There are so many things we can say about this day. Jesus, the nonviolent one, suffered at the hands of the priestly caste and the empire. Anselm’s atonement theory, which has been carried too far, would have us believe that Jesus suffered and died to forgive our sins in order to appease an angry “Father” God. When we just think about it logically, what God would have his son die in order to take away the wrath incurred by our sins? We should have abandoned that theory when God told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac.
Who then is God and what is Good Friday all about? First of all, God had repeatedly told us that God does not want sacrifice. He wants mercy and justice and compassion. Jesus came to live and die so he could show us the face of a merciful, compassionate Abba God. This is a God who loves us in spite of our sins and failures. Second, Jesus has told us that God always welcomes back the prodigal with open arms. God has repeatedly told us that, while loving all people, God has a special preference for the poor and oppressed. Third, God always valued the widows, orphans, and immigrants throughout the Old Testament.
Thomas Merton studied Sufi Muslim spirituality. Islam has 99 names for God. Mercy is the first name for Allah. There he found God as Mercy upon Mercy. “I have always overshadowed Jonas with my mercy. . . Have you had sight of me, Jonas my child? Mercy upon mercy within mercy” (The Sign of Jonas). God is merciful and compassionate and calls us to contemplative union. [Maybe we would disabuse ourselves of faulty concepts about Muslims if we were to study what they really believe.]
I went back the other day and found the Baltimore catechism online. [Memories of sweaty palms and a palpitating heart as the black robed nun stood over me awaiting my answer to the catechism question I was supposed to have memorized the night before soon erupted and chilled me to the quick. Hurry and answer before the three cornered ruler comes down on your knuckles. Maybe this is why we came away with a concept of an angry punishing God!] The Baltimore catechism taught contemplation and we just did not know it. Question 6: Why did God create you? A: God created me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. In spite of non-inclusive language, that is the definition of contemplative union with God. Our only purpose for living is to be in closer union with God.
We do not have to hie ourselves away to monasteries and convents in order to enter into contemplative union with God. One thing Merton discovered about the Muslim Sufis is that they live in contemplative union with God in the world. When we embrace a nonviolent lifestyle and unite ourselves with the suffering and oppressed, like Jesus and the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, we are entering into closer union with the God who loves the poor and oppressed.
Most of us most of the time live comfortable lives isolated form suffering and oppression. We all have the usual trials of sickness, disappointment, loss of love or a loved one to endure; however, around the world, many people face the harsh realities of the cross on a daily basis. I regularly receive information from Brother Jack Curran at Bethlehem University. He recounts the trials as one of their Palestinian teachers and her brother were rousted out of their beds in the middle of the night. When she protested, the soldier told her, “I am not your friend. I do not come to your house. This is Israel “[Actually it is Palestinian territory the Israelis are illegally occupying.] She still does not know what it was all about.
Let’s take Israel Palestine as just one example. When you try to speak the truth about Israel Palestine to American Jews or many Evangelical Christians who identify themselves as Christian Zionists, you realize quickly that you are taking a big risk. In the darkness of rejection and accusations, you have to look deep within to find the God of Peace who is calling you to union with God and with people who disagree with you. With Gandhi we have to realize that we all have pieces of the truth and that we need to enter into dialogue. Our purpose is to make friends and allies not enemies.
We accomplish the “miracle of peace” when we speak truth to power and when we give of our time and talents to alleviate human misery. In so doing, we enter into deeper union with the God of mercy and compassion. We enter into deeper union with one another when we love our enemies and pray for those who reject and persecute us. Amid the darkness and sometimes emptiness of the struggle for peace and justice God enters into our lives, penetrates to the very core of our being, and transforms us into merciful and compassionate people.
Jesus is our nonviolent model. We must speak out because Jesus spoke out. He spoke truth to power and paid the ultimate price without counting the cost. Isaiah tells us that he was oppressed, condemned and taken away though he had done no wrong. We cannot help but think of those who are taken away and tortured, killed or disappeared in places of oppression. Four innocent Maryknoll women were taken away and raped and brutally beaten and then killed because they spoke for the poor and oppressed in El Salvador. Dorothy Stang was shot because she tried to protect God’s creation from devastation and exploitation. Franz Jagerstetter was hanged because he refused to fight an unjust war for the Nazis. Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot as he celebrated the Eucharist because he spoke out for the poor and oppressed in El Salvador. His death reminds us of Easter, “I will arise in the Salvadoran people.” Brother Jack Curran speaks truth to power as he tries to alleviate the oppression of the Palestinians.
This Good Friday let us think about the sufferings of people throughout the world. Let us resolve to speak out when and where we can to alleviate human misery. In many ways, these people are dying for our sins—oppression, greed, exploitation, consumerism. Let us not forget the Americans who are suffering from the effects of racism and homophobia. Let us not forget the millions of Americans who are suffering from hunger and homelessness. Let us not forget the Americans who are dying because they do not have adequate healthcare.
Today, we will participate in an Ecumenical Good Friday Walk in Melbourne, Florida. “Where is Jesus suffering today?” We will pray where Jesus is suffering today in that community. In the parking lot of Our Lady of Lourdes School we will pray the first station—Where are You suffering today? At the second station at the school, we will pray for children who are abused, trafficked, and exploited. At the Veterans Center, we will pray for all who have suffered the violence of war. At the Daily Bread site, we will pray for the hungry, unemployed and underemployed. At His Place Ministries, we will pray for the homeless, the evicted and the imprisoned. At the railroad tracks, we will pray for refugee and immigrants. At City Hall, we will pray for those implicit in the violence of unjust structures. Back at the school, we will have one final prayer to raise our awareness of where Jesus is suffering today.
I challenge you, on this Good Friday, to search for places where Jesus is suffering in your communities and to stand by the suffering and their crosses as Mary and the women stood by Jesus this day. When confronted with injustice and violence, do not deny Jesus like Peter. Do not betray Jesus like Judas. Do not abandon Jesus like the male disciples. In the words of the country song, this day “stand by your man” become one with God, Jesus the Christ.
The Gospel calls us to be in solidarity with these people, to stand by them. Pray. Speak out against the violence of injustice. Call and email your elected representatives. Write letters to the editors of your newspaper. Speak truth to power when and where you can.
Our God is loving and kind. Our God is compassion. Our God is mercy upon mercy within mercy. Let us be compassionate as our Creator God is loving and compassionate.