Shame is one of the instruments of social opprobrium that society uses to direct its members toward a particular choice, lifestyle, or belief. Generally, we get less of what we shame and more of what we ‘deshame’ and approve.
And one of the common tools in the artillery of shame is mockery.
We are social animals who desire the approval of others. “We inevitably see ourselves from outside, as others see us, and seek for their approval and sympathy, which is the greatest of social goods,” wrote Roger Scruton in summarising the main point of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Consequently, we don’t like it when we are met with disapproval. And one of the strongest forms of disapproval is mockery. This is true whether what is mocked is our ideas, lifestyle, or even personal appearance.
There are thousands of people who have had to publicly affirm what they privately reject (and vice versa) to avoid mockery (and the resulting shame). Moreover, the bifurcation of private belief and practice and public affirmation can even break down as we change the former to accommodate the latter.
Atheists recognise the social transforming power of mockery and many of them (especially the New Atheists) have deployed it to destroy or at least weaken religious faith. While agreeing that mockery can even harden belief in the present, Tony Gibson believes that “in the long run mockery will create a climate of scepticism in which the intended victims of religious propaganda will be less vulnerable and some of the ‘believers’ may eventually come to admit to themselves that they truly do not believe such a lot of nonsense, and it is merely a crutch on which they have to depend because of their personal inadequacy.” 
The point is that mockery can lead to hypocritical dualism, weakened faith, or even disbelief. It pressures us to conform to the zeitgeist and leave behind whatever has made us a source of social opprobrium – whether that be our moral standards, religious faith, or personal virtues.
As I read the chapters appointed for Holy Week in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, I noticed that mockery was a significant part of Christ’s sufferings that we often tend to neglect. Our movies tend to (understandably) centre exclusively on physical pain. Off the screen, we sometimes also understand the emotional pain, especially as the words “Eli Eli Lama Sabachtani” fell from his lips. But what about the social dimensions as he was mocked from the High Priest’s house to the old rugged cross?
Luke told us that while Christ was being held in custody at the High Priest’s house, the men who held him mocked him even as they beat him (Luke 22:63).
They probably had so much fun as they blindfolded him and asked him to tell them who amongst them struck him (verse 64). This was in addition to the other blasphemies they threw at him (verse 65).
John Gill best describes this whole episode. According to him, they were “denying and ridiculing his deity, and divine sonship; mocking at, and burlesquing his offices, of prophet, priest, and king.” Instead, they were “asserting him to be a mere man, and a very wicked man; a profane sinner, a glutton, and a winebibber; a sabbath breaker, a blasphemer, and a seditious person; and one that had a devil, or dealt with familiar spirits.”
The whole point was to delineate the differences between what Jesus claimed to be and his present reality. If he was really a prophet, couldn’t he tell who struck him? And if he was indeed a King, couldn’t he stop them from doing all these to him?
The mockery continued inside Pilate’s palace.
The soldiers gave him a purple cloak (which signified wealth and/or royalty – see Luke 16:19, Revelation 17:4) and put a crown of thorns on him while saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews’ (Mark 15:17). They also struck his head with reed even as they kneeled down in homage to him (vs 18). The whole point was to mock him (verse 20).
Kings belong to palaces where they control multitudes of people who dance to their tune. But here was a man who claim to be the king of Jews but didn’t have anyone to command. Instead, he had been sentenced to crucifixion and he was now under the control of soldiers who were preparing him for it. “A King indeed,” they mocked. As Albert Barnes put it, “they regarded him as foolishly and madly claiming to be a King.”
The soldiers were trying to make Jesus adjust to the reality of his circumstances. “You are no king, man; you are just another man who had overrated himself.”
What made this mockery more painful is that Jesus was (is) actually King. In fact, he could have appealed to his Father and twelve legions of angels would have intervened to prevent his arrest (Matthew 26:53). He is God’s anointed one (Isaiah 61), the one for whom the cross was a glorification (John 7:39; 12:16,23).
“While the soldiers mock Jesus as the king of the Jews, transparently Matthew knows, and his readers know, and God knows that Jesus is the king of the Jews,” said Carson while commenting on Matthew’s account of the same event. Jesus is indeed the Davidic King of Isaiah 9. “Doubtless the soldiers think their humor is deliciously ironic. But Matthew sees an even deeper irony; in fact, while the soldiers demean Jesus as a pathetic criminal, the words they use actually tell the truth, the opposite of what they mean: Jesus really is the king.”
But what did he have to show for it? Here he was at the mercy of the soldiers, like every pathetic criminal. Was it time to let go of his belief in his Kingship and accept his reality? That was the pain that Jesus endured in Pilate’s palace.
Even at Calvary, the mockery did not stop. Instead, the sources of the mockery multiplied.
The soldiers continued to mock, as they wrote “The King of the Jews” on the inscription above his cross (Mark 15:26). They also asked him to prove his Kingship by saving himself from the cross (Luke 22:37).
Secondly, passersby mocked him. “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40). And when he cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lama, sabachthani,” they said he was calling out to Elijah for help. They even gave him sour wine to drink (Mark 15:34-36).
The chief priests and the scribes did not miss out on the joke. “He saved others, he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
Even those who were crucified with him joined the bandwagon (Matthew 27:44). “Are you not
the Christ? Save yourself and us!” said one of them, according to Luke 23:39.
