“Jesus traveled through the cities and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom. The Twelve were with him, along with some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses. Among them were Mary Magdalene (from whom seven demons had been thrown out), Joanna (the wife of Herod’s servant Chuza), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.”Luke 8:1-3
“And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him.” Matthew 27 35-36.
“And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things.” Luke 23:49
Were I to tell you my name, you would not know me. I am one of the women who followed Jesus from Galilee. What I witnessed that day has stayed with me throughout my life.
I will begin by telling you that from early on, I was a follower of Jesus. I was excited by the message he brought. What he taught about God was so different from what we had learned before.
At first I was skeptical – cynical you might say. He was not the first miracle worker to visit our village. There had been many others. Yet, none had been quite so powerful in their speech. None has spoken with such authority about the Kingdom of God.
He touched me with his words and with his compassion. I think, more than anything, it was his compassion that drew me to Jesus. You saw it in his eyes. You heard it in his voice.
I know that you’ve heard how Jesus was arrested, tried, falsely convicted and crucified in Jerusalem. I was among those who watched the events of that day. I watched from a distance. To watch a loved one die, breaks the heart. To watch a good person unfairly judged and condemned is even more so. I was numb. Events moved so quickly. On Sunday people has shouted, “Hosanna,” as he passed. By Friday, Jesus was on a cross. It was unfair and it was unjust. It was wrong, