Thirteen years old in the suburbs of Denver, standing in line for Thanksgiving dinner at the Catholic church.
The servers wore crosses to shield from the sufferance plaguing the others.
Styrofoam plates, cafeteria tables,
Charity reeks of cheap wine and pity.
– Death Cab for Cutie
It's a true critique.
Somewhere along the way the cross has become a symbol of what separates Christians from others. It's become a symbol of who's in and who's out. Everywhere I go I can have a little comfort in the cross I wear, “Thank God I'm not like one of these damned souls.”
The thing is the cross should have incredibly different results. The cross is not a badge we wear to remind of us our privilege; the cross is something that will end up wearing us if we are truly following Jesus. It should serve to only further unite us with those around us. Ultimately, it's about empathy, about a love so deep, an identification with others that is so strong, that it is willing to suffer forsakenness and death.
Somewhere along the way Christians have confused pity for compassion. And us/them mentality is one of the strongest things contributing to this problem. Pity is a barrier to relationship, pity is deprecating. Compassion is essentially relational and reveals itself as such.
The thing that I'm coming to realize is that this will always be so. The church will always consist of a mixed group, those who call themselves the people of God, and those who truly are.
You see, I always thought the cross that I carried was the result of empathizing with the suffering, of journeying in love relationships with the forsaken.
At best that's only half the picture.
An equally heavy, or even heavier, part of that burden is imposed by journeying with a people who claim to belong to God yet have totally rejected everything to do with God. The significance of the role of the Jewish leaders in Jesus' death is not found in their ethnicity but in the fact that they are the representatives of God's people. Ultimately, the cross is imposed because the people of God reject the Messiah. I carry this cross not simply because I journey in love relationships with the broken but because the church has placed it upon my shoulders. The only reason why Jesus' ministry did not result in a year of Jubilee and in a universal release of captives, cancellation of debts, restoration of right relationships, etc., is because the people of God rejected him. The only reason why Jesus' ministry was marked by suffering and humiliation, instead of power and glory, was because the people of God forced him to go that route. The amazing thing is that the way of suffering is, in fact, the way of glory, the way of power is found in humiliation, resurrection life is the end result of crucifixion – that's what Paul's getting at in his hymn in Philippians 2.
And, the thing is, I don't think it can be any other way. It's the same route we will travel if we are desiring to be like Christ. Our lives should be marked by victory in all things. We should be releasing all captives, giving sight to the blind, providing a feast for the hungry and joy to those in mourning. Yet, we can only do this paradoxically by entering into the forsakenness of the abandoned, the hunger of the starving and the sorrow of the mourners because the people of God, as a body, have turned their back on their vocation. Our road to glory must also be one that leads to crucifixion.