Healing, feeding the hungry, teaching God’s ways, stories of Jesus that taught the important of helping others. There’s much more. Jesus’ whole ministry taught that “doing right by each other” is “doing right by God.” Fortunately, my experience is that people do want to help each other out and very often do so. Good Friday teaches us that the time and type of help we want to provide can’t always be on our terms. Sometimes it will hurt and be inconvenient. Even Jesus asked his Father to make the crucifixion go away. No could do. Neither can all the crosses of our lives go away when we help others.
Abraham is Father and Patriarch to Jews, Christians & Muslims. God told our Father Abraham that he and his descendants must keep his covenant throughout the ages. I can’t speak for other ages, but our age is not doing so well. How can we, the “People of the Book”, betray our roots and our God so often in the way we discriminate and express hate and carry out violence toward those who are not of our religion? For those Christians, we best make our attitude toward Jews and Muslims a serious examination of our consciences as we enter into Holy Week. The prayers and readings of Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday provide us with much material for our reflection.
The most difficult part of a difficult situation can be the fear that an embarrassing, or even shameful, situation becomes known. We are frequently surprised that the world des not end when the truth becomes known. Even though it’s rocky and painful for awhile, it most times is liberating and freeing – especially when we remain with Jesus during these times.
Sprinters are usually more fun to watch than marathoners. They definitely appeal to my attention span. We need their bursts of energy to inspire us and get us going, but we also need to recognize that most things require more than a sprint. And there is no contradiction between the two. Even marathoners sometimes have to inject a short-term burst of speed into their routine. Lent has characteristics of both in various ways. Lent is a “sprinting period” through the year-long marathon of following the Lord. And it is more than an Ash Wednesday and Good Friday sprint – it’s 40 “long” days of extra praying, sacrificing and charity. So it can appeal to both the sprinter and long distance runner in us.
As it gets closer to Holy Week, we focus more closely on the terrible price that Jesus paid to win our salvation. This is not a “pretty” part of the story of our salvation. It is profound, central and essential. The movie, The Passion of the Christ, a few years ago was a bit too gory for my tastes, but it left no doubt of the human suffering Jesus endured to save us. There are many in our world today who are experiencing similar pain suffering and even death as the hands of terror, persecution and other oppressions. The cross of Jesus provides hope for transformation.
It was perfect in the Garden of Eden – not so much since then. If you want to blame it on Adam & Eve and the apple, fine with me. In any case we live in a world that is not perfect and very unfair at times. It’s more unfair to some than others, but we all experience times when we are confronted with injustices, small or big, not of our own faults. We need to react to them in a way that remains faithful to the values that guide us – disciples of Jesus. Another’s unfairness to us does not give us liberty to be unfair to others. Let’s be clear we do not seek to be treated unjustly and we need to try to fix them. There is no value in “playing the victim.” But try as we might, we will not remedy every injustice for ourselves and others. We need to maintain the discipline to live faithfully in these circumstances.
Sometimes God lets his anger out and let’s us know he’s fed up with us not listening to His commands. If we examine ourselves we know it’s true. And sometimes we concentrate so hard on avoiding what God tells us not to do that we forget that he bulk of his commands have to do with treating each other well, especially when someone is in need (e.g. the Good Samaritan). God is merciful, but He’s still annoyed when we do not love each other and help each other out – even when it’s inconvenient and requires some sacrifice.
Sometimes human analogies are helpful in thinking about our relationship with God. I recently heard someone say the most important thing she valued in a relationship was time spent with the other person. Put negatively, she was not interested in having a relationship with someone unwilling to spend time with her. Gifts, money, pedigree, etc. all came in a distant second to “spending time.” God has so much to offer, but it’s hard to take it in if we don’t hang out with God and allowing his presence to be with us. As with human friends we don’t always have to have a plan, a topic or an agenda. Sometimes we should just “hang out with God” and let it be.
Our words are not as powerful and miraculous as Jesus telling a man to pick up his mat and walk, but let’s not underestimate the healing power of solidarity with someone who is ill and suffering. Emotional or psychological isolation and separation are added burdens to many who are struggling with serious illnesses.
Think of somebody in a difficult situation – maybe a neighbor, maybe a relative, maybe a stranger whom you pass on the sidewalk or by the side of the road. Don’t just walk by today or put off reaching out until tomorrow. Reach out as you would like to be helped if you were in that difficulty situation.
We religious people, many times, make religion too complicated. It’s good that God bursts through and calls us back to basics: Love God a whole lot and love each other as we want to be loved. Sometimes, I don’t exactly know what it means to love God. I’m not sure if I should buy Jesus a birthday present on Christmas. Should I send God a Valentine’s Day card? So I’m still figuring that out. I do know what it means to love others, so I’ll concentrate on that. Because even though I know what it means – most of the time, it still isn’t easy and I don’t always get it right. But as I keep trying, I realize again this is part of the way that I actually keep the first commandment of loving God. God doesn’t expect a Christmas birthday present, but does expect us to love one another. We can do this year round, but Lent is a great time to get this on the right track.