“Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin” (John 19:19-20)
The common sense reason for having our Lord’s accusation written in three languages was to make certain whatever the nationality of the people in Jerusalem, they all would be able to understand why it was that Jesus Christ was condemned to the cruel execution of crucifixion as He wended His way to Calvary, the place of death. However, we know that everything in the Holy Bible, especially the most significant action recorded for our salvation is a source of contemplation; the holy fathers have meditated on the cross and find hidden meanings deeper than the obvious.
St. Maximos the Confessor, writing his Chapters on Knowledge (Second Century 96) explains that the title above our King and Lord points to ways of wisdom through ascetic, natural and theological meanings. Latin is the language of the Roman Empire. In the prophecy of Daniel, Rome symbolized the epitome of all mighty empires. That being the case, Latin stands for all the ascetics who come to our Lord Jesus as the most powerful of His disciples, since they have spent their lives struggling against Satan in their bodies, souls and minds, enduring all demonic wiles and coming out victorious. At another place, he calls them angels on earth and inspirations for all Christians.
St. Maximus identifies Greeks with natural philosophy. Indeed, they as a nation have produced scholars and thinkers from the pre-Socratic times down through the centuries. See the way St. Paul thought to get their attention when he visited Athens and addressed the gathering as men naturally interested in theology. [Acts 17:21ff]
The Hebrews are our spiritual ancestors. Their sacred history contains the Revelation of the Holy Trinity to humanity, and we are their children and descendants. Regardless of the animosity between us and the role they played by rejecting Jesus as the true Messiah, causing His crucifixion, we acknowledge their significance in the story of our salvation.
The cross has been carried beyond Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria to all the far reaches of civilization. What are the contributions to those whose languages convey the proclamation: KING OF THE JEWS? We Slavs pray or have prayed in Slavonic. Russia brings the gift of humility even to the extent of humiliation, expressing the kenotic aspect of our Lord’s condescension by His incarnation and death on the cross. Christ the foot washer, Jesus the friend of Lazarus who gave His own life so that Lazarus would have a few more years on earth expresses the Russian contribution.
Arab Christians who live among brethren bent on killing them, yet who demonstrate the joy of largesse, a people who take pride in the same hospitality shown by Abraham and Sarah, people of the desert would never desert the famished, thirsty or needy. They exhibit cordiality.
What of us Americans? English is our language that now is spoken globally. What gift do we bring to the risen Lord? Freedom most of all, the liberty to change oneself in ways that countries harnessed in generations of cultural, societal and economic rank have no means of escaping. With our freedom comes the opportunity to grow into the fullness of spiritual union with the Lord. Because of our potential we could be the shining light to inspire the entire world and lead them to God. It’s possible that America could become the Israel that failed to find and follow Jesus Christ the Messiah; but is that something that all our nation would aspire to, or are we to become another version of a Roman empire doomed to self-destruction and abandoned on the scrap heap of history?