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Archive for April, 2019


In 2015, I spoke about “the fourth word” of “the seven last words of Christ” at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church here in San Ignacio, BZ. Here’s what I said about these famous, agonizing words from Mark 15:34.

    “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Christian Mostaert, “Christ, Man of Sorrows”

Contrary to what some folks might think, Jesus did not speak English. Jesus didn’t even speak Spanish, or Kriol or even Mayan, obviously.

He spoke an old, pretty much now-dead language called Aramaic.

But I want you to imagine, just for the purposes of this reflection, that Jesus DID speak English even from the cross. We know that he said from the cross, in the ENGLISH translation, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

But we can only guess exactly HOW he would have cried out those words in English. We can only guess the kind of emotion he was expressing because we can’t possibly know. We can only guess at the word or words he emphasized in that outcry.

1. Maybe he said like this:

“My GOD! … My GOD! WHY have you forsaken me?”
Maybe he was just screaming out in his agony the way WE sometimes commonly shout out “My GOD!”

That’s almost an automatic reaction when we experience pain or something terribly shocking to us, isn’t it?

If we’re in prolonged pain we might reflexively scream out, “My GOD! I can’t take this pain anymore!”

Have you ever reacted to physical or emotional pain by crying out something like,

“My GOD! I can’t TAKE it anymore!”

I sure have.

“WHY ME?”

2. But MAYBE Jesus said it like this.

“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken ME?” As if to say, “ME! OF ALL PEOPLE! How could you do this to ME! Your own SON!”

Raise your hand if you’ve ever cried out to God, “My God! Why ME! Why am I suffering like this! I’m one of the good guys!”

I’ve had many of those “Why me?” moments.

———

3. It’s entirely possible, I think, that Jesus was steaming mad when he said those last words.

“With those precious hands nailed to a tree, he couldn’t shake his fist at God–-he couldn’t shake a fist at his Father, that is. But maybe he WANTED to in that agonizing moment.

I’ve always said that I picked great parents, that my parents loved me and did everything they could to ensure that I would have a better life than they had growing up.

That said, family members inevitably have conflicts sometimes, and the conflicts between a parent and teenager, who is a young know-it-all, can get really heated, right? I had my share of conflicts with my old man. But that’s not to say that I didn’t get so angry or put out with the him that I didn’t want to shake a fist at him sometimes.

Whatever fights we had were forgiven and forgotten because we truly, deeply loved each other–at least until the next conflict that passed and was forgiven and forgotten.

I served for a considerable number of years as a hospital chaplain, ministering to people laid really, really low by illness and injury and impending death, and giving pastoral care to their families and loved ones as well.

I also served two full years as a chaplain in hospice care. Hospice is pain-management care given to people who are dying–-people who have no chance of living more than two years or maybe only two months. It was common in my experience with sick and dying people or their families to say to me, “I know I’m not supposed to get mad at God, but…”

And many times, I would stop them right there and say, “Whoa! Wait a minute. Where in the Bible is it written that we can’t get angry as all get-out with God? Where is it written that we aren’t supposed to question God?”

My friends, the Bible is full of people wracked by some kind of pain who ain’t at all happy with God.

The Psalms, most of all, are full of what we call Psalms of Lament, or Psalms of Complaint, where the Psalmist is sort of shaking his fist at God in anger or utter frustration with God, who seems to have grown cold or abandoned even the most faithful of believers.

And, in fact, when Jesus said, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!”–-when Jesus had that moment in which he obviously felt God had abandoned even him-–he was quoting from a Psalm.

Can someone tell me which Psalm that was so I can find it and read it????

Yes, Psalm 22–-and I want to read some of it to you, starting with the very first verse, which is–-what do you know?”—-“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

That line didn’t just come to Jesus’s tormented mind in the moment, but rather was a direct quote from Psalm 22, a Lament Psalm.

So here is some more from Psalm 22, and please, think about Jesus on the cross as you hear these words from Mark:

    1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
    2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest.

    3 Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
    4 In you our ancestors trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
    5 To you they cried, and were saved;
    in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

    6 But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.
    7 All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
    8 ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

    9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
    you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
    10 On you I was cast from my birth,
    and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
    11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

Now, notice that as depressed as the Psalmist is, and as much as he feels abandoned by a seemingly deaf God who seems to refuse to hear his cries, he turns right around and says to that same God:

“Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”

And if you read the rest of the Psalm, you will notice that the poor guy, who feels lower than a worm, for gosh sakes, hasn’t abandoned his faith and hope in God!

That’s how lament Psalms and stories end up in the Bible: we see people complaining to God, but not losing faith-–they remain in CONTACT with the father because they know deep down that God is too good and trustworthy and loving to actually abandon or go cold on us.

