As we quickly approach Holy Week in the Christian calendar, our attention turns increasingly to the passion and crucifixion of Jesus. According to the Gospel accounts, one of the last phrases that Jesus spoke while suffering on the cross is a recitation of the opening line of Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Even Jesus, whom Christians hold to be the Son of God, experienced feeling forsaken by his Heavenly Father. And the words of the Psalmist go further, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”
As I reflect on the plight of the undocumented immigrant in the United States today, I wonder if the words of the Psalmist, echoed by Jesus on the cross, don’t hit a little too close to home.
In the Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, Baphumelele Respite Care Centre and Clinic serves abandoned children as well as ill adults. The staff faces daily the anguish of caring for babies and older children with serious congenital alcohol and drug syndrome or HIV/AIDS complications. A compassionate professional team and scores of volunteers provide education and rehabilitative residential care for countless patients and support to child headed homes.
A nurse friend on the staff gave witness to the disparity between day-to-day realities when faced with the inadequate response by government and societal leaders. It is stunningly the case in South Africa in the post-Mandela era. The clinic was started in 1989 by the local founding-director Rosealia Mashale, “Rosie,” who could not abandon vulnerable children to the trash heap.
Even with more than 25 similar agencies active in the sprawling location of mostly substandard housing and services there are thousands still in need.
Professor Jonathan Jansen, a trusted commentator in South Africa and author of We Need to Act, reminds citizens to leave their comfort zones and contribute to righting the wrongs of society
Eight years ago I left my dorm room, humming the hook to “Till I Collapse” on my walk to the bathroom. When I returned a new song was playing on my laptop. Ludacris’ “P-Poppin’” pierced through the thin walls and echoed down the hallway. I bobbed my head along and then sat down to finish my homework. I looked at the screen, and I thought I saw my sister.
One of the women on the screen in the strip club swinging around a pole trying to seduce Ludacris looked like Jennifer – my older sister.
And something began to shift.
It all sounds so… demanding. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. “Be dressed for action." Imagine yourselves as slaves who remain ready for their master’s return — not knowing when it might come.
Luke’s Gospel is big on demanding. In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus encounters three would-be disciples. And each receives a warning that would vanquish enthusiasm like an ice-cold shower.
I suppose I could live my life saying, "I will never allow myself to try to understand white people. I will cut myself off from them. I will live my life as a black woman, and I'll just keep white people in boxes." But to do that means to keep myself cut off from a part of myself. And if white people do that about black people, I think the same is true: It keeps them cut off from a part of themselves.
For those of us who are Christians, I don't think we have any choice in the matter. I think God has made it clear that we're to be reconciled to God and each other. And if we're to be reconciled to each other, that includes everyone who happens to be in the world with us.
Reconciliation demands that you not take sides; it demands that you take a stand, I think—a stand that's maybe a merging of a lot of different pieces that represent several different kinds of philosophical stances. I think that one who chooses a road of reconciliation must be willing to look at more than one side of the coin.
Mr. Venter’s question is a constant thought during these declining days of Nelson Mandela’s life, especially today — his 95th birthday. I pray daily for my South African daughter Eliza, husband Jonathan, and their four sons Noah, Aidan, Luke, and Sam, along with the many dear South African friends gathered over the past 30 years. Will they live the on-going dream or in an emerging nightmare?
In 1994, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, I had the honor of meeting President Nelson Mandela in a most unexpected way — just two months after his April inauguration as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa.
Howard Thurman says three things, in Jesus and the Disinherited: One — God is on the side of the oppressed and the poor. Know that God is on your side. Two — Dishonesty takes you out of the conversation. And if you live an honest life, if you have integrity, you can sit at the table. In areas of race, people look for holes in your character as excuses for you not to be at the table. Three — Hate is useless. Don’t let hate sink into your soul, because hate will destroy you. And respond with love even if it’s hard. So I try to teach my boys that, and raise them that way.
No stones were thrown, even though these leaders thought they had the law on their side. Not one stone was thrown. Jesus turned the moment from pious religious rules to self awareness of grace, and each person with a stone dropped it and walked away. I think maybe because they realized life is all grace. Then that grace standing in front of this woman is given to her. The system failed, but life was given.
Jesus says some stuff in the inaugural speech of his ministry that really upsets the status quo of both the religious and non-religious. In essence, he says, "If you are to follow me as King of this newly inaugurated Kingdom of God, you will need to start loving your enemies as much as yourself. You will need to start getting creative in how you deal with your oppressors in order to choose the way of love and reconciliation rather than the way of revenge and contempt. In fact, when you live as peacemakers, you best reflect what it looks like to be children of God. Those of you that choose this way of life will be blessed."
A few years later — after Jesus has been announcing the good news of the Kingdom through both word and deed — he looks over Jerusalem and begins to weep. Here is the people and the city that is to symbolize right relationship with God and humanity. It is to be a place of shalom where salvation flows through all aspects of life. It is to be the city of peace. Instead, Jesus stands on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city and laments, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!"
Finally, Jesus, as king, messiah, and deliverer models this way of life to the point of death on a cross. Refusing to accept the lure of power through military might or pursuing peace through violence, Jesus embodies the life of suffering and self-sacrifice that he is calling his followers to emulate. Jesus, as the ultimate peacemaker, shows us that the life and work of peacemaking isn't some fairy tale euphoria, but the gritty, subversive and sacrificial life of faithfulness to a God and kingdom that lives by a different standard than the systems and powers of the world.
“It is a commonplace that the job of Archbishop of Canterbury is one you wouldn't wish on [even] your most antagonistic blogger,” quips Samuel Wells, Vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.
This sense of humor about the office extends to the new leader of the Church of England himself. “[O]nly 40 percent of churchgoers are convinced that the new Archbishop of Canterbury can resolve the problems of the Church of England. I do hope that means the other 60 percent thought the idea so barking mad that they did not answer the question,” said Justin Welby in his first Easter sermon last month.
But the question is a valid one. Welby certainly has his work cut out for him. The Anglican Church, splintered by years of division over questions of homosexuality, same-sex marriage and women’s leadership in the church, faces an uphill road to reconciliation.
Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged white church leaders to confront racism, an ecumenical network has responded to his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
“We proclaim that, while our context today is different, the call is the same as in 1963 — for followers of Christ to stand together, to work together, and to struggle together for justice,” declared Christian Churches Together in the USA in a 20-page document.
The statement, which is linked to an April 14-15 ecumenical gathering in Birmingham, Ala., includes confessions from church bodies about their silence and slow pace in addressing racial injustice.
“The church must lead rather than follow in the march toward justice,” it says.