STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Two — Jesus Carries His Cross, by Henri Nouwen

stations of the cross nouwen

From Walk With Jesus


young Guatemalan carries a heavy load of wood.  The wood is for coffins to bury the Indian men who have been kidnapped, murdered, and found dead on the side of the road, or to bury the children who could not survive the diseases that touched them as soon as they were born.  It happened many years ago when the international press reported it with great indignation.  It happens still today when the subject is no longer newsworthy and remains hidden from the eyes of the world.

Young men are murdered with guns, knives, and electric prods.  Small children die from malnutrition, dehydration, and lack of care.  Day after day, violence and poverty bring death to the little villages of Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Bangladesh, and countless other countries.

I am haunted by the face of the young Indian with the heavy burden on his head and shoulders.  His eyes are almost shut, his brow furrowed by deep sorrow, his face already old.  Death is very close to him, and still there is such dignity, such serenity, such deep knowledge of who he is.  His mouth does not utter many words; his heart is silent.  His bony body has already lived more than I ever will, even though I may reach old age.  He carries the cross of humanity: “a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering,” (Isaiah 53:3).  He knows that soon a car may stop, armed men may bind him and drag him off to be cruelly tortured and thrown naked into the street.  He knows it, but he keeps walking, carrying the wood for the coffins of his friends.

Pilate handed Jesus over to be scourged.  The soldiers “stripped him and put a scarlet cloak around him, and having twisted thorns into a crown, they put this on his head and placed a reed in his right hand.  To make fun of him they knelt to him saying: ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’  And they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head with it.  And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the cloak and dressed him in his own clothes and led him away to crucifixion,” (Matthew 27:28-31).  Jesus undergoes it all.  The time of action is past.  He does not speak any more; he does not protest; he does not reproach or admonish.  He has become a victim.  He no longer acts, but is acted upon.  He has entered his passion.  He knows that most of human life is passion.  People are being starved, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.  People are being imprisoned, driven from their homes, separated from their families, put into camps, and used for slave labor.  They do not know why.  They do not understand the cause for it all.  Nobody explains.  They are poor.  When Jesus felt the cross put on his shoulders, he felt the pain of all future generations pressing on him; he saw the young Guatemalan man and loved him with an immense compassion.

I feel very powerless.  I want to do something.  I have to do something.  I have, at least, to speak out against the violence and malnutrition, the oppression and exploitation.  Beyond this, I have to act in any way possible to alleviate the pain I see.  But there is an even harder task: to carry my own cross, the cross of loneliness and isolation, the cross of the rejections I experience, the cross of my depression and inner anguish.  As long as I agonize over the pain of others far away but cannot carry the pain that is uniquely mine, I may become an activist, even a defender of humanity, but not yet a follower of Jesus.  Somehow my bond with those who suffer oppression is made real through my willingness to suffer my loneliness.  It is a burden I try to avoid, sometimes, by worrying about others.  But Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28).  I might think that there is an unbridgeable gap between myself and the Guatemalan wood carrier.  But Jesus carried his cross for both of us.  We belong together.  We must each take up our own cross and follow him, and so discover that we are truly brothers who learn from him who is humble and gentle of heart.  In this way only can a new humanity be born.

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