From: The Way of the Cross
This station we understand in this day and age only too well. In a digital world people fall in and out of favor too quickly for us to remember their names – if we have even had enough time to learn them in the first place. Social media and entertainment sites update with glee the list of public figures – politicians, entertainers, artists, scions – who have fallen from public grace. They tell us from one day to another who’s out and who’s in, who’s up and who’s down. If we never understood the truth of what past generations have taught us about the vulnerability of a person’s public image, we know it now as never before. The messages they gave us were ominous: Reputation, they told us, is a very fragile resource to depend on in a world that makes and breaks them with impunity. Guard yours carefully. Just one false step, they insisted, and the public estimation it takes a lifetime to build can be permanently damaged.
Then the shunning begins, sometimes in very subtle ways. People who want to be photographed with you on one day refuse to be seen with you the next. Invitations to all the parties stop. Street conversations get shorter and shorter.
Or worse, the shunning gets to be total isolation. No one even nods to you in the streets anymore. The bantering in the office ends. The email disappears. The foursome for golf or cards or tennis or fishing never seems to get together anymore. And no one – no one – crosses the invisible social line to reach out, to listen, to stand by. The pain of it slays the soul. It’s a dark time in an even darker day.
Avoidance becomes the order of life. The public’s fear of guilt by association stops life in mid-flight. Friends disappear; acquaintances deny knowing you at all. The shunned inhabit a world of one when friends have never been needed more.
All of which is why this eighth station of the cross is such a stunning one.
One moment Jesus is hailed and applauded, lauded and followed. Then, arrested without cause, the crowds begin to shout for his blood. He is pushed and pulled, jostled and ogled on the street. Surrounded by soldiers, crushed by the weight of the cross, bleeding and exhausted, he has gone from revered teacher and wonder-worker to ignominious criminal, outcast, derelict in the society.
And then the miracle happens. The world’s most unlikely group of supporters steps into the scene. They were not the apostles and disciples who had enhanced their own reputations by their association with him. They were not a group of people whom he had healed in the course of his ministry. They were not people of influence or the upper class whose testimony and character witness he might have needed. No, they were no one of importance at all. They were, in fact, just women. They were a rag-tag body of women whose brave presence made it clear that Jesus who had been condemned by the upper class was, nevertheless, a hero to the underclass. In fact, it was for that very reason that the upper class had to get rid of him.
The women weep for Jesus, condemned and censured for all to see. But the call is for more than compassion.
The call of the eighth station is two-fold. First, we are challenged to put down the judgments and the prejudices that turn societies into social prisons. We are called to open our lives to the souls of those whose social behaviors repulse us but whose state is more the result of the social system itself than it is of any act of their own. Then we are called to change the society in which this kind of oppression and injustice is permitted to go on unchecked and even unnoticed.
This station calls us to look again at those we ignore. But this time we are called to look with care. We are called to really see the situations in which they live. We are called to forego the criticism that condemns people whose lives and circumstances we do not know to the margins of society forever. We are called to realize that we ignore these people to our peril as well as theirs.
The eighth station of the cross compels us to consider the long-range implications of our actions. It is the counterpoint of the sixth. The sixth station reminds us that mercy must prevail. The eighth station tells us that justice must come or we will all suffer for the lack of it. To seek justice without doing mercy, to do mercy but not to seek justice is, in both instances, to live a partial life. To feed the hungry but fail to question the policies that make people hungry or leave people hungry neglects the real issue.
Some of us find it easy to judge and condemn. Others find it easy to serve and support. The truth is that support without judgment is compliance with evil. Don’t weep for me, Jesus tells the women of Jerusalem. Weep for yourselves and your children. The implication is clear: If this society continues on the road that it is on now, it dooms itself to the effects of such policies. Don’t weep for the people on death row, in other words, weep for the kind of society that would stoop so low as to become what it hates.
The question with which the eighth station of the cross confronts us is, Do we really reject what we call sinful or do we really reject only the sinners themselves? The question brings us to face ourselves at our deepest, darkest core. This station calls us to go beyond what is to what must be.
To begin to see beyond the person to the environment, to the social policies of a system, to the circumstances for an understanding of life is to begin to live life to the fullest. Then, we are less likely to allow individuals to bear the sins that belong to us all. Then, we rise to a new level of wisdom. We do more than live ourselves; we begin to give life to others, as well.