Devotion Thirty Seven
April 7, 2022
We get the newspapers every Sunday, and my husband reads them and then tells me what he thinks I would be interested in. This is a great arrangement – to have someone preview the paper for you! And it gives me more time to do the crossword puzzles!
So, a few weeks ago, Jeff handed me a page from the ‘Parade’ section. It was an ad for a ‘sculpture’ called ‘Life of Christ.’ At the bottom of the sculpture is a nativity scene complete with sheep. Then up a level is the portrayal of an adult Jesus healing someone. Then the next level up depicts Jesus with two children. Continuing up the spiral is Jesus on the cross with two women at his feet. The Jesus on the cross looks like he is napping. No blood or any evidence of agony. Then at the top of the sculpture is a puff of cloud with Jesus coming down the cloud, arms open, white-robed, like an entertainer greeting a crowd. Oh, and did I mention that all the figures in the depiction are very clearly white?
Talk about a white-washed, sanitized, distorted depiction of a first century Jewish man from Palestine whose life, by the way, was not a walk in the park as depicted in the sculpture, but was steeped in controversy. There were disputes with religious leaders. Jesus was challenged by authorities. He was a wanted man with a target on his back. And he was killed in the most brutal way imaginable for the time. There was blood and lots of it.
We are approaching holy week. This is the week that we remember Jesus’ brutal, bloody death. We remember his fearlessness heading into Jerusalem knowing he would be killed. We remember his nighttime prayer in Gethsemane, asking for a reprieve, but willing to take the cup. We remember how he was betrayed and deserted by his followers. And we remember the words of forgiveness from the cross, from one broken and bloodied, in agony and humiliation.
None of the gory details of the stories should be edited out. Omitted. Glossed over. Or white washed.
Because we need to be reminded of how low we can sink. Of how desperate we can be when we feel threatened. Of how brutal we are when we are losing control. We need to be reminded of how we cling to the status quo, to our privilege, and our pride.
The sanitizing of Jesus’ life and death robs his witness of courage, of radicality, of the challenge of the status quo, of defiance, of sacrifice. The wildness of mercy.
We need to be reminded of the pain and the hardship and the enemies that Jesus faced so that we can begin to appreciate the love he demonstrates for those around him, for God, for us. A sanitized, whitewashed portrayal of Jesus robs him of his radical power and consigns him to meaningless oblivion which may be why the Church in the US is fading, dimming, dying? Oh, and by the way, the statue in the ad costs $139.99. Better to give the money to the poor. Or for Ukrainian relief.
In these Lenten days, may we remember the powerful stories of Jesus that challenged the assumptions and authorities of his day. May his witness give us the courage to challenge the assumptions and authorities of our day that are draining dignity and hope from so many lives. May we see in Jesus a power that can cure our warring madness and our greed as well as our addiction to fossil fuels which is irreparably damaging Earth. Amen.