Holy Week has begun, and Christians the world over listen again to the story of their salvation. This listening is more than an historical remembrance of Jesus’ movements through a period of days that began on a high note of praising and rejoicing, only to end on the bitter note of suffering and death. From the earliest centuries, Christians have struggled to understand the intensity of the Lord’s passion. However, the passion narratives use the fewest words possible in the retelling of our Lord’s passion and death. These narratives shift the focus to Jesus who loves both friends and enemies. This can only happen because he looks at his passion through the eyes of others, noting their pain, not his. As we reflect on the passion this week, let us shift our focus toward the needs of others and reach out to address them.
Luke’s gospel guides us through the last hours of Jesus’ earthly life. It is Luke’s Jesus who reminds the women spectators, “Do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and your children.” Only Luke’s Jesus asks forgiveness for his executioners because, “They do not know what they are doing.” Only Luke’s Jesus promises a place in paradise to the thief executed with him, “Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.” And it is Luke’s Jesus who cries out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Through Luke’s Jesus we are powerfully reminded of the love that motivated such a sacrifice. The events of this week are much more about loving and forgiving then about suffering and death. Jesus’ passion was his response to his love for his Father and his love for us.
Our focus this week, is not meant to be solely on the past, nor are we to retreat into an attitude of sorrowful nostalgia. We remember the suffering and death of Jesus with praise and gratitude. But we also know of the horrible suffering of the world’s poor, especially poor children. Nationally almost 40 million people live in poverty. This represents 13% of the population of the U.S., and includes 12.7 million children. The poverty rate in Wisconsin is 12.7% (almost 100,000 people), and in Kenosha County, 19.3%. In the U.S., the wealthiest country in the world, only 3 countries in the developed world have a higher poverty rate. [2016 data]
While these numbers are extremely high, they are low compared to international statistics that track deaths caused by hunger and sickness. Those who work among the poor have often reminded us that Christ resides among these who suffer oppression, who live in want, and have misery as their constant companion. These least among us are Jesus in the here and now. They serve as our means of salvation just as Jesus gave his life for the salvation to the world. However, because we so often use numbers to stress reality, perhaps the following poem better states the tragedy:
“The colt treads the uneven path of trampled palms and heads to Jerusalem city of festivals. I reach out to touch, to heal, to shine love into vacant eyes, but as the whole world runs after me, I see the traitorous embrace, hear the cock crow and the whip's crack, am pierced by pain -- not once but in generation after generation of massacres, mutilations and perverted ways, in senseless purges and the plundering of the poor, in the countdown to Armageddon, the blasting of stars. Bethany seems distant now, that place where I unbound Lazarus and so ensured my death by working the sign of signs. My people, O my people...” [Frost & Fire, Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, 1985]
The time has come to move beyond weeping and focus our energy, our resources and our efforts to stop the ongoing passion and death of so many of the world’s poor. During this week of suffering, of love, and of forgiveness, we are reminded that Jesus of Calvary walked his way to the cross offering forgiveness without violence or revenge. We serve and honor Jesus whenever we address the urgent needs of our brothers and sisters. Jesus’ never-ending passion must end!
~ Deacon Wilson Shierk