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When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. . . . When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
“They crucified Jesus.” “They,” in this case, refers to the Roman soldiers. Rome alone had the authority and the audacity to crucify people, one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised. Crucifixion was so disgusting that Roman authors rarely referred to it. It was better left unmentioned.
The point of crucifixion was not just punishment of the criminal. It was intimidation. It was state-sponsored terrorism. If you were a Roman subject and you were in the least tempted to revolt against Rome, the brutal reality of crucifixion might be enough to dissuade you from foolish insurrection. At least that was Rome’s hope.
The soldiers who crucified Jesus were doing their work. They didn’t choose to crucify Jesus and those alongside him. Rather, they were simply obeying orders, orders issued from Pontius Pilate and implemented by their commanding centurion. Even so, we wonder how these soldiers could have nailed other human beings, including Jesus, to crosses. It’s hard to imagine more dreadful work.
Luke gives us a clue as to how the soldiers managed to do what can seem to us almost unthinkable. In Luke 23:36-37 we read, “The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’” Mockery dehumanizes the victim. If the soldiers saw Jesus as less than human, then they could summon up the will to nail him to a cross.
Mockery also dehumanizes the mocker, however. When we make fun of others, we diminish ourselves. We become less kind, less openhearted, less compassionate, less relational, and, therefore, less human.
Our work can do this to us, and not just the work of crucifixion, but any work that dehumanizes others. If we see the people we manage as cogs in the wheel of our company, then both they and we are deprived of our full humanity. If we see customers only as buyers to be manipulated for financial gain, rather than people to be served, then both our customers and ourselves are dehumanized.
Yet, with God’s help, we can learn to see people from our workplace as people, as those created in God’s own image and therefore worthy of respect. We can be like the centurion, who, in Luke 23:47, managed to break out of his work-inspired stupor and see Jesus with new eyes. May God grant us the grace to maintain open hearts to those we encounter in our work. May we see them as they really are, sacred creatures bearing God’s own image.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Does your work ever tempt you to dehumanize someone? If so, in what way?
Does your work ever dehumanize you? If so, in what way?
What helps you to see your colleagues, your superiors, those you manager, your customers, and even your competitors as human beings created in God’s image?
Gracious God, how thankful we are that our work is not like that of the Roman soldiers. Yet, Lord, there are times when we are tempted to dehumanize others, perhaps through making fun or gossip, perhaps through seeing them as less than who they really are. Forgive us, Lord, when we dehumanize others, and therefore dehumanize ourselves. Give us open hearts to you and the people you bring into our lives through our work. May we treat them as people who reflect your image. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Reconciling the Whole World (2 Corinthians 5:16–21)
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