There is a story of an elderly man who meditated every morning under a big tree on the bank of the Ganges River. One morning after praying he saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water. He stretched out to save it but as soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. A few minutes later the old man tried again to save the scorpion and this time the sting was so severe that the man’s hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain. A passerby who saw all of this shouted, “Hey, stupid old man, what’s the matter with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature! Don’t you know that you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?” To which the old man replied, “Just because it is in the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change the fact that it is in my nature to save.”
The sacred texts of Holy Week remind us that it is in God’s nature to love, to forgive, to heal, protect and save. Even when human beings do what is wrong or selfish or downright evil, God’s nature does not change. It is in the very nature of God to reach out with the gift of reconciliation. We know all this through Jesus. Although he was God, Jesus emptied himself of all he was and all he had so as to effect the salvation of sinners. Without a thought for his own well-being, Jesus became as we are for our sakes. For us, he humbly and willingly died an ignominious death, thereby revealing how completely invested God is in our human condition. The first reading speaks of the servant giving himself over to those who tortured him. Jesus is that servant.
Today we heard Matthew’s version of the passion and death of Jesus. For Matthew, the ultimate turning point in Jesus’ history was his death and resurrection. At the very instant of Jesus’ death, a death suffered in fidelity to his mission, new life breaks out: The earth quakes, the rocks are split, the tombs are opened and the saints of old are raised from their tombs to march triumphantly into God’s city. In writing these words, Matthew evokes the great vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. God breathes spirit into the bones, and they rise from the dead to become a new people. In similar vein out of the death of Jesus came new life for the world.
All this is good news but the question is how deep does it run in our veins? To paraphrase the poet Yeats, are these just thoughts in the mind or is it a lasting song in the marrowbone? Rwanda was always known as a very Christian country yet last week we were reminded of the terrible genocide that took place there twenty years ago. The Christian story is about God’s undying love for each of us but how convinced are we of God’s nature to love, to forgive, to heal, protect and save? With all the distractions and information overload of today, it’s all too easy to see the Christian message as just another blog or tweet that is quickly forgotten.
Holy Week deals with the marrowbone. We don’t just read about Jesus’ death in an armchair. We join the procession of believers and follow Jesus with our feet into the city of Jerusalem. If a picture paints a thousand words then the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday cannot but touch us as we remember that Jesus did exactly this on the night before he died. On Friday at the reading of the passion we hear that Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. What was it like for her? Could she ever understand just then why such a good man was put to death. And then, just when all seemed to be lost, Jesus rises again, ushering in a new age of peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.
Holy Week forces us to acknowledge that this world of ours is a battleground between the forces of good and evil. There is no middle ground here. We are either on one side or the other. Jesus is our guide and Paul is asking us to let this mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. We have to empty ourselves like Jesus. The pattern of death-resurrection in his life must be our pattern also. This calls for letting go; a literally dying to self, to our ego desires so as to make room for God, for others, for goodness and the breath of the Spirit, for Jesus.
Among the terrible atrocities of that genocide in Rwanda, there must have been wonderful stories of unbelievable courage, forgiveness and generosity. Here is one of them. Emmanuel killed the baby daughter of Alice and chopped off her own right hand with a machete. Yet today they are friends working together to build simple houses for the survivors of the genocide. That sounds to me like Jesus’ healing hand had a big part to play in that reconciliation. Yes the nature of God to love, to forgive, to heal, protect and save is still alive in our midst. May this most holy and blessed of weeks serve make this same truth a lasting song in our marrowbone!
Sunday, 13 April 2014