‘no beauty or majesty to attract us to him’.[2] The beautiful, disgusting God.

We stand today beside a testament to the madness of a humanity so enraptured by its self-sufficiency that it cannot recognise the very basis upon which human dignity and community are forged. The memory of Patrick Hamilton, taunted and burned here, forces us to recognise our own habits of projective disgust. If, as the American writer Marilynne Robinson puts it, ‘community…consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know’, we must surely recognise the centrality to any society of a properly humanising education, one that introduces challenge and diversity, whilst cultivating generosity and trust.[3] One that looks beyond the obviously impressive, to those neglected fenlands of beauty hidden in every face and behind every eye.

Walt Whitman once wrote some beautiful words to this effect. He said:

There is, in sanest hours, a consciousness, a thought that rises, independent, lifted out from all else, calm, like the stars, shining eternal. This is the thought of identity — yours for you, whoever you are, as mine for me.  [4]

For Whitman, as for so many who have knelt before the Cross, Christ’s call from the depths of His agony will only be answered when that vision of the unique human spirit – loved into existence and charged with God’s grandeur – is put at the heart of our lives together. When the outcast, the stranger, the weak, and the lonely are brought in; when we truly inhabit ourselves again, radically attuned to the sheer inexhaustibility of God’s love, in the very midst of our frailty and weakness.

This is the wish of a God who gives Himself upon the Cross that He might be All in All. Many pass by and hurl insults at Him. But let us stay here with Him, that we might gaze upon the depths of His beauty.




[1] Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton, 2010), p.33.

[2] Psalm 45:2 and Isaiah 53:2 respectively. In the current form of the Divine Office, the latter forms the antiphon for the former during Holy Week Vespers. For a (truly) beautiful reflection and exposition on this paradoxical theme, see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, ‘The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty’ (2002)

[3] Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books (London, 2012), p.21.

[4] Walt Whitman, ‘Democratic Vistas’, in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia, 1882), pp.239-240.

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