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Station 8 – Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem

As Jesus is nearing the top of the hill where he will meet death, Luke records the following scene:

A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Jesus endures his own suffering while directing our attention toward the suffering all around us, encouraging us toward empathy and intervention; to step into the messes of life and bring healing. Reflections on this passage in the 21st century require more of us. What is required of us is seeing that these messes go beyond humanity and extend to all of creation. Jesus’ words take on greater meaning when we reflect on the reality that environmental degradation disproportionally affects women in the two-thirds world. 

A few weeks ago I wrote about the blind man in Mark 8 who, partially able to see, says that he sees people but “they look like trees walking.” We often find ourselves with the same cloudy vision, unable (and perhaps unwilling) to see the reality of hurt and brokenness around us. We need a second healing or conversion experience in which our vision becomes clear and we start to see the injustices of inequality, exclusion, racism and patriarchy. We can and should indeed weep because it is such lament that motivates us toward healing the brokenness of ourselves, the earth and all the relationships in between.

Norm Habel writes:

Do you want to see Christ suffering? . . .First look at the cross. Then look at hundreds of stations of the cross scattered around the earth. At every station God suffers. To name just a few: Maralinga in Australia, Ok Tedi in Papua New Guinea, the Amazon Rain Forest, the saline farmlands of Western Australia, the Gulag of Siberia, or the lost soil from the Darling Downs. God ensoiled in this desecrated earth suffers.[1]

Language about God suffering is often avoided in many Christian circles. We prefer instead to preserve God as omnipotent and impervious to emotion and pain. This can no longer be the way that we relate to God, as one outside of human experience. The incarnation, and Jesus’ grinding stagger toward the cross tell us that God does not only suffer, but suffers alongside creation. In Jesus, God breathes and bleeds in divine vulnerability, risking the finitude and mortality of humanity for the sake of making divine love visible and tangible.

God inhabits carbon, permeating and pulsing through all life. Recognizing this is part of a second conversion that we must make in following Jesus. Sallie McFague uses the beautiful and striking metaphor of “the world as God’s Body.” The earth, creation, is not simply a backdrop for human history, or an instrument for human use, consumption or exploitation, but part of God’s self-revelation. We say along with Elizabeth Barrett Browning,

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God: but only he who sees takes off his shoes – the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

It is when we see the presence of God unfolding in the emergence of life that we are able to see Christ suffering and enduring pain in depleted aquifers, fracked landscapes, toxic rivers, strip-mined mountains, and plains now victims of desertification.

Prayer: God, help me to see you embedded and en-soiled within creation. May I treat the earth and its inhabitants with love because you are present in them.

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1. Norman C. Habel,  “The Third Mission of the Church” in Trinity Occasional Papers (Brisbane: Trinity Theological College, 1998)XVII, I, pages 31-43.

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The following quote is from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1962 speech titled “The Ethical Demands for Integration.”

The absence of freedom is the imposition of restraint on my deliberation as to what I shall do, where I shall live, how much I shall earn, the kind of tasks I shall pursue. I am robbed of the basic quality of [human-ness]. When I cannot choose what I shall do or where I shall live or how I shall survive, it means in fact that someone or some system has already made these a priori decisions for me, and I am reduced to an animal. I do not live; I merely exist. The only resemblances I have to real life are the motor responses and functions that are akin to humankind. I cannot adequately assume responsibility as a person because I have been made a party to a decision in which I played no part in making.

Now to be sure, this is hyperbole in some agree but only to underscore what actually happens when a [person] is robbed of his [or her] freedom. The very nature of his [or her] life is altered and his [or her] being cannot make the full circle of personhood because that which is basic to the character of life itself has been diminished.

Incredibly powerful. MLK Jr’s namesake, Martin Luther had much to say about freedom as well. I am captured when Luther writes in The Freedom of a Christian,

A Christian is lord of all, completely free of everything.

A Christian is servant of all, completely attentive to the needs of all.

According to Luther there is this duality to our freedom. We are completely free from [fill in the blank] and we are also completely free to [fill in the blank]. However, freedom is bound by love. Our freedom emerges from the freedom of God and ends at the beginning of our neighbor. The only way we can transgress the boundary of our neighbor is in and through love. Luther states:

Although we Christians are free from all works, we ought to use this liberty to empty ourselves, take on the form of servants, take on human form, and become human in order to serve and help our neighbors in every possible way. This is the very manner in which God in Christ acted and continues to act toward us. And this service ought to be done freely, having regard for nothing except the approval of God.

God, though completely free, took on the form of a servant in the incarnation. Through Jesus, God rejects power and uses God’s freedom to submit to, to serve and to empower the broken and weak. Freedom finds its ultimate expression in how we relate to others, not in how we behave to and for ourselves. The expression of freedom in the incarnation is one that binds itself to the well-being of others in a way that gives life.

This puts new perspective on the restrictions that Christians attempt to legislate against marriage equality. Or the ways in which churches restrict women and people who identify as queer from full participatory life within community. God help us restore agency, honor, and humanity to those whom we have stripped it from.