One of the most striking images of so many that we encounter during this week we call Holy is that of the crowd: Adoring, enthusiastic, enthralled on Sunday, silent but for jeers and calls for death but a few days later. |
The reason the image sticks with us is because the truth that the crowd embodies hits so close to home. The truth is about us.
It’s about our waffling, our faint-heartedness, our fear of being associated with the challenging, dangerous Christ. We know it in our bones, and so while we don’t like calling out “Crucify Him” during the Gospels readings on Passion Sunday or Good Friday, we do it anyway because we can’t say for sure that we wouldn’t have, if we’d been there.
Ordinarily, when we think about our spiritual vacillations short of outright betrayal, we turn our meditations around the fact of our inconsistency in following Christ, which usually takes the form of condemning ourselves for not following enough rules closely enough or failing to meet certainly saintly standards we’ve picked out for ourselves.
But you know, that’s not really what it’s about. Not even half.
Look back at the Gospels. Again. Read the words of Jesus with an open mind, as if you’ve never heard them before in your life.
When does Jesus call people to task for failing to follow rules?
When does Jesus condemn his listeners for falling short of standards?
When does Jesus judge anyone for not meeting obligations, violating prohibitions or not “doing enough” to express their faith?
Hardly ever? Close to never? Right. Then what does Jesus’ call to faith, which we’re so fickle about, really concern?
Maybe, just maybe, the failures of faith that Jesus talks about or even implies are not about the space between our lives and perfect adherence to a set of rules.
Maybe they’re about the failure to accept God’s love.
Every bit of our misery on this earth stems from that in some form or another. Our sin towards others is rooted in our failure to see that they are loved by God, and therefore deserving of respect and care. Our sins that harm mostly ourselves – our despair, the ways we waste our time and talents, our self-abuse – all stem from the inability to see how passionately we are loved by God and what that means.
And weaving throughout all of this is forgiveness. How much of our everyday, deadening sin, despair and rootlessness comes from our insistence on being defined by the sins of the past rather than listening to Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and accepting it?
Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon explains the gift of grace this way. He imagines himself in the hospital in dire, helpless straits, and in his absence, his house is falling apart. But then one day a friend – you - appears and says it’s all been taken care of – the house is fixed. A gift. Capon asks,
“What are my choices in the face of such good news? I cannot go out of ht hospital to check for myself—I cannot know that you have fixed my house for me. I can only disbelieve you or believe you. If I disbelieve you, I go on being a miserable bore. But if I believe you –if I trust your word that you have done the job for me – I have my first good day in a long while.”
“Suppose I had decided, while staring at the hospital ceiling, that if only I could work up enough faith, you would undertake to repair my house…What good would that have done unless you had decided, as a gift to me in response to no activity on my part whatsoever, to do the job for me? No good, that’s what…Faith therefore is not a gadget by which I can work wonders. It is just trust in a person who actually can work them---and who has promised me he already has.”
No, this isn’t about the whole “faith v. works” controversy, for everyone knows that James was right when he wrote that faith without works is dead. We are Catholic here, and we have no doubt as to the truth of what we've learned about the necessity of a life working in according with the sanctifying grace poured out on us by God. It is, however about the fundamental submission to God’s grace that is the starting point of that journey. Jesus invites us to trust that we are redeemed, that God has showered forgiveness and love over His beloved Creation.
So as we dig deep into ourselves over this Holy Week, forget, if we can, rules and standards, and consider Jesus, bent and suffering, crucified and risen. We are broken, too. In his brokenness we are healed. Can we accept it? Today? Tomorrow? Forever?