The Scarier Road

Extrapolating from my experience to a generalization about human beings it seems to be that we leap-frog from the remembrances of things past to intimations of things yet to come. What matters about this is that an engagement with the demands of the present moment is neatly sidestepped.

For those unaware of the Church Calendar its Holy Week. For liturgical Christians this is a big deal with liturgies galore culminating in the solemn Triduum cycle. Triduum refers to the Great Three Days of Easter and their marking through a dramatic liturgical enactment of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

Many of us were brought-up in traditions that emphasized a kind of sentimental identification with Jesus as he journeyed on the road to the Cross. Again, risking another pesky generalization – we humans find it easy to identify with the drama of Christ’s physical pain, emotional suffering, and spiritual angst. For in our own lives we know well the echo of these states.

All this encourages us towards an interior or psychologically internal identification with Jesus in the events of Holy Week and Easter. In this way we revel in the remembrance of things past, i.e. our identification with the personal suffering of the historic human Jesus. Yet, at the same time we are engrossed in the intimation of things yet to come. For are we not hoping that our emotional and spiritual fidelity with Jesus will fruit into the promise of the future, i.e. eternal life?

The journey from Galilee to Jerusalem as reported in Mark’s Gospel shows Jesus inviting the disciples on a kind of study tour. His focus time and again is on inviting them to understand the nature of the journey they have started. It is a journey through confrontation and death that ushers-in the promise of a new life. This new life is something beyond their imagining. So they fill in the gaps with fantasies of sitting at the right and left hand of Jesus in his glory. They are caught-up in intimations of things yet to come. Because this is presently unimaginable to them they imagine only what they already know.

Jesus, meanwhile is firmly focused in the present moment as moment by moment the tension between him and the Temple Authorities grows. What is going-on in the present moment is much to frightening for the disciples to really contemplate hence their flight into intimations of things yet to come. When this psychological flight fails, they are forced to physically flee, abandoning Jesus to a solitary path.

I have spent much of my life being tempted into wanting my religion to be vacuum-packed against becoming contaminated by the mess of the world. This approach makes things much less scary. A vacuum-packed approach to religion offers an interpretation of the events of Holy Week and Easter in which Jesus is seen as challenging the flawed theology of Temple Judaism. As I take a closer look it seems to me that Jesus’ tension with the Temple Authorities has nothing to do with theology and everything to do with politics. Jesus is not a theological threat. It’s the politics of his message (the in breaking of the Kingdom) that terrifies the religious authorities. It seems that religion can’t be kept separate from politics defined as the way the world works.

As I look around my world of the early 21st century I note a lot of scary things going on. Chief among these many things that scare me is the way a strident, fear-driven Christian voice is increasingly raised in defense of a vacuum-packed religious world view. This is a world view that insulates itself from the societal processes that perpetuate violence and injustice. This fear driven voice echoes the concerns of the Temple Authorities and not the message of the Prophets which culminates in the ministry of Jesus. Confronting and challenging the way power operates in society to the benefit of the few and to the disadvantage of the many is what accompanying Jesus to the foot of the Cross means.

For me, this is all very personal. Identity and identification is all very complex. I am part of systems that oppresses others by virtue of my privilege – a privilege that in my case is rooted in gender, race, and education. Yet, I am also one of those who knows the fear of the violence that can be unleashed when Christians refuse to interrogate their theologically based protection of homophobia.

I catch myself. What I catch myself doing is appearing to promote and image of Jesus as social activist along with an image of myself as potential victim. So as I catch myself I am reminded that the way of confrontation and challenge is none other than the way of love.

Macrina Wiederkehr OSB in her re-imagining of the Divine Office in sevensacredpauses 2008 Sorin Books, quotes a Sufi saying: when the power of love overcomes the love of power then there will be peace on the earth. Following in the Way of the Cross through which God confronts human politics defined as the defense of the world as it is, requires the action of love.

Love in this instance always holds within itself the potential of leading us to becoming an uncomfortable and maybe dangerous challenge to the status quo. The religion Jesus reveals to us offers us no protection from such love.

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