June 13, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Love of Jesus urges us to walk in imitation of his love

(First in a series)

Were you there when they condemned him to the tree?”

In a booklet Stations of the Cross for Parish and Private Recitation (computer generated by Robert Wright in Memphis, Tenn., 1992), the song “Were You There?” was adapted for the Way of the Cross.

This haunting hymn originating in the African-American culture is in the public domain and offers thought provoking questions as a stimulus for prayer and random reflections along the way to Calvary.

The first Station of the Cross commemorates the condemnation of Jesus at the outset of his Passion. We read in the Gospel according to St. Matthew “… when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves’ ” (Mt 27:24).

The fact that Jesus was innocent, even declared so authoritatively by Pilate, did not prevent a death sentence. Of course, even though we know the story we cannot help but be struck by the injustice of it all.

Jesus had committed no crime. There apparently was no one there—including his closest friends and disciples—to defend him.

With hindsight, our thoughts move readily to compassion for him. He was surrendering to the inevitable out of love for sinners and that includes all sinners, us too. It is fitting that in all honesty we acknowledge that our sins were part of the burden that Jesus endured.

Taking a step back, we must also pray that we do not judge and condemn others out of ignorance.

I can’t help but think of the plight of many rather powerless immigrants in our country today. They are judged mostly on the basis of prejudicial hearsay. The occasional hate campaign conducted by radio and other talk shows could well be understood as a replication of what was going on at the trial and condemnation of Jesus. Misinformation that is manipulated to appear as the truth is unjust as well as dishonest.

The trial of Jesus was a mockery. As we reflect on the mockery he endured, it becomes clear that fear is a motivating cause of hatred, in this case, fear of the authority of Jesus.

Pilate’s fear is ironic because the power of Jesus was that of simplicity and humility. His only concern for the kingdom of this world was to win its salvation. But, as is too often the case, fear causes good things not to happen.

Pilate feared the crowd and walked away. In the trial of Jesus, the psychology of the mob prevailed. Pilate conceded to the mob’s choice that a murderer, Barabbas, be released rather than the innocent Jesus. He is condemned to die as a criminal.

It is fruitful to consider whether sometimes we allow “the crowd” to do our thinking and judging about what is right and what isn’t. For example, in our interaction with the media of our day, the case can be made that often there is a “media spin” that is intended to shape opinion in the public forum.

How often the headlines of news stories—whether in print or on television—are not faithful to the content of the stories. How unfortunate that many of us live by these headlines and forego our own critical judgment of the facts.

How often news “stories” are manipulated in such a way as to create news. It seems to me that we as parents and teachers and pastoral leaders have a special responsibility to bring the lens of our faith to bear on the evaluation of communications that influence us so profoundly.

It is particularly important for people of faith to recognize the impact a materialistic secular culture can have on our way of thinking.

For example, I think of the imposition of “style” upon our youth. “Everybody does it” is an expected response from young people.

When it becomes a societal slogan, we find ourselves immersed in a culture of immaturity. Mob psychology can infect a culture in many ways. In our day, we witness the degradation of marriage and family as a result.

Jesus accepted and endured gross injustice at his trial as atonement for our sins. His unassailable motive made all the difference for all peoples down through the ages. The power of divine truth prevails and moves us to acts of hope and love in our culture. As we make our way along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, the love of Jesus urges us to walk in imitation of and with the confidence of his love. His way is right.

Were you there when they condemned him to the tree? The question begs a response in our minds and hearts, our words and deeds. †

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