From: The Way of the Cross
The words, Jesus is nailed to the cross, trip lightly off the tongue. Not to worry. After all, it’s Jesus on this cross, and God will take care of him, we think. Or to put it another way, the whole event has taken on the character of play acting: It’s Jesus – who is God – and so the pain of it really doesn’t hurt him. It’s not the real thing. The humanity of Jesus is forgotten and the cross becomes more symbol than real.
The problem is that, as a result of that kind of spiritual trivialization at the eleventh station, we stand to lose the very meaning of the moment. As if our crosses are “real” but Jesus’s crosses are not and so there is nothing we can learn there.
Every difficult thing in life is not a cross. A lot of things are difficult in life but that does not make them crosses. Some jobs are difficult by nature: Being a forest ranger in a tower alone day after day can certainly be tedious. But if I love being out in nature, if I’m grateful to have a job in the midst of so much beauty, if I love people but enjoy the silence of the woods, however long my hours or isolated my position, the job is not a cross. To say otherwise is a serious misnomer. A cross is that which we do not choose and do not want. It is outside the normal order of life. It is what confounds our plans or disturbs our dreams. It is anything that wrenches life away from our plans or hopes in a truncated or destructive or pitiable way. It is where we would not go but cannot avoid.
Or to put it another way, the cross is what we choose by choosing something else. To choose to have a child is to choose to suffer their suffering as well as your own. To choose to stand for justice is to risk suffering from the brutality of those who have the power to oppress. To choose to work for equality is to feel the blows of those who protect the structures who deny it. To choose to tell the truth about those who have the authority to have me barred from every similar position in the system can certainly be the cross that comes with the compulsion to be ethical, to be honest, to be committed.
Jesus’s cross was not some kind of petty inconvenience. It was a distortion of a great life and even greater plans and in great proportions. It was the cutting off of life in the very thick of it. It was the cost to be paid for confronting the authorities of both synagogue and state in an attempt to make both institutions what they were meant to be for all our sakes.
Nor are the real crosses of our lives minor irritations or teasing tests of our faith in God. The cross is not an exercise in temporary discomfort. It is life-changing.
Crosses are permanent. They are about things that very likely can never be altered. Being nailed to the cross simply forestalls all other possibilities. To nail someone to a cross means that there is little chance for change, this situation is forever. The cross of taking care of a seriously brain-damaged child is that, however much of love or sense of responsibility, this situation will never change. As long as the child lives – 2, 4, 8, 20, 40 – total care will be necessary and a parent’s entire life will be given over to it.
Clearly, being nailed to a cross is far different from a temporary misunderstanding or a fluctuating organizational aggravation.
The cross brings with it a sense of finality, the judgment of forever. There is no going back from here. Jesus is nailed to a cross from which there is no return. The glory days are over. The followers are scattered. The entire enterprise seems lost. It is the bleak and final moments of the dream. There is no way whatsoever to plumb the depths of such depression in the human soul.
The call of the eleventh station is the call to faith, to believe that a loving God is also present in darkness so deep that nothing can possibly assuage it. It is the call to faith in the God of Timelessness in a time of total defeat. It is trust that the God who created us and loves us will hold us up through this moment so that the darkness does not break our hearts.
The eleventh station of the cross brings us all to face the moments when we know we must do what we do not want to do and, more than that, feel we cannot possibly do, however it changes our lives.
When what we know to be right exacts more from us than we think we can give, then Jesus nailed to the cross is our only hope that one day the cross we seek to avoid will have been worth the climbing. The cross is what we feel when the project flounders and fails without reprieve, when the love disintegrates, when the position is over, when all the supporters go away, and when life in the future appears to be shapeless and gray, totally deprived of the heartbeat of hope. Then we begin to realize that life’s real problem does not lie in being nailed to a cross, it lies in choosing a cross that is too small to even attempt to justify being nailed to it in the first place. When we spend our energies on small things, when we spend our lives chasing dreams that do not satisfy, we suffer as much to lose them, but for far too small a reason.
The question with which the eleventh station confronts us is whether or not we are spending our lives, our hopes, our emotions on something great enough to make the pain of losing them worthwhile. The great task of the spiritual life is to choose to spend it on something big enough to risk the pain of its loss.
There is a great freedom that comes when the cross we refuse to accept becomes the cross we embrace. When we give up the struggle against life, life begins to lighten in us. We become indestructible. Nothing more can hurt us now. Being handicapped is not a death knell anymore. We learn to live in ways we never imagined possible and find ourselves made new. Being alone is not a burden now; it is an opportunity to start over again. Being blocked by one impasse in life, we discover whole new ways of being alive. We find new life in the small deaths of the day. We sink into the ultimate liberation. Now there is nothing in life but the freedom of choosing again.