Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

Holy Week: What Does it All Mean?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy week is upon us once again. It's that time of the Christian year when we commemorate and reflect upon the week leading up to Christ death, burial, and resurrection. A time when we ponder what his death and resurrection means for us today in the 21st century. 

Recently, I've been reading Timothy Kellar's book Generous Justice. In it's opening chapter, Kellar does an admirable job of identifying God's preoccupation with the poor and disenfranchised in the world. Kellar writes of Psalms 68:4-5, "[r]ealize, then, how significant it is that the Biblical writers introduce God as 'a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.' This is one of the main things he does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause." [p.6]

Upon reading this, my mind went immediately to a passage in the writings of the Apostle Paul that I've not always connected with. I was going to say that I've not always liked the scripture, but that's not really the case. Let me just say that I've not always appreciated what I thought it implied, but this just further indicates that I've not fully understood what Paul was saying. With that said, as I thought about what Kellar penned above in light of the Passion, new light was shed upon this passage.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Cor 1:26-31, NRSV) 

Every thing we know about the life of Jesus attests to the reality of what Paul is saying above. Let's take a few moments to reflect upon this: He had an ignoble birth, fraught with the suspicion of infidelity. Even the place of his birth was less than optimal: a cave. I mean, sure, I'm looking at it with 21st century eyes, but surely, had Joseph and Mary had the opportunity to choose, they would have much rather experienced the comfort of the Inn rather than a cold damp hollow in a rock, with animals all around to boot. Most of the poorest children in America's largest cities are born in hospitals. Think about it!

He lived in a nondescript little town, off the beaten path. His family was of little consequence (other than the obscure link to King David's lineage, which certainly didn't benefit them as far as social ranking was concerned) socially. They were just average people. Jesus possibly, according to tradition, was raised without his father who was believed to have passed away early in his life. If Joesph did live long enough, he possibly was able to pass down to his son the menial trade of carpentry; although, we shouldn't underestimate the value of such a trade in 1st century Palestine. Nonetheless, it was going to be a life of hard labor working with his hands. Hardly the trade of a noble man. 

Once he came of age, he took up the life of an itinerant teacher who had little possessions besides the cloak on his back and the sandals on his feet. This was hardly the life his mother had envisioned for him, I'm sure. He lived off the generosity of others, often staying in the homes of friends like Lazarus in Bethany. We may romanticize about this, and scripture takes us from one climactic event to another, but this was no doubt a difficult way to live. Walking and eating dust all day as he traveled from one city to another is what we don't always see when reading the gospels. Often  he lived in the desert, in fear of his life.

He put together a band of disciples but they were working class men who the bible describes as ignorant and unlearned. He spent a good deal of his time with publicans and sinners, those who were considered outcast in the society in which he lived. On rare occasions, he did rub shoulders with the elite, but usually they would try to kill him before it was over. 

Here, at the beginning of Holy Week, he was hailed to be the Son of David, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as the people waved palm branches, throwing them on to the ground ahead of him, signifying the entry of a King into the holy city. But, let's not forget that before the week is over, he's hanging on a cross as a political subversive, put there by the will of these very same people.   

Let me try to connect the dots here and show what all this has to do with the Passion. So often we only think about the death and resurrection of Jesus in terms of what it did or does for us. Personal salvation, individual justification, is the message most often conveyed. But, there is so much more to it than that. Yes, it did secure the means by which we can have a personal relationship with God. That certainly is important. But, it also serves as the greatest example of what God wants from us, what he desires for us to become and do.

To accomplish this, we must objectively reflect upon who Jesus was, what he accomplished, and how we can best imitate his actions. Holy Week  is a time when we peel back the layers of religiosity and take a long hard look at what this is all about. 

Jesus was a man who lived his life in service to others. He personified what the great Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez called a preferential option for the poor. But he did so not as an elite extending mercy to the poor, but as a man himself despised and rejected, acquainted with sorrows and grief. He was a man whose station in life was low, who experienced the full range of human frailty, pouring his life out for the good of all. And, according to Philippians 2:5-8, Christ chose to live this way! 

The Passion is our prime example. It shows to us the priorities of God and the extent we should go to reach and minister to those around us. It teaches us that love means sacrifice. Jesus gave his life, the most precious thing he had to give. We can only honor the Passion by cultivating a willingness to do the same. 

Jesus, as our prime example, led the way to the cross over 2000 years ago. It was a despised way to die; the ultimate rejection. But God chose that very despised method and that ultimate rejection to show to us how to love our brother and how to extend the love of God into this dark and cold world. The Passion is about following Jesus all the way to the cross. 

The story didn't end there for our Lord, and it will not end there for us. The Passion was and is a place of new life, new beginnings. It will be the same for us if we give ourselves entirely to that which it seeks to teach us. May God help us pick up our cross and follow Jesus, and in so doing, may we live to reach out to others.


Anonymous said...

I work with refugees, and I see God's heart for them every day...there are answers to prayers here in our non-profit offices you wouldn't believe (or maybe you would!). I am so glad you're writing about justice, and the way God sees the poor. Bless you! And welcome to the High Calling network. We're really glad to have you!

C. M. Keel, Sr said...

Thank you, Dena. I am so glad to hear of your work and how God is providing and being real in your ministry! That is so encouraging!

Post a Comment