When All Beauty is Gone
Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
April 7, 2023
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”—Matt. 23:37
My heart breaks every time I think about how those who pour out their hearts in love, service, and commitment to the most vulnerable are often made victims of the inevitable backlash against the pursuit of justice. Even as Jesus confronts the truth about what awaits him during what would become his last visit to Jerusalem, he expresses his desire to care for the people. His response is a lament, not anger. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams points out that Jesus “consistently refuses the role of oppressor: he does no violence, he utters no condemnation, he has no will to exclude or diminish.” Given the powers Jesus challenged, the inevitability of his execution can never exclusively be theological. Jesus’ relentless, active opposition to the status quo of poverty, violence, and exclusion of “the least of these” threatened the political and economic powers. They had to stop him.
I have never been comfortable concluding that Jesus’ crucifixion was biblically and theologically necessary for humanity’s salvation. I have also been uncomfortable with the idea that we, all of humanity throughout all time, are responsible for Jesus’ death. But what overwhelms me, what draws me to Jesus, especially as we try to capture the theological import of the violence and sadness of Good Friday, is his faithful obedience to God’s call to love and serve until the very end. What strikes awe in me about Jesus is how he acted to make God’s heart and realm real for the world until the powers acted upon him to stop him. What ought we do in light of Jesus’ unwavering, unstoppable love, passion, and commitment? What does it mean to love so fully that the world wants to stop us?
On Good Friday, I confront how often I do not act. Whether out of fear, comfort, or cowardice, I wonder how often I have demurred in silence, compromise, or accommodation to injustice, violence, and dehumanizing disregard for the vulnerable. We are challenged every day at the feet of the cross to admit that, too often, in fear of death, we have been explicitly and inadvertently complicit in making victims, excluding and diminishing the vulnerable for whom Jesus advocated and on whose behalf he challenged the status quo. We have not acted as often as we should on behalf of the poor, the sick, the prisoner, or the homeless. But as the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion sets in, I am heartened by Henri Nouwen’s testimony: “Where all beauty is gone, all eloquence silenced, all splendor taken away, and all admiration withdrawn, there it is that God has chosen to manifest unconditional love to us.” What ought we do?