I sometimes wonder what those who had heard little of Jesus or had never encountered him made of seeing another young, probably rebellious, defiant, poor man lifted up on a cross as punishment for his crimes. It was a gruesome affair – this we know. Yet, it was probably common enough to elicit little comment and minimal reaction from those who happened to see it. It was probably a common enough occurrence for an empire, bent on security, to whip and humiliate a man for claiming that a higher power than theirs commanded his allegiance.
Was it nothing to them?
I find myself wondering now, is it nothing to us? Can we watch the video? Can we hear the names? Can we hear a girlfriend’s plea? Can we see a child sitting in the backseat? Can we see a bloodied badge held in a friend’s hand?
Those videos are a gruesome affair. They are painful and heart-wrenching. Is it nothing to us?
I can’t imagine why so many African-Americans are Christians. I can’t imagine the children of slaves, watching their parents humiliated and sold, then claiming the owners’ God for themselves. I can’t imagine the sharecropper singing the same hymns as the Klansman. I can’t imagine singing “We Shall Overcome” knowing that what must be overcome is a hate too often laden and weighted with religious sanction. I am privileged enough to not need to imagine it.
For some, the response feels as if it must be blood. So innocent blood is shed in revenge’s desolating cycle – in the streets of Dallas and in so many places. Yet, for the Christian, the answer is always Blood.
There is the enduring power of the Cross – not an event fixed in time and pinning one man’s life to the Earth – but an event still unfolding that still lifts our hope heavenward. In the vile paroxysms of an empire’s fear was born the freedom to look hatred in the eye and say, “we shall overcome.” In the Cross, those who know the fear of empire and the casual cruelty of a disinterested crowd, can just see the crown upon a pierced brow.
In the sweat of the Son of God was mingled the sweat of a sharecropper grandfather. In the tears of Mary were the tears of a girlfriend mourning a shot boyfriend with the tears of the world. In the blood of the Son of Man was mingled the blood of every man who has ever had to fight, and rage, and cry out that his life mattered. All those who are acquainted with sorrow and who are afflicted can see in the Cross the God by whom they are counted as worthy of unending, never-failing love.
Like Pilate, it would be convenient to simply think that this has nothing to do with us.
It may be easy for it to be nothing to us – but it is everything to God. So it must be everything to us. It must be everything to us to say, “That is our neighbor.” It must be everything to us to say, “That is a child of God.” It must be everything to us to say to the powers and principalities, to the demonic hold of violence and racism, “Go, Satan.”
It seems to me that the madness that is now gripping us is as sure a work of the Devil as anything – we kill one another, we see one another as deserving of killing, and we look away distracted by the next new thing. Can the Devil plot a more sure ruin for lives and souls? Yet, at the end of the path of violence, is an open tomb. Standing before us is a risen Savior who can show us his wounded hands as if to say, “Look at what you have done” even as the quiet echo of “Father, forgive them” still rings.
Can we see Christ there though? Can we not just look – but can we see? Can we see Christ selling a few compact discs? Can we see Christ serving and protecting though it may cost him all? Can we see the Christ who knew the names of so many kids and even knew their food allergies? Can we see a Christ who may have sold a few loose cigarettes? Can we see Christ on the playground? Eating skittles? I think we can – for we certainly see a Christ slain because of the fear of those who were so, so ready to say, “Crucify him!”
Can we see through fear to the very sacred heart that is in each of us? Can we see the Blood pouring from the wounds of those who are being broken and bled by fear and revenge?
And if we see, is it nothing to us?