In this week of passion, I startle myself!

Woman beggar in Paris, France. Howard Wilson for Bread for the World.

By Walter Earl Fluker 

Isaiah 52:14-15; 53:3 and Mark 15 

The Week of Holy Passion startles us; it throws us off guard and scatters our contrived notions of the everyday conundrums of normalcy. It breaks in upon us and drives us deeper into the mystery of our own hearts—the troubles that afflict us in private places; and the horrors of the public square where we see again the lacerated flesh and the mocking laughter of derision from those who feast on the suffering of others.  Like the Roman soldiers and marauding crowds, there are those among us who feed on the suffering of the weakest and most despised among us. Our world of gadgets and playthings create fictitious scenarios that hide the truth of the suffering around the globe. Our self-absorption with acts of piety call us away from the startling spectacles of the mass movement of peoples in search of food and water, refugees from war and poverty, the strained bodies of mothers carrying children across borders, and the harsh surveillance and bloody masses of human carnage.

The Messianic figure depicted in Isaiah is “a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. And like one from whom men hide their face.”  Why is it so difficult for us to see that He still suffers among us?   Are we not startled by the travesty of young black bodies lying in their own blood, the victims of poverty, poor handgun legislation and the perverse availability of drugs?  What kind of people have we become so that our encrusted hearts no longer feel the sheer agony and dread of life being wrenched away from the poorest of the poor in homeless cardboard shelters hidden from sight under highways and in the shadows of gargantuan skyscrapers?

During this week when we fast and pray, give up meat and drink of which we already have too much, and bow at altars made of the finest wood and cushioned kneeling pads, let us remember his suffering and the via dolorosa of our contemporary hurried and cellophane-packaged abundance.  Shall we be astonished?  In the misery of his passion, shall we not see our own little lives? 

How strange that on the Way to Calvary
We should meet so many faces of strangers
Beggars, lepers, thieves
And those who would destroy us

How grotesque
The sordid horror of one
Who startles oneself on the Way!

O how deep the agony of one—
Betrayed by none other than oneself?

On the Way to Calvary there are many doors
And streets and winding paths
But not one is the Way
Do not follow them
For they lead us away from Him

O traveler,
Remember the Way
It is not far from you
Just at thy beckoning
He appears
At your heart’s reach
He is summoned
Yes, closer than breathing
Nearer than hands and feet
See Him there
Mercifully damned
Cursed and resurrected
Smitten and healed—
There, in your face
He startles you!

Walter Earl Fluker is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Ethical Leadership, the editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project and the Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Initiative for the Development of Ethical Leadership (MLK-IDEAL) at Boston University School of Theology.

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