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The Convict Christ

Moreover, becoming a convict was not merely a role that Jesus assumed like a divine play-actor, as though he were not “really” a prisoner. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, he said explicitly, “I was in prison and you came to visit me. … [W]hatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:36, 40). Just as Christ became a full, true human being at birth, he became a full, true jailbird at death.
 
So scandalous is this fact that even our major Bible translations subtly obscure it. Luke 23:32, for instance, is often rendered, “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed,” implying a difference between the two thieves and Jesus. But the original Greek text of this verse reads "de kai heteroi kakouroi duo sun auto": “the two other criminals also with him.” Thus the evangelist Luke recognized an equivalence between Christ and the thieves that is apparently considered too shocking by modern translators.
 
For the earliest Christians, however, becoming a prisoner was nothing to be ashamed of. “Whoever serves me must follow me,” their master told them, and virtually all the apostles did time behind bars and were eventually executed by the state - just like Jesus. In the Roman amphitheatres thousands of 1st- and 2nd-century believers died as criminals, members of an illegal revolutionary movement.
 
Perhaps those early followers of the Way accepted a convict’s death so readily because they had a deeper insight into the full meaning of the Cross than we do today.

- Jens Soering, "The Convict Christ: An Easter Reflection on the Cross and Criminal Justice," in The PRISM ePistle electronic newsletter, 3/23/05
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