by Michael Heggen
As I write this, it is just after noon on Good Friday. This is a day of religious significance, certainly, but there it has historical significance, too. So, those of you who get turned off by "religious talk", please bear with me and keep reading.
At this time of day, about 2,003 years ago, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, three men hung on wooden crosses, dying. Two of the men were thieves who had been sentenced to death. The third man was named Jesus, and even the Roman governor Pontius Pilate could find him guilty of no crime. Yet there he hung, slowly asphyxiating, exhausted, utterly broken.
Now, just so you know, I am one of those people who believe that this man Jesus was the Son of God. You might believe that, too, or you might not. People like me are usually called Christians, but that is a label. And, like all labels, it gets misapplied, so that there are many people who call themselves Christians who are not, just as there are people who do not call themselves Christians who actually are. Confusing, isn't it? Labels are funny that way.
But none of that really matters right now.
Regardless of how you label yourself, or how others label you, I invite you to step away from the crises of the world for a day--Iraq, Syria, North Korea, etc. Turn off the television. Put the newspaper away. Turn off the radio news. Don't go surfing the web for the latest war news.
Instead of watching CNN, I suggest that you spend that time contemplating the day's events of about 2,003 years ago during the Jewish festival of Passover, and what those events imply for us today.
"Hey!!! You said this wasn't going to get too religious!"
That's right, I did. We're talking about history here and how it applies to our lives today, but I want to let you know where I'm coming from. So stop worrying about me proselytizing and keep reading....
As I was saying, at about this time of day on the day of Preparation in Passover, a man named Jesus hung dying on a cross: whipped, beaten, mocked, derided, humiliated, utterly exhausted, and in agony. One man who had done nothing wrong. One man in a relatively insignificant (at the time) part of the Roman Empire. One man who was the son of a carpenter. One man whom a handful of Jews believed to be the Messiah, the one who would save the world. One man conceived out of wedlock. One man who, if walking the earth today, our modern society would label as a dissenter, a protester, an activist, a rabble-rouser, a kook, a nut-case--even (gasp!) a communist.
If this man was really the Messiah, the Son of God, what was God thinking??? What foolishness! What utter folly!
Who is this "King of Glory", this Messiah? Join me, for a moment, in stepping back in time to about 2,003 years ago. You will find the mind-set eerily familiar....
Many people say he is a crackpot. He's just a carpenter. He is the bastard step-son of a lowly carpenter. He tells us that we should simply love one another, and that if you can do that one simple (but so incredibly difficult) thing, everything else will fall into place.
Love one another. That's it?? What kind of whacked out, overly simplistic view of the world is that? Just love one another--that can't possibly work. That's naive, Jesus, don'tcha know--the world doesn't work that way. C'mon, what's the real message? You're selling something, aren't you, Jesus? You've got some deal you're working, don't you? Aw, you don't know what you're talking about: you're just an uneducated woodworker. Hey, maybe you're not what you appear--you're a threat to the Roman Empire, you're a threat to the powers that be. You're dangerous. Love one another?? I'm not going to love my enemies--that's sick and wrong! You're evil! You're the Deceiver! Stay away from me. We're gonna crucify you, you traitorous dog! Let's see if you really can love your enemies.
"Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!" screams the mob.
And so we did, about 2,003 years ago at about this time of day. And this one man, Jesus, died in one of the most horrible ways to die that humanity has ever devised.
And so we continue, in a sense, to crucify Jesus every day by our hateful actions towards others and towards ourselves--not least when we slaughter our brothers and sisters in Iraq in the name of "freedom" and then have the audacity to call it "collateral damage".
Iraqi citizens, we are going to liberate you even if it kills you! We know this will hurt you a lot more than it will hurt us, but trust us. "I'm sorry, but the chick was in the way," said Marine Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, sharpshooter, after killing a civilian woman. We have "freed" entire Iraqi families from their earthly bondage. Thank God they are safe now, in a place where we can't hurt them anymore. Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls the "collateral damage" justification for killing an obscenity, and he is right: it is "repulsive by reason of malignance, hypocrisy, cynicism, irresponsibility, [and] crass disregard of moral or ethical principles" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary).
But I digress. This one man, Jesus, who preached that Love would, in the end, conquer Evil, was crucified. Love is dangerous, after all, because it threatens the powerful and strengthens the weak.
What folly! What did this one man think he could possibly accomplish with a bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, and the other ne'er-do-wells who were his followers? What a naive fool!
But the "naive fool" Jesus managed to get his message to me, about 2,003 years later. Like the little boy of the well-worn parable, in which, to the amazement of a cynical passer-by, the boy pitched starfish, one at a time, back into the sea from a storm-washed beach covered with countless millions of the stranded creatures, Jesus can also say, "I made a difference to that one, didn't I?"
The life and death of this man Jesus tells all of us, believers or not, that what you and I say and do during our lives actually matters. No, most likely none of us are going to "save the world". But we all have a part to play, big or small. After all, you're reading this essay that I wrote, aren't you?
So take a day "off" from the anger and despair of the modern world. Re-center yourself and take courage by pondering the Mystery of the life and death of Jesus and what that says to all of us, Christian or not. If you're Christian (or just curious), go to church (if you're in Salem and churchless, be with us at St. Timothy's: http://www.sainttimothys.org ). Regardless of your belief, remember that your voice, your actions, and your life matters. You know this to be true because about 2,003 years ago, one man and handful of ordinary people like you and me set the world on its ear.
One man named Jesus.
Page created 4/18/03.
© 1995-2004 by Michael Heggen. All rights reserved, except as noted.