The season of Lent is an invitation to the churches, and to anyone else who wishes to do so, to reflect on the disturbing story of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament. It is one of the most widely known and often retold stories in human history. Yet despite being read and remembered so often, there is a part of the story which typically receives little attention and minimal discussion – the stripping of Jesus.
The #MeToo movement has highlighted the prevalence of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other sexual abuses experienced by women and girls in many different forms. It has also exposed the common tendency to deny, dismiss, or minimise the significance and impact of these experiences.
The stripping of Jesus
With this in mind, during this present Lenten period, it seems especially appropriate to recall the stripping of Jesus – and to name it for what it was intended to be: a powerful display of humiliation and gender-based violence, which should be acknowledged as an act of sexual violence and abuse.
The idea that Jesus himself experienced sexual abuse may seem strange or shocking at first, but crucifixion was a “supreme punishment” and the stripping and exposure of victims was not an accidental or incidental element. It was a deliberate action that the Romans used to humiliate and degrade those they wished to punish. It meant that the crucifixion was more than just physical, it was also a devastating emotional and psychological punishment.
The convention in Christian art of covering Christ’s nakedness on the cross with a loincloth is perhaps an understandable response to the intended indignity of Roman crucifixion. But this should not prevent us from recognising that the historical reality would have been very different.