The title of today’s post hit me while I was walking the streets with Jesus on the way of the cross last Friday. I was pondering our journey in Capitolo Park, in the rain when I heard a nice singing voice on a loudspeaker in Spanish. I looked around south of Pat’s cheesesteak, but it appeared to be coming from even farther south. I started walking to investigate. I heard the Spanish word for sin, I saw the crest of a Roman legionnaire glinting in the distance, so I started running. Before long I was in a procession behind Mexican Jesus carrying his cross and being periodically whipped by soldiers who were taking their roles as seriously as everyone else in the parade. I stood very close to Mary, herself, and hummed along with the rest of the singers in the crowd.
The police were trying to make it all work. The neighbors were standing on their stoops looking bemused and indulgent. A reporter made it a human interest story on Saturday in the Inquirer. But I was strangely moved when Jesus fell and the soldiers started yelling at him to get up and finally whipped him again with their cotton-rope whips to keep him moving toward His death. What an important spectacle! — few words, just a big visual aid for what the day in history was all about. I was glad I was with everyone for a while before I continued my own more meditative version of the discipline. As I stood out in the middle of Broad St. and prayed for the city, in the rain, in the median, in the line of sight for all sorts of cars wondering why anyone was doing such a thing, I began to wonder what people really want.
Lots of people do not want Jesus crucified and risen. That is for sure. It hasn’t changed much since Paul insisted that his story about Jesus’ death and resurrection was all he really had to give people. People wanted “spirituality” and the idol worship of the state back then, too, instead of Jesus. But what to the Christians really want? They did not want to get out in the rain and make themselves known as followers along the way of the cross, for the most part, certainly not with the Mexicans who were importing their extravagant passion play. I began to make a list in my head.
What do Christians REALLY want?
Mind you, this is not a list for all Christians, or even for the Christians I know. It is more along the line of “these are the things Christians get sucked into when their courage is weakened by their environment and the unique challenges of their personal journey” or “this is what people think Christians really want instead of Jesus that makes them hypocrites.”
- They want the best for their kids.
Who doesn’t? But if that is all you really want will they ever find out what is best beyond what you can get for them?
- They want to pay less taxes and control their money.
Thus, Republican candidates can assume the evangelicals will vote for them.
- They want good friends.
So all sorts of churches have tight communities and don’t even need to mention Jesus to keep them going.
- They want more personal time.
So many church people resent the church because it appears to eat up too much of the time not dominated by their jobs.
- They want to argue about church policies
This is for people who are into church, of course. Most people only argue about policies when the church doesn’t have one that benefits them or has one that makes what they want to do look wrong.
- They want to follow rules
No matter how much the Bible writers fight the constant pressure to makes rules that manage God people still want to tame the Lord and lead God around — you know, whip him into shape.
Does Jesus really care about any of these things? He cares about us, so he ends up caring about what we care about. But, as the Son of God, none of these things make his top twenty list. He doesn’t have a wife and kids (or a house or even a career in the normal sense of the word). He gets tax money out the mouth of a fish. He has great friends, but they were not too reliable last week. He doesn’t work on dichotomies like public and personal. He is frustrated with Pharisees who have created policies about policies. He is a ruler, not a rule follower.
I suppose Jesus is so weird his weirdness is a good reason that people just motored through Good Friday and were impatient when a processional of Mexicans messed up their search for a parking space. Obviously, needing a parking space is not wrong and being frustrated about parking is a normal feature of city life. I suppose the problem is more about the desire that creates one’s list rather than the search itself. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. For the frustration of being annoyed a parker might endure the processional.
What do you REALLY want? The church normally promises whatever people want in the name of Jesus so they can keep butts in the seats. Church ends up all about your kids, your career, your friends, your “you” time, and all brought down to principles, policies and rules that a fifth grader could understand and apply without too much demanding spiritual stuff added in. You’re OK if you attend enough meetings to keep off the absentee list.
But there was Jesus out on the street again last Friday. I felt like my puny, twisted desires were whipping him, too. I was moved all over again to make myself absent to any of the normal fears that make me desire things I don’t have or desire more perfect versions of the things I already have in order to follow the Savior in the life I have been given. I want to know the miracle of being raised from the death of need so I can more needlessly receive and carelessly love. I want to know Christ, even though it means being one with him in death and suffering with him along this journey in order to know the power of his resurrection — instead of just desiring what I pretend I can get for myself.