So my whole point is—-it’s OK for us to be angry or frustrated or doubtful about God in EXTREME situations of pain or grief or suffering. And we will have duress in life–-the rain falls on the evil and the good no matter how devout the good guys are.

But Jesus himself CERTAINLY understands our pain and doubt and anger. He and the Father know good and well how excruciating our pain can be in life.

While it’s all right to be most unhappy with God, the WRONG thing to do be to stay STUCK in anger or frustration and doubt about God.

God is a big boy–-God can take our complaints, and will hear them in a merciful and understanding way.

But our forsaking–-abandoning God-–that’s another matter.

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The Christian response to refugees seeking asylum at the border is a far cry from the U.S. government response. (Art by Bro. Mickey McGrath, an Oblate of St. Francis De Sales, artist, author, and speaker. More on him at http://www.bromickeymcgrath.com and http://www.embracedbygod.org)

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

~ Hebrews 13:3

Today is Maundy or Holy Thursday, the day in Holy Week when the Jesus of Radical Love washed the feet of his disciples in a radical act of loving hospitality.

Back when Jesus walked, washing the feet of a guest in a home — even a stranger — was far from being a glamorous task. But somebody had to do it. And that somebody was usually the house servant.

Cleaning feet was an act of hospitality and hospitality was, and will always be, a powerful motif in Judaism, Christianity and Islam — the Abrahamic religions.

The theology of hospitality stems from the story of Abraham responding to three strangers outside his tent and his running around at a frantic pace to serve them as if they were three kings.

They turned out to be God in the form of three angels.

April-May is the peak time of the (very) hot-dry season in Belize. The feet of the poor folks do get dirty and dry and cracked. (They get caked with mud in the rainy season.) I had lived in Belize a short time when I became acutely aware of just how dirty — and bone weary — the sandled feet must get in the Holy Land clime.

Show dogs and rescued pets get treated with more care and dignity than human beings at our borders.

I can’t imagine how weary and sore the feet of desperate migrant get in their journeys of thousands of miles.

I certainly can’t imagine the Jesus of radical love and hospitality sanctioning the treatment of those desperate people by the United States government these days.

I can’t imagine it because no one can possibly believe that the Jesus of radical love supports the demonization of people fleeing poverty and violence to such an extent as to brand them as “animals.”

No one can possibly believe that Jesus who died on the cross for the sake of all people in all times would bless United States government policies that treat human beings with far less care and dignity than pet owners in the United States of America treat their rescue animals and show dogs.

Nobody can possibly deny that the Jesus who humbled himself all the way to the cross is a far bigger and better Jesus than that.

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Being the holy superstar that he was, Jesus was couldn’t go anywhere without drawing a crowd. In the last days of his life, he attracted three especially significant throngs:

Sometimes an encouraging word is like salt, not salve, on a wound.

1. The festive crowd that celebrated his entry on a little foal into Jerusalem for the Passover holiday.

The people in that crowd were overjoyed, at least for a short time, because they snapped to the fact that the prophet Zechariah had proclaimed that their savior/king would ride into town on a donkey.

2. Then there was the mob, comprising some of those same people who had laid palms in Jesus’ path and boogied in the streets with joy over him. Now they wanted Pontius Pilate to go all Mel Gibson on him.

3. The third crowd — many mourning women among them — were those who followed Jesus as he bore his cross (with a little help from a good-hearted African). It was those women, God bless em, who gave Jesus what we all need when we’re at our lowest, most painful points in life.

They gave him the gift of their presence.

Image: Antonio Ciseri’s 1871 depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to one of the 3 crowds.

And therein lies a pastoral-care lesson in Luke’s gripping account of the Passion. Even when they followed him at a distance, Jesus knew the women were there for him. In all his anguish, he could feel their loving presence.

It’s a wonderfully pleasant thing to be with someone we love on a happy, festive occasion like a wedding or birthday or Christmas bash. Not so easy simply to be there when someone is laid low by grief. We want to speak platitudes at them in futile attempts to make them feel better.

Really, it is not that hard to simply say to someone who is in pain, “I cannot imagine how you are feeling, but I’m here for you.”

If you really love and care deeply about someone, allow them to feel and express their inescapable pain.

Allow them to say what they want to say to get their pain off their chest without jumping in with an encouraging word or two or 50.

Because, ironically, an encouraging word has the potential to salt the wound rather than salve it. (“He’s in a better place and he wouldn’t want you to be so sad and remember that this will make you stronger in the end and God has some good reason for this, you know.”)

Like those women in mourning who followed Jesus all the way to the cross — and let him do what little, meaningful talking he did to them without talking back — just be there to share the pain.

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