Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.
John 19:23-24 (NKJV)
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says:
“They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.”
Therefore the soldiers did these things.
In the previous paintings, the artist gave the sense of motion toward the left as Jesus carries the Cross to Golgotha. In this painting, the visual cues of movement are gone. Jesus has arrived at the place where he will be nailed to the Cross.
Golgotha also known as “the place of a skull” as it was a small hill reminiscent of a skull is thought to be just outside of Jerusalem’s city walls, hence the artist has provided a simple shape on the left to let us know the destination has been reached. We aren’t sure of the exact location in the modern environs of Jerusalem.
In case you are curious where some of these locations are and what they look like today, check out this blog post by Mark D. Roberts where he organized various photos of his own and of others in and around Jerusalem and along the route of the Via Dolorosa – the sorrowful way.
However, back to the painting and the moment it is urging us to reflect upon. What we see is yet another indignity suffered by Jesus as they take his clothes and divide them up. Crucifixion was not just a way the Romans could kill people. The method is meant to be a public spectacle where the victim is can be mistreated and humiliated.
When we reflect on Jesus’ teaching that we are to take up the cross, this call is for us to surrender our agenda and take up Christ’s agenda. It also means the willingness to bear the shame and indignities that will go along with that choice. Jesus does not ask of us anything he hasn’t endured.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame,
And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
— Isaac Watts