The Fifth Station: “Stripped, We Are Humiliated”
April 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
I was given a copy of the Robert Crumb illustrated Genesis for my birthday, and, among the many striking and interesting things in the first book of the Bible, it is noteworthy that Adam and Eve immediately manufacture clothing once their eyes are opened and they acquire — like God — knowledge of good and evil.
Different cultures have different ideas about acceptable clothing (the woman’s niqab of Arabia and the almost complete nakedness of several Amazonian peoples are two extreme examples), but being stripped of appropriate clothing is pretty much a universally humiliating gesture. It was used in this manner not too long ago by members of the US military at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
I recently saw the historically inaccurate but gripping film Agora, about the life and death of the pagan philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria. The film is gratuitously and simplistically anti-Christian, but it is true that Hypatia was killed by a Christian mob (just not for the reasons shown in the film, where the moronic and bloodthirsty Christians kill her for being a woman and a scientist and a remarkably prescient astronomer). The most upsetting scene in the film for me (and it is a film full of upsetting scenes) is when Hypatia is stripped of her clothes before her execution by the paramilitary Parabolani brotherhood. “Get up, that’s it, so that God can behold you in all your filth, whore,” says Peter, the brother who plotted the killing.
Witnessing this martyrdom of a noble pagan woman, it was hard not to be reminded of the Passion story. Of course, it is much more shocking to see a beautiful, dignified, and chaste woman stripped of her clothes than it is to arrive at this Station of the Cross: we are all quite used to nearly naked depictions of Jesus. (And we know that His story ends on an infinitely more glorious note.)
Stripped, we are humiliated. We are defenseless. We are shamed (even though, owing to the Incarnation, Christianity probably has the most positive view of the human body of all the Abrahamic religions, plus Buddhism). We are brought back to our prelapsarian physical condition, but without the corresponding return to innocence. We know what is going on. We are beheld, honestly, in all our filth.
It is not a typical human experience to be stripped and humiliated by a band of malicious attackers (although, sadly, it does happen), but nearly all of us will, at one time, feel this same sense of helplessness and loss of dignity, even if it is just in front of a group of doctors, nurses, and caregivers. We will have nothing to hide behind. We can never hide anything from God, but we will be reminded how vulnerable we truly are, and how our clothing will ultimately not protect us as we lie in a hospital with no one but God to appeal to. Our sense of safety and dignity and self-assurance is only temporary — maybe only illusory if it is not derived from God.
The Jewish culture was more modest than the Greco-Roman one, so the experience was even more terrible for Jesus and his disciples than the Romans intended. Jesus was first mockingly arrayed as a king and then ended up naked on the cross. Jesus in His humanity was brought low and returned to the naked state in which we entered and enter the world.
But we don’t go along the Way of the Cross without knowledge of our redemption, so the fact that Jesus was with us in vulnerability and shame should make our understanding of His glorification that much more complete. God was with us, and God will be with us, even when — especially when — we are fully exposed and humbled.
– Eric Patton