From Walk With Jesus
A man behind bars. He is condemned to death. He is put in the category of the “damned.” He is no longer considered worthy to live. He has become the enemy, the rebel, the outsider, a danger to society. He has to be put away, cut out of the communal life.
Why? Because he is different. He is black, and blacks are dangerous. He is gay, and gays are perverts. He is a Jew, and Jews cannot be trusted. He is a refugee, and refugees are threats to our economy. He is an outsider, saying what we do not want to hear, and reminding us of what we would rather forget. He upsets our well-ordered lives. He tears aside the veil that covers our impurities and breaks down the walls that keep us safely separated. He says, “We belong to the same humanity, we are all children of the same God; we are all loved as God’s favorite sons and daughters; we are all destined to live in the same home, with the same father, and eating together at the same table.” He says, “Apartheid is not according to God’s plan. Unity and communion are.”
That voice has got to be silenced. It upsets the way we do things here. It disturbs our family life, our social life, our business life. It creates disorder, yes, even chaos. Life is complex enough as it is. We do not need prophets who destroy the delicate web of relationships we have so carefully worked out. Let us stick to the motto: Everyone for himself and God for us all. That way there is a minimum of pain and a maximum of comfort.
Jesus stands before Pilate. He is silent. He does not defend himself against the many charges made against him. But when Pilate asks him, “What have you done?” he says, “I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice,” (John 18:35-38). The truth of which Jesus speaks is not a thesis, or a doctrine, or an intellectual explanation of reality. It is the very relationship, the life-giving intimacy between himself and the Father of which he wants us to partake. Pilate could not hear that, nor can anyone who is not connected to Jesus. Anyone, however, who enters into communion with Jesus will receive the Spirit of truth – the Spirit who frees us from the compulsions and obsessions of our contemporary society, who makes us belong to God’s own inner life, and allows us to live in the world with open hearts and attentive minds. In communion with Jesus, we can hear the Spirit’s voice and journey far and wide, whether we are in prison or not. Because the truth – the true relationship, the true belonging – gives us the freedom that the powers of darkness cannot take away. Jesus is the freest human being who ever lived because he was the most connected to God. Pilate condemned him. Pilate wanted to make him one of the damned. But he could not. Jesus’s death, instead of being the execution of a death sentence, became the way to the full truth, leading to full freedom.
I know that the more I belong to God, the more I will be condemned. But the condemnation of the world will reveal the truth. “Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness, the kingdom of Heaven is theirs,” (Matthew 5:10). I have to trust these words. Precisely there where the world hates me, where I am not taken seriously by the powers that be, where I am pushed aside, laughed at and made marginal, there precisely I may discover that I am part of a worldwide community that is barred, fenced in, and locked away in isolated camps.
I hunger for the truth, for that communion with God that Jesus lived. But every time that hunger is satisfied, I will be condemned again and given a heavy cross to bear. It is the story of Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, James and Andrew, and most of all of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Their joy and sorrow became one because they chose to live the truth in the world. That cannot happen without our being given a cross to bear, but also not without the immense joy of being already now part of the divine life that reaches beyond any barred fence or gallows.
Yes, there is fear in the eyes of the man behind the bars, but also conviction, trust, hope, and a deep knowledge of freedom. His eyes and mine are eyes that see what the world cannot see: the face of a suffering God who calls us far, far beyond our fears into the land of a love that lasts.