Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage (Colossians 2:13-15) transports me to Brighton House, the royal home of Lord Edmund, in Sussex England, 1635, or at least a mock-up of that place and time in a Saturday Night Live skit from season 14, 1989. John Malkovich plays the pompous and paranoid Edmund, who fears that everyone and everything is mocking him. Everyone who enters his room, Lady Tewksberry, the royal artist, the gardener (played by Mike Myers in his first SNL appearance) gets the same response: You mock me! If there is one thing I cannot abide it is being mocked. I will NOT be mocked! Meanwhile, the only ones who really are mocking him are his trusted servants, Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz, who prance behind his back imitating his every move. I remember one conference of the Baptist Peace Fellowship where my friend Darrell Adams was in Lord Edmund mode the entire week, responding to whoever talked to him with You mock me! Darrell couldn’t keep a straight face like Malkovich, though.
I think about this scene whenever I read Colossians 2:15. After Paul has spelled out the forgiveness we have all experienced through the cross, he goes further to talk about how on the cross, Christ was in fact turning the tables on those taunting and mocking him. It’s like one of those optical illusions, where you can see something one way, and if you squint or turn your head slightly you can see something totally different. Looking straight at the situation, it would appear that the powers are ridiculing Jesus as he suffers on the cross. Paul squints and turns his head slightly, and sees something completely different. He sees Jesus taunting and mocking the principalities and powers. The NIV reads: having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. The Message reads: He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.
While it may have seemed like the world was winning, in actuality Christ was the one doing the ridiculing, the mocking, the taunting, the humiliating. All those spiritual forces of hate and evil and prejudice and arrogance and greed, aka the principalities and powers, were in essence like Lord Edmund, prancing around pompous but paranoid, barking orders, the whole while being mocked behind their backs for all to see. The Greek word used here, apekdusamenos, literally means to strip, to unclothe, and Paul’s image here is of a defeated and disgraced king being paraded through the town naked, for all to laugh at. This makes me think of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Jesus, on the cross, as our sins were being forgiven, was sowing the new robe for the principalities and powers. And we have the choice of either playing along with the principalities, continuing to ooh and aah at their spectacular power, or we can be like the little boy in the story, who named the spectacle for what it was: the emperor has no clothes! We can live and act as if the forces of hate and greed and exclusion and arrogance still have power over us, or we can squint and turn our heads and see the situation as it really is; these forces have no force at all; they are on parade, naked and humiliated, subject to our taunts and mockery.
I think I’ll spend more time squinting and turning my head slightly as I contemplate the cross from now on. This alternate image of Christ’s passion makes me smile. Maybe while I’m pondering I’ll go back and listen to Anita Baker, who sang on that 1989 SNL episode, Love this strong, it just brings out the passion. . .I love you just because, and imagine that it’s Jesus’ love song to humanity.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.