“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this…” (Mark 8:31,32a NIV)
Jesus did not use parables to teach them about the cross, he spoke plainly. It was his life that would be the lesson, his experience that would be their teacher. The Way of the Cross is always so. It is clear and plain and needs no fancy words. It is a path which we must walk, not endlessly discuss. It is the dust of the road on the way to Jerusalem that is the aroma of real life.
It is not an easy way, this Way of the Cross, but Jesus still calls us to follow him. Not with cheap fastings of junk food, or social media, or fish on fridays but in the real world where suffering and rejection hurt, and hurt deeply, and where dying is a real possibility. Apparently, following Jesus, even today, will bring you down a path where friends and family, and even fellow Christians and church leaders may reject you, misunderstand you, mock you, shame you and with every blow you die a bit more, die to self, die to them, to the community, perhaps even just die alone, on the streets, or in a hospital bed, by yourself. Just like him, outside of Jerusalem, the Holy City, rejected by the people of God, the very people you tried to serve, to save, to love.
I have a friend who is a street evangelist. He is not all there and he has a certificate to prove it. An only child, he was abused by his parents both physically and emotionally. He never finished school but learned the basics of reading and writing in special classes for people like him. When he was a young man, both his parents died a few years apart and he inherited the farm. He couldn’t manage it on his own and he didn’t want to. He gave it all to his church and joined a mission and traveled the world preaching the gospel. He wasn’t very good at it, frankly. He doesn’t speak his own native language very well much less any other language. But he makes up in passion what he lacks in understanding.
His life is a study in paradoxes and more things happen to him in a year than happens to most of us in our lifetime. He has been beaten up, robbed, thrown out of churches, homeless, misunderstood. He has also preached the gospel (in his own simple way), visited countless people in the hospital to encourage them and pray for them. He has led numerous people in the sinner’s prayer. He has roamed the streets bringing facturas (pasteries) and mate (a hot argentine drink) to people in need.
He is no saint. He has an ego problem (like all of us). In his desperation he is sometimes a thief, sorrowful and contrite afterwards, but a thief nonetheless. But he is also willing to rush in where angels (and churchgoers) fear to tread. He is a well-intentioned dragon, coming to church smelling of the streets, asking for money, and generally making people feel uncomfortable. He is married but completely rejected by her kids and family. One child of his own, at age 13, an accident, taken from him and kept apart, who grew up to become a missionary and was killed with her husband and two kids (by witchdoctors and their followers) in Africa a few years ago. He can’t really work but he considers his ministry to be his work anyway. He has nothing but Christ and he knows it. He is worthless in the eyes of the world and he knows it. His simplicity is uncomplicated, without distractions, focused on the one thing that matters. He is not pure but he is righteous. Not mature but still following. Not without problems but making every effort to continue down the path. He has nothing else in this life. I envy him.
He also has a tumor in his brain. He just found out. He is scared to death.
He is my friend.
I can’t say that he is a particularly godly man, or that he walks the Way of the Cross very well or consistently (neither do I). What I can say is that he wants to. His passion is Christ’s glory. He is a sinner made righteous by the cross. He follows Him down the path seeking Jerusalem. He stumbles and often falls. He gets back up. He is tripped up by fellow Christians and religious people alike. He is even pushed off the path, rejected, threatened with calling the police if he enters the church again. You can see him there weeping in my arms with my family all around laying hands on him and praying for him, the one thing that matters to him, the love and care of his spiritual family carelessly and thoughtlessly ripped from him as if it doesn’t matter when it is the only thing that matters in all the world. Outside of the community, on a street corner a few blocks from church, afraid to come into the sanctuary and join in the praises of the people and hearing the Word of God. Seeking Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem where spiritual unity through the power of reconciliation and seeking the anointing of God are the meat and drink of those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Seeking Jerusalem and not finding it. Weeping over Jerusalem and, like a mother who has lost her child, not even wanting to be consoled. If we only knew that one day his life and passion and how we treated him will be the standard by which we are judged.
“The King will reply, ”I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).
This Lenten season I will join my friend outside the walls. Seeking Jerusalem. I will not simply fast my addiction to sugar and carbs or deny myself meat and eat fish instead. I will not simply give up some entertainment or stop using social media so much. This is not pretend. This is real life and it hurts and I will suffer…..and perhaps even die. Following the way of the cross is not for the weak of heart. It is not for the half-hearted. It is not for the religious or for the moral. It is for followers of the One who suffered and died for us, for me, for my friend. It is the path of our Lord and Savior and we are called to walk in it. It is time to get rid of everything that hinders us from following the light of the world into that dark vale.
It is an invitation, of course, but it is also a command for those who have chosen to accept commands and trust them when they come from the King. The Way of the Cross beckons. The path is before you. The first step must be yours. It’s time to follow.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Talk to Him (right now, go on). He can´t wait to hear from you.
“Lord, thank you for the cross and your willingness to walk down that path of suffering….for me. I have to assume that my situation is far worse than I can imagine if you decided that the cross was the only solution. I have a lot to learn. Teach me the Way of the Cross. I want to follow in it this Lenten season and for the rest of my life. I want to confess something to you and I need your help to make it right……..(go on, keep going)…….”