A while back I preached through The Gospel according to Matthew. In doing so, I tried to be sensitive to the events and situations that lead Jesus to The Cross. While I do not think of The Cross as the most important event of the story (the resurrection is), it is obviously very important and plays a central role in its theology.
As I went along, following many others before me, I asked this: for what sorts of reasons was Jesus crucified, not theological reasons only, but cultural and other (not that those are not theological reasons, they are just not explicitly theological). As one well-known New Testament scholar puts it (more or less) if Jesus was just a teacher of timeless truths (sort of like a first century hippy) why was He crucified? People like that just did not end up o n a cross.
It is a good question and one that has, I think, multiple answers. One reason seems to be His penchant for associating with people that no else could stand. I am closing in on the 11th chapter now and the list of folks Jesus takes in, and heals and blesses is remarkable. Roman soldiers, demon possessed people, women with flows of blood, dead people; people few, if any, wanted association with. Jesus loved those that no one else loved, and this caused Him to become, increasingly, unpopular. Moreover, when the popular and powerful and the influential are ignored, they take notice, and they do not like it.
So one of the reasons Jesus ended up on a Cross was His identification with the unpopular and their identification with Him.
Now that says something to us, today. Something about what it means to follow Jesus. It says this: following Jesus means identifying you with someone that the rich, and the powerful, and the beautiful, and the well healed of every stripe hates. To identify with Jesus means identifying yourself with those He loved, and to reap from it the world’s hatred. It means membership in the social strata the bible calls the weak and foolish, and, oh yes, it also means this. If you find that you really have a problem with people with personality issues, or who don’t bathe that often, or are fat, or just not very likable guess what? You may also find out you are having a problem with Jesus too.