Now What?

Jesus crucified
Image credit: <a href="">Hobvias Sudoneighm</a>

John 19:16b-18

The soldiers took custody of Jesus, and forced him to carry his own cross up to Skull Hill (Golgotha in Aramaic), where they crucified him. They crucified two others on either side of him, with Jesus in the middle.

There is nothing good about Good Friday. It’s everything that’s wrong, unjust, cruel, and ugly on display. It’s shock and awe. It’s what happens to those who dare to say that those in power are wrong. It’s what happens to those who dare not just to opt out of the way things are, but to lead others out as well.

The gospels hold this gruesome image before us and say, “This is what it takes.” With Jesus hang all the 3000 children around the globe who die of malnutrition and dehydration every minute of every day. The gospels hold up this man on a cross as a representation of all the suffering and dying taking place in every moment of every day, as if to say, “See!”

And having witnessed this evil, one remaining question is, Now that you have seen, and now that you know, what are you going to do about it?


statue of dog attack
Photo credit: <a href="">Dave Barger</a>

Isaiah 50:4-9

God gave me the smarts to know
How to motivate the exasperated.
And God helps me every day
To listen to what people are really saying.
God opened my ears,
And I didn’t bolt. I didn’t run away.
I didn’t cover my face when they spat at me,
But I gave myself over to their attacks
And let them rip out my beard.

God help me,
They’re not worthy to be considered insults.
They may as well be striking flint,
Because they’re the ones who are shameful.
God will soon prove me right.

You wanna mess with me?
Bring it!
Who’s gonna get in my face?
Bring it!
God’s on my side.
Who are you to say I’m wrong?
They’re all washed up,
Nothing but moth-eaten rags.

Today is not just “holy Wednesday.” It’s also the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Jesus and Dr. King both knew the truth of Isaiah’s words. It’s not the one being abused who has anything to be ashamed of, but the abusers. It’s not the abuser’s insults and cruelty, painful as they are in the moment, that count for anything in the grand scheme of things. Those who watch the old news reels of police turning dogs and fire hoses on unresisting protestors feel shame not for the protestors being attacked, but for the illegitimacy of their attackers.

Nobody (well, nobody worth listening to) remembers Pilate or Jim Clark with respect or admiration.

God’s Global Assignment

The UN building
Photo via <a href="">Wikipedia</a>

Isaiah 49:6

God says, “Promoting Jacob’s tribes and restoring Israel isn’t your only job if you’re going to serve me. If you’re going to do my work, you’ll have to be a beacon for everyone, not a nationalist, an internationalist.”

If what Isaiah says is true, religion (at least Jewish and Christian religion) should never be reduced to parochialism.

If what Isaiah says is true, there is no such thing as a national religion.

If what Isaiah says is true, then you can only say, “God bless the USA,” or “God save the Queen” (or whatever your national slogan is), if you add, “and God bless everyone else.”

God bless the Iraqis, the Russians, the Chinese, the Afghans, the Somalis, the Rwandans, the Uzbeks, the French, the Inuits, the Guarani, the …. You get the picture.

If what you’re doing “for God” leaves out the interests of any of the people on God’s green earth, no matter how small, you’re not really working for God.

Generation to Generation

Mom and son
Photo credit: <a href="">Ed Yourdon</a>

Malachi 4:5-6

Just before the day all of these great and awesome things happen, I’ll send Elijah to tell you the truth. He’ll show parents how to do right by their kids, and kids to do right by their parents. That way your community won’t be totally wiped out.

Understanding between one generation and the next is essential for any society to continue to exist more than a few years. And yet, tension and misunderstanding between generations is nearly always the state of things when a new generation comes of age.

“Kids these days!” is something every generation exclaims about the next at some point, while “My parents just don’t get it,” is probably as often said by each generation of the one before.

The pain around these struggles to understand and to be understood is particularly acute, ironically enough, because (in spite of appearances to the contrary) members of both generations know the existence of the community depends on finding common ground, on “parents doing right by their kids, and kids doing right by their parents.”

One can easily see Malachi sitting on either side of this great divide. Is he the old prophet looking on as “kids these days” seem to be taking society in a new direction he doesn’t approve of (all these new-fangled ideas about marriage)? Or is he the young firebrand prophet looking at the mistakes of the older generation he and his peers feel they need to fix (they’ve compromised away the real meaning of life behind empty ritual)?

In either case, Malachi has the wisdom to see that it will take both sides of the generational divide doing right by each other, and the one who can tell the truth to every generation and have them listen and understand is a rare gift from God.