Tuesday, February 12, 2008

keep me near the cross

I am currently listening to Messiaen’s organ piece L’ascension. I first heard this piece in a cathedral in England—I believe it was in Canterbury—in the summer of 1998, while I was traveling after the St. Olaf Orchestra tour. I already loved Messiaen at the time. It is a cycle of works essentially about prayer and the presence of God. It seemed appropriate as I try to think more about the cross and drawing close to Christ.

As I said before, for Jesus’ death to have the meaning we impart to it, it matters that we know who he is/was. I cannot hope in the death of a martyr or any other merely good man. I can only mourn them, and be inspired by what blessings they may have left behind. I may work to right injustice that led to their death. I may study their lessons more closely, having been brought to a realization of my own mortality and shortcomings. But I do not obtain hope from it.

What led to Jesus’ death? Lots of answers here; I’m going for the ones that don’t just appeal to God’s inscrutable wisdom. It seems that he garnered the ire of community leaders in two ways: firstly by challenging their authority, and secondly by raising genuine concern that he was blaspheming. As one of my pastors has pointed out, he didn’t just set up new rules or tear down old traditions, he “loosened what had been made too tight, and tightened what had been made too loose.” Thus by definition he had to be acting against the establishment. It turned out that in the process he had to lift the burdens of the common Jewish believer while chastening the leaders who had become lax in their morality. The prophet Micah had reminded the people generations before: “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The example of Jesus has led me to wonder if it is inevitable that a truly good man will be persecuted and perhaps killed. I know this idea is influenced by my reading of both Kierkegaard—for whom true belief and morality are impossible unless they stand in sharp contrast to the milieu—and Gibran—who writes many tales and poems about the oppression of people and the insistence of leaders, political and religious alike, to maintain their power by oppression. If so, it would add a different spin to the statement that “Christ died as a victim because it was God’s will that he do so”—namely the nuance that God willed Jesus to come to earth not only in order for him to die, but in spite of his inevitable death. He foresaw it, but declared that Jesus would come anyway; “the cup” would not pass from Christ untasted.

It is a bleak view of the world that it would be unable to restrain itself from killing a good man. It is not so far from the world we know, however. Consider Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, Benazir Bhutto, Thomas Becket, Thomas More, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Itzhak Rabin, and so on. I could certainly list many genuinely good men and women who were not killed by either an individual or a government, but being good is no bullet-proof vest, and indeed often draws unwelcome attention due to one’s unwelcome message.

There is more to Jesus than this, however. Something in the way he humbled himself in life and death makes those unique; there is also the resurrection. These will probably be the things I reflect on in later days.

1 comment:

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God bless...