As we enter “the week that changed the world”, there is always a tendency to go through these holy days without realizing that what we commemorate are historical, true, and actual events. Two thousand years ago, there was, indeed, an innocent man who suffered the most ignominious form of punishment at the time: death on the cross.
To better understand the gravity of the circumstances surrounding Christ’s death, we need to look at how crucifixions were regarded then, and how it is considered by society today.
Crucifixion was a form of capital punishment reserved for the worst criminals: slaves, pirates— those considered menaces in society and enemies of the state. It was a gruesome public execution meant to inflict as much pain and humiliation as humanly possible. The criminal is stripped naked, nailed, and is left to hang on a cross for hours, if not days, until death.
It is not surprising, therefore, that such form of public execution has been outlawed for being a cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. There is a consensus among states on this, and we see this reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Even our 1987 Philippine Constitution has a prohibition against such forms of punishment.
This current aversion to public executions, such as the crucifixion, essentially springs from the fact that society has now deemed such forms of punishment as contrary to human dignity and human rights.
Consequently, in today’s standards, Jesus Christ suffered a death repugnant to the dignity of a human person and violative of human rights. His execution was even aggravated by the fact that he was deprived a fair trial, denied any real opportunity to be heard, and was not proved guilty of any crime.
It was a death sentence wrongfully imposed and a manner of death no man deserves.
Christ’s death, however, was ignominious not only for the disregard of his humanity, but more for the denial of his divinity.
Jesus Christ —who is perfectus Deus, perfectus homo: perfect God and perfect man— in death, was neither accorded his dignity as man, nor accorded his dignity as God.
He is King of kings, yet he was crowned with thorns and died a slave’s death. He is Lord of lords, yet he was stripped of his garments and left with nothing but the cross. He is God with us, yet he was rejected and humiliated. He is perfect and innocent, yet he died for man, the only guilty ones.
In today’s standards too, such travesty and miscarriage of justice committed against Christ warrants the full wrath of the law.
Yet Christ, in an act of mercy and charity—the fullness of the law—bestowed us forgiveness, for we did not know what we were doing. It is a forgiveness he continues to offer until today.
As we go through this Holy Week, may we remember how Christ’s condemnation to a death on a cross became our salvation.
As the liturgy of Palm Sunday reminds us:
Christ Jesus though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
*** Atty. Jesus Joel Mari Delos Reyes Arzaga, is a Palaweño lawyer engaged in private practice, a professor of law, Vice-President for Legislative Affairs of the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines, Inc. (ALFI), Secretary of UA&P Law, and Senior Associate of Universitas Foundation, Inc.
In 2022, he was given the Viktor Frankl Award by the World Youth Alliance, a United Nations accredited organization based in New York, U.S.A.