Between the Arrest and Pilate: Practicing Empathy For Child Abuse


53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54 Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56 For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am; and

‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

Mark 14: 53-65 NRSV

Few pieces of biblical art catch my attention like “Behold the Man”. There are many reasons why the picture is so captivating. What I find most intriguing about the picture is the vulnerability of Jesus fully exposed before a crowd as he is on trial before Pontius Pilate. Here stands Jesus, bound, caught in the travesty of human rejection and in the helpless vulnerability human life can bring.

It’s not just the picture either. It’s everything that leads up to the picture. The birth, the life, the ministry, the Garden, the arrest, and the trial before the Pharisees and the high priests. All of it is so perfectly encompassed in this one picture.

Where I sit the most, however, is in the gap between the trial before the high priests and the trial before Pilate. It is in this space that Jesus is physically assaulted for the first time in His ministry. He is spit on, mocked, and assaulted as the guards attempt to render him powerless, immobile, and broken.

Jesus is innocent. The high priests know as much. Mark 14 recounts the trial before the high priests and notes that none of their stories or accusations were in line with one another. What we are left with is the realization that Jesus was a perceived threat to the high priests and the way religion and life were conducted prior to His arrival.

I find parallels with this part of the story and the plights of children who are abused. I think back to some of my own experiences as I read this short section of scripture and find myself alongside Jesus and Jesus alongside me in many different ways.

It’s all there. The intense rage of the authority figures. They are enraged by the very presence of Jesus, ready to assault Him for the smallest offense. They call Him into a room and He stands in a trial with a verdict that is already decided before He is allowed to speak in defense. The high priest rips his robe when Jesus confirms that He is the Messiah. In other words, the high priest rips his robe because of who Jesus is.

In no way do I claim to be the Messiah. The high priests could not accept that the Messiah was among them and that all the teachings of Jesus went against their status quo. Jesus was a disappointment in their eyes. The parallel in child abuse resides in this: the offender cannot accept that the child is who the child is. Be it that the child is an unwanted birth, a “disappointment”, the offspring of a prior marriage, and the list goes on. Just as the high priests had their rationale ready before the unjust conviction, the abuser also has their rationale ready before the unjust conviction. The child unwillingly becomes the “disruptor” in the life of the abuser and therefore, must be assaulted for their perceived transgression.

We love the images of Jesus where He is authoritative, shepherding, brilliantly teaching, and performing miracles. They are comfortable, inviting, and feed our desire for a comfortable story. Christians as a whole are absolutely horrible in confronting and sitting with the abused Savior and it is costing us dearly in theological advancement.

I happen to believe our insistence on comfort in these ways has contributed to a lack of training and care for the children who are abused not just in our churches, but in society as well. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t have any answers for it. It seems too far out of our hands to address and teach against. These offenses occur every day and our response is a simple “I will pray” or an expression of sympathy similar to when a child loses a tooth or a family pet. In other words, we shrug it off in hopes that it will go away missing opportunities to intervene or to show Jesus as a vulnerable Savior subject to abuse.

The missing variant seems to be empathy. We have sympathy down pat. We express remorse over a situation or in response of a situation. We say things like “I am so sorry” or “that sounds horrible” in a way that we hope communicates a sincere sense of distress over a situation. These responses are temporarily helpful yet they offer no long term assistance or answers.

If we were to adapt the practice of empathy in our lives as a contrast to this, several things would happen. First, we would find a Savior who is empathetic to the assaults that abused children go through. In reading this particular story, Jesus becomes a vulnerable Savior who suffers with the abused.

Second, we get a different picture of Peter throughout the Gospels. We must ask ourselves time and time again why Peter readily admitted on many occasions that Jesus was the Messiah, knew that Jesus would die, and still ran when Jesus was arrested. As Jesus is before the council, Peter keeps his distance and tries to stay hid. Peter demonstrates (as he does throughout the Gospels) a sincere sense of sympathy for the things Jesus has faced and will face. However, Peter refuses to suffer with Jesus. In fact, he is approached about knowing Jesus and being with Jesus to which he responds “I never knew this man!” not once, but three times.

Third, we are forced to put an end to perpetuated cycles of abuse in our society. Our churches would be forced to fully enter into territory where their congregations become vulnerable alongside the abused children and help the children carry the cross of abuse into an area of deliverance and restoration of life. The church would be forced to admit that the absence of vulnerability and lack of attention to the suffering Savior has made it blind to the cries of the abused in its midst, happening under its watch.

Moreover, by engaging the suffering Christ more purposefully, we can learn to effectively minister to survivors of child abuse who are living their adult years in isolation and confusion about what they have endured. We are somewhat good at creating discussion and debate over topics like gay marriage, who can lead a church, and definitions over various church practices. We fail miserably at engaging the more complex issues at play in our society. This is largely due to the picture of Jesus we carry as a sort of warrior who valiantly conquered the grave, descended to hell, and rose again. We are going from the arrest straight to the resurrection and outright refuse to live in the in between.

Our hesitation to be empathetic has disastrous consequences. We pass resolutions and statements that say child abuse is wrong, but that’s just an expression of sympathy. We refuse to do the dirty work of suffering with.

Consider even this painting. The artist captures the human vulnerability of Jesus well, but they miss an important element. That is: where are the scars from the beatings? It seems that even the artist had a difficulty crossing the line between sympathy and empathy. This makes the scars themselves the line between sympathy and empathy.

In this passage from Mark, we are confronted with a Savior who suffers both with and for. We are living in houses of comfort that we are convinced are made of stone on solid foundation. While we casually sit at our tables and exchange short expressions of sympathy and pleasantries, we are interrupted by loud crashes and wails from the room next to ours and sit idly by in our comfortable chairs expressing meaningless sympathy for the weeping interrupting our routine of life.

Jesus invites us to open that door to rescue the abused child and find Him suffering with the child. Both caught in the vulnerability of complete human innocence. Both challenging us to become empathetic.


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My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. I post theology and have leaned towards an emphasis on domestic violence and forgiveness. I serve as Ambassador for the state of Virginia in the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. I hold a Masters of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor from Liberty University. I have studied in the two “major fields” of theological thought. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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