At the time of Jesus when people saw a cross, they saw a criminal, or one who was judged to be one. Jesus was condemned and He died like a criminal.
In our era, judgement is all around us. Our society passes judgement on all facets of life. We interact daily with social media platforms that encourage us to share our comments/judgements about what another person has posted. While the concept of sharing to keep people connected is a positive goal, it only takes a thoughtless person to make an innocent post turn into a moment of anguish. We are very quick to judge others, and as much as I am aware of that weakness in myself, being cognizant of it does not make the battle any easier.
While the judgements we pass on others may not be condemning them as criminals, it does create a weakness in our relationships with that person or our perception of others in our community. For example, when a person is judged to be a criminal, that is a label that the person must carry around for the rest of his/her life. Even if persons are found guilty, served their sentence, and are now trying to return to society in an honest manor, they are viewed with distrust and written off as if their criminal behavior is the only thing they can do. And yet Jesus was condemned and died as a criminal. “He was innocent!” you may say. But Jesus was willing to be in the company of criminals during His last hours. At one of the most important times in His life, He spent it with men with whom no one else wanted to be associated.
I sometimes wonder about how the first converts to Christianity overcame the stigma of believing in a crucified man, a man that everyone else would have thought a criminal. One logical thought is that Roman occupation may have crucified others who were resistant to them as invaders. Perhaps there may have been some sympathy because of the way Jesus died. Yet as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, the crucifixion was a stumbling block for others, and perhaps it alone was the reason not to believe. (1 Corth 1:23)
During this Lent as we reflect on the cross, let us not forget that Jesus died judged as a criminal. Let us pray that we judge less and express mercy first, for we need God’s assistance to be more merciful like He is with us.