STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Seven — Jesus Falls For the Second Time, by Henri Nouwen

stations of the cross nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

The poor farmer in Brazil is completely exhausted.  He has worked on the land for hours, days, weeks, and months to earn enough for himself and his family to have a decent meal.  But after many years of hard labor nothing has improved.  The crops are poor because of the exhausted soil he has to work.  He cannot compete with those who can afford modern agricultural techniques to improve the land.  The money he receives for his produce is so little that he cannot even pay off the debt he has incurred to keep his wife and children alive.  And every year the situation gets worse.  He faces the possibility of having to leave his little farm and join the millions of poor in the slums around the large cities.  There was a time when he dreamed of having paid off his debts and being able to give his children an education, and maybe even to earn enough money to buy a piece of more productive land.  But all these dreams are scattered now.  He and his horse have become old and very tired.  In every part of his body he feels the pain of hard labor, and, as he closes his eyes and holds his hand before his face, he sees nothing but an empty future.  His heart becomes very dark.  He wonders why he goes on living when all his efforts come to nothing.  He sees himself as a failure, and he blames himself for not being the husband, the father, and the friend he had hoped to be.

This desperate farmer is only one out of the millions of people who have become victims of great economic forces over which they have no control.  They find themselves unable to continue the work of their parents and grandparents, and they have little or no understanding of the national and international movements that have taken them from a life of simple farming to a life of poverty and fear and from a life in poverty and fear to a life of misery and destitution.

When Jesus falls for the second time, it is not now because the cross he carries is too heavy, but because in his whole body he experiences complete exhaustion.  He is totally spent.  The years of work in his home town, the time of preaching, of going from town to town with his disciples followed by large crowds, have all taken a heavy physical toll.  And more recently, he has had to bear the increasing resistance to his call to conversion: personal threats on his life, the defection of many followers, the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter, the scourging, the ridicule, the complete lack of understanding on the part of Herod and Pilate, and the screaming of hostile crowds.  It is too much for any one person to carry.  And so, he stumbles and falls.  Where are his dreams of starting a new age of love and forgiveness?  At first it seemed that many shared his vision.  Now he is completely alone, wondering why he no longer hears that voice that spoke to him at the Jordan River and on Mount Tabor.  Did he make a mistake, or was he the victim of powers he could not control?

Jesus knows so well that moment in which we no longer want to go on, in which we want to give up and let despair take its destructive course.  It is not only in the poverty-stricken parts of Brazil and other developing countries that people suffer under these emotions.  The rich and prosperous are as much tempted to despair as are the poor and destitute.  From my own struggles I know what the Brazilian farmer feels in his inner soul.  I, too, even when my economic future seems secure, can suddenly become subject to very disturbing feelings of guilt and shame, fear and despair.  And as I look around me into the eyes of the people who have lived a long life and worked hard, I often see that same question: “Is my life worth anything?”  There can arise in our hearts a deep fatigue that makes it seem impossible to go on.  Everything looks like one big failure.  All our efforts seem to have come to nothing.  Dreams are scattered, hopes are dashed, aspirations are ripped away.  Depression takes over, and nothing seems to matter any more.

Jesus suffered this with us as he fell.  He calls us now to trust that both his and our falling are a true part of the way of the cross.  Maybe all that we can do when we fall is to remember that Jesus fell and is falling now with us.  That remembrance may become the first inkling that there is hope.  And that hope may bind together in a new way the world of the Brazilian farmer and our world, and show us the direction to a more just and loving society.

2 Comments on STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Seven — Jesus Falls For the Second Time, by Henri Nouwen

  1. Only the Biblical details are significant. Who is Veronica? Not mentioned in the Bible. Jesus fell once Simon of Cyrene helped Him. Luke 23. Doesn’t the first Station start in the Garden of Gethsemane?


    • Unlike much in the church, the Stations of the Cross are nothing hard and fixed. There are many different expressions of them. And while Veronica is not in the Bible, it seems that she does exist in Christian tradition, and that Henri Nouwen chose to use that tradition to make the point that he wanted to make.


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