STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Ten — Jesus Is Stripped, by Henri Nouwen

stations of the cross nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

The woman in a hospital ward in Kathmandu has nothing but a blanket to cover her aging body.  Her long life of work in the fields and caring for her husband and children has come down to a naked, anonymous existence.  Her life, once filled with joyful sounds and colorful movements, now has fallen silent.  Where is the husband who honored her, and the children who gave her joy and pleasure?  Where are the neighbors who came for her advice?  Where the rivers with their sonorous rapids and the hills bedecked with greens and flowers in the spring?  Everyone and everything has been stripped away from her.  One day some strangers came to her village and brought her to the city hospital and locked the door of the psychiatric ward behind her.  They called her mad.  There was no one to defend her, no one to speak in her name, no one to protect her dignity.  Her mind has become confused.  Sometimes memories of long ago emerge, names from years past cross her lips, scenes of youth and adulthood appear, and no one responds.  Here is the true nakedness.  All human dignity is gone, and she, who once was so lovely to see, now hides her nakedness under a blanket.  Countless are the old men and women who live their stripped-down existences hidden away from the fast-moving world of our century.  Their growing old has left them with nothing but their naked existence, completely dependent on the randomly bestowed favors or rejections of their milieu.

Jesus was stripped.  The soldiers threw dice to decide which of them would have his garment, (see John 19:24).  Nothing was left to him.  He, the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, in whom all things were created in Heaven and on Earth, everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers – he it was, being stripped of all power and dignity and exposed to the world in total vulnerability.  Here the greatest mystery of all time was revealed to us: God chose to reveal the divine glory to us in humiliation.  Where all beauty is gone, all eloquence silenced, all splendor taken away, and all admiration withdrawn, there it is that God has chosen to manifest unconditional love to us.  “Many people were aghast at him – he was so brutally disfigured that he no longer looked like a man – so will many nations be astonished and kings will stay tight-lipped before him. . . .  He had no charm to attract us, no beauty to win our hearts, he was despised, the lowest of men, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering one from whom, as it were, we averted our gaze, a despised man for whom we had no regard,” (Isaiah 52:14-15, 53:2-3).

Jesus bore our suffering.  The stripped body of Jesus reveals to us the immense degradation that human beings suffer all through the world, at all places and in all times.  Often I think of life as a journey to the mountaintop where I will see at last the full beauty of my surroundings and where I will experience myself in full possession of all my senses.  But Jesus points in the other direction.  Life is an increasing call to let go of desires, of success and accomplishment, to give up the need to be in control, to die to the illusion of greatness.  The joy and peace that Jesus offers is hidden in the descending way of the cross.  There lie hope, victory, and new life, but they are given to us where we are losing all.  “Those who lose their life will gain it,” (Luke 9:24).

I should not be afraid to lose, nor afraid for those who have lost much, if not all.  Jesus was stripped so that we would dare to embrace our own poverty and the poverty of our humanity.  In looking at our impoverished selves and the poverty of our fellow human beings, we come to discover the immense compassion that God shows to us.  And there we will know how to give and forgive, how to care and to heal, how to offer help and create a community of love.  In the solidarity of poverty, we find the way to grow closer to each other and joyfully to claim our common humanity.

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