The Insult Game

It is not a game when it is not fun for everyone. It is not a joke when it humiliates or hurts a person. When I was in Junior High School a group of much larger young men thought it would be fun to play, “Let’s set Walter on top of the water fountain and turn it on so it looks like he wet his pants.” They thought it was a game. If they had been caught they may have said something like, “We were just having some fun.” But it wasn’t fun for me. It was humiliating. The same is true when, at a different school, a different group of fun loving souls played, “Let’s hit Walter over the head with tennis rackets,” or when one individual played, “I think I will clip an alligator clip to the middle of Walter’s back.” To be sure, there was laughter. Many were entertained with the sight of the scrawny kid trying to grab the clip digging into his back. Some people were having a grand ol’ time. This kind of game ought to sicken us. This kind of joking ought to sicken us.

Luke 22:63-65 is about playing this sort of game with Jesus. The men, who were restraining him busied themselves with mocking and beating him. These men are most likely guards of some kind. Maybe they were attached to the Sanhedrin. We don’t know. The word “mocking” means to “play with,” “to dance around (think of a taunting dance; a belittling dance),” “to humiliate.” Their goal was to make Jesus as little as possible. Jesus had prophesied that this would happen in Luke 18:32. The word “beat” can mean to “flog.” So, this is no mere hitting over the head with rackets. It was more serious than that.

Then they blindfolded him and said, “Prophesy, who is the one who hit you?” There is no evidence of this specific game, but there are accounts of games that were similar. In one such game a person is blindfolded and then has to guess which hand was used to hit him. In another one a blindfolded person tries to find the other players while being struck with papyrus husks. Now, if everyone agrees in advance to play this game, well, then okay. I played bloody knuckles with my cousin once. I knew what I was getting into and I did it anyway. That one was on me. But Jesus did not ask to play this game. This is not about fun that is on the edge played by a bunch of silly children. This was about humiliation; pure and simple. The question people ask here is, “Did they modify the game to include what they knew about Jesus?” Had they heard that Jesus seemed to know things about people; to know what they were thinking? It seems likely to me, but it really doesn’t matter. What we are intended to see is bored cruelty rearing its head. These guards had the whole night to get through. Why not make fun of the prisoner?

Verse 65 could be translated, “Those who were blaspheming were saying many other things against him.” The word “blaspheming” can mean “to insult.” Maybe the guards meant to insult and humiliate. But for Luke this is nothing less than blasphemy. Blasphemy came in many forms. If you claimed to do something that only God can do, that was blasphemy. That is why, when Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic, he was accused of blasphemy. Only God can forgive sins. If you ascribe evil to God, that is blasphemy. When some accused Jesus of casting out demons with the power of Satan, Jesus called this blasphemy of the Spirit. They were saying the work of the Spirit of God was in fact being done by Satan. If you treat God, or something that God has set apart, as common, this is blasphemy. Here they are treating the Son of God as if he were less than common; something worthy of their contempt; their insults. The guards were most likely not aware of their blasphemy. That doesn’t change what it was.

These men were playing a game intended to humiliate Jesus. It doesn’t take the sting away, but most of the time this is done by small people who are trying to make themselves feel big. My bullies wanted the other kids in school to think they were superior; that they were the cool kids who could do whatever they wanted to a quiet little fellow who wanted to just be left alone. Bullying is never okay. We should do our best to make it stop. Most of our school shootings have bullying as an antecedent. Stricter gun laws will not change this. We need to stop laughing when someone is belittled; when someone is hurting; when a person has been slapped down. One of the messages in the context of the trial and mistreatment of Jesus, is that Jesus is very much in charge. These things are playing out exactly how he said they would. And no matter how much they strike him, they cannot keep him from obeying his father. They cannot humiliate him. They cannot make him less. When others try to play their games with you, remind yourself who you belong to. They cannot humiliate you! Nah man! You are a child of God. Let those insults role off of you.