From: The Way of the Cross
The look on the face of Jesus in McKenzie’s rendering of the first station says it all: Accused, judged, and condemned Jesus stands totally undone, emotionally drained, more by the charges against him than by any act of physical violence. Here, in this first station, we see what actually happens to the person who is publicly incriminated by a system that is clearly arrayed against him. It is one of those rush-to-judgment moments when no one really bothers to ask or let alone to listen to your own explanation of circumstances or your understanding of it or even your distance from the issue at hand.
It is as much a shocking time as it is a sad one. This moment is about the accusal of the innocent. This is the disarming of the strong. This is the plight of the person who has no recourse with which to rebut the charges, who knows no advocates strong enough to be any kind of protection in a case based more on prejudice than fact.
This is the struggle of those whose goodness has forever been without question but who has, for whatever reason, suddenly become suspect. With one blow, the work of a lifetime of character building begins to crumble.
At that moment, the inner sense of impacting personal presence so carefully constructed for years, from one stage of life to another, simply begins to collapse, to break down, to come apart one brick at a time. The world turns on the innocent with a vengeance – on the woman who protests unjust pay, on the foreign worker seeking survival from starvation, on the homeless ones who lack either the skill or the support it takes to move up a shaky social ladder, on the person with an impeccable distinction but no way to disprove the evil of this unprovoked attack.
There is nothing for a person to do then but to move, head in hands, through the channels of pain that come with any show of resistance and defiance of a system too often closed to those who need it most.
That hard-won reputation for goodness and honesty we worked so hard to build up around us frays in plain sight. The public image of dignity and worth, so precious to us all, goes to dust in the wake of rejection that comes with disdain. What dies in us is the sense of confidence, of public bearing, that until now, at least, has carried us through all the difficult moments of life.
It is a moment of inner pain and loss greater than anything anyone can possibly do to hurt a person. It is not the pain of the body. It is the pain of the soul. Once we have lost dignity, been robbed of our reputation, have lost everything dear to us, have been closed out of society and social acceptance, what is left of the person is only a body covering a shell of a soul.
The spiritual challenge of the moment of public rejection is to maintain a strong sense of being in the hands of God. Drawing our personal sense of self now out of the well of the past, we go on because of what we know God wants us to be rather than what we want people to think we are. Stripped of social approval, I come face to face with my need to be honest with myself. Who I know myself to be will determine what I must do to become whole again. It is inner growth we are about now, not social cosmetics.
We are being called to become the best of ourselves at the worst of times. How others treat us is not nearly as important now as what we know ourselves to be. We will not despair of God’s mercy for us. We will not betray either our hope in God or our dignity of self. We are called, in the face of the injustices against us, to refuse to be less than we have always been spiritually. We are being asked to remember that the God who created us, as scripture says, “wishes us well and not woe.” We are called to rely on that, to be a sign to all that with God we can withstand anything.
The first station, condemnation without cause, is a call to put our trust in God when the world around us has abandoned us, when there is little of our own internal resources left on which we may depend, when we find ourselves despised by those with whom we most wanted to succeed.
Jesus, the model of inner strength at a time of serious public pressure, stands tall and strong in the face of injustice. He acknowledges the moment but does not give in to it. He does not betray either his faith in God or his own consciousness of the will of God for him. Instead, he stands up to his accusers with dignity and strength. He does not grovel; he does not beg. He brings himself full and entire to a false trial and he questions his accusers as much as they question him. He deals with the injustice arrayed against him with dignity, with honesty, with stolid commitment and with undying determination to continue to say the truth – all the way to the end.
For everything that dies in us at a moment like this, there are other things that come to new life in us, as well.
The first station of the cross requires us to examine our entire philosophy of life. Jesus is condemned to die because he defied the standards of both the state and the religious establishment in which he lived. To both he brought a truth they did not want to hear. He set out to witness to the love and justice of the God of all creation: Jews and non-Jews, women as well as men, underlings as well as the professional types of his time.
Surely we are called to do the same, to speak our truth with clarity, simplicity, and conviction. What must rise in us in times like these is a clear commitment to what must be, to the truth that must surely come if the will of God is really to be done on Earth and to our role in bringing it.
He cured on the Sabbath, mixed with foreigners, taught theology to women, played with children, questioned every law, chose people over ritual every time, and never made institutional authority a god.
He threatened the establishment with his incessant attempts to build a better world and they set out to destroy him for it.
The question with which the first station confronts us is a stark one: What is it in life for which we are willing to be condemned? The goal in life is not to avoid condemnation. No one does. Life’s great challenge is simply to decide who will condemn us and why. If we were better people, perhaps, we would be condemned more often.
Most of all, when we are condemned for the right reasons, the first station reminds us, we know we will not be there alone. Jesus will be standing beside us, full of pain for our sake, but head up and unyielding.