Irrespective of the differences in the mockers, there was a common theme: if Jesus was who he said he was, he would have done something. Now, the issue was not whether a King like him could be in this situation. Let’s even agree that a prophet and King like him could be on a cross for whatever reason; at least he should be able to save himself, they thought. “This is one grand opportunity for you to finally make good your bogus claims,” they laughed.
Again, the whole point here was to make Jesus realise the cavernous gap between his self-understanding and his reality. They wanted to bring him down to earth, cure him of his exalted view of himself, and make him accept their own perception of him – perhaps an overrated religious zealot, at worse, someone using satanic power to do miracles (Luke 11:15), at best, a prophet (Matthew 16:14).
In essence, they wanted to use mockery to fold him into the societal mold and to make him doubt himself – maybe lead him to a private/public dichotomy or an outright denial of his identity.
But Jesus didn’t fold. He still affirmed his sonship when he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46) and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He also affirmed his special relationship with him when he called out, “My God, My God” (Mark 15:34).
God also affirmed him when darkness came over the whole land (Mark 15:33), the curtain of the temple was torn in two (Mark 15:38), and there was a great earthquake (Matthew 27:54).
Indeed, these manifestations led to a drastic change in the prevailing mood. The centurion and those with him were now filled with awe as the sense of the numinous drowned their jest. “Truly this was the Son of God,” the centurion confessed (Matthew 27:54). Even the crowds “returned home beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48), which meant they were “conscious of guilt, and as fearing some dreadful judgment would fall upon them, and their nation, for the sin of crucifying Christ,” according to John Gill.
Even before his death, one of the criminals had acknowledged him as a King indeed, begging for an entrance into his kingdom (Luke 23:42). And Jesus did not hesitate to guarantee him a place in paradise that very same day, a proof that their mockery did not lead him to doubt his kingship (verse 43).
There was nothing these jesters wanted Jesus to do that he could not. He was indeed the King of the Jews, and of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). And he was also a true prophet (Matthew 24).
More importantly, he could actually save himself and save the criminals that were hanged with him. There was even a time when he saved himself from their arrest (Luke 4:30; see also 22:52) and as the jesters themselves acknowledged, he had saved others so many times (Luke 23:35). “Jesus ‘saved’ many other people – he healed the sick, he exorcised demons, he fed the hungry; occasionally he even raised the dead,” said Carson.
However, on that cross, the only way he could save others is if he did not save himself. As Carson puts it, “the mockers speak better than they know. Matthew knows, and the readers know, and God knows, that in one profound sense if Jesus is to save others, he really cannot save himself … They know that Jesus is hanging on this damnable cross because he came to save his people from their sins.”
So Jesus continually endured the mockery from the High Priest’s house to his last breath not because he couldn’t prove himself to be King and prophet. As we have seen, many of them were left in awe and grief by the time the whole crucifixion was over. “It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished,” as the songwriter puts it. All the social and emotional pain that he endured as he was ridiculed by all and sundry was for our salvation.
Here is Carson again: “It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will – and, within that framework, it was his love for sinners like me. He really could not save himself.”
If we ever doubt that Christ really suffered pain from all these mockeries then we should remember that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Christ took up human flesh and he was exposed to all the temptations that assail us but he did not sin. He also suffered pain physically, emotionally, and socially both in his life and death, yet without sin.
He endured the ignominy of the mockers and their attempt to make him doubt his own self-identification and abdicate his mission even when he had the power to destroy them all or prove himself to them. And it was for us that he bore it all.
Of course, an obvious application is to encourage us to be willing to bear the mockery of the world in faithfulness to Christ.
The world will mock us for our belief in the revealed truths of the Scriptures (virgin birth, resurrection), moral standards (sexual purity, monogamy, rejection of homosexuality), practices (prayer, communion, witness), commitment to objective truths (such as the givenness of the male and female gender), among others.
Looking to the cross and empowered by the risen Christ, we are to bear shame and reproach on his behalf. As the author of Hebrews puts it (Hebrews 13:12-15):
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
But in the spirit of Holy Week, the most important point still remains: “It was my sin that held him there.” It is the glory of Christ and his grace that bore reproach for us that we should celebrate and meditate upon. Yes, we are called to bear reproach for him but the most important thing is that he bore reproach for us; we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
So, in this Holy Week, let us sing of and to him who did not save himself so that he could save us.
 Roger Scruton, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition (New York: Horsell’s Morsels Ltd, 2017), p.37, kindle.
 Tony Gibson, Should We Mock at Religion? Available at: Should We Mock at Religion? | The Anarchist Library
 John Gill, Exposition of the Bible. Available at: Luke 22 Commentary – John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible (biblestudytools.com)
 Albert Barnes, Notes on the Whole Bible. Available at: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/mark-15.html
 D.A Carson, Scandalous: The cross and resurrection of Jesus (Illinois: Crossway Books, 2010), p. 17
 Ibid, 18.
 Gill, Exposition of the Bible. Available at: Luke 23 Commentary – John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible (biblestudytools.com)
 Ibid, p. 27.
 Ibid, 29-30.
 Stuart Townsend, How deep the Father’s love. Available at: https://www.stuarttownend.co.uk/song/how-deep-the-fathers-love-for-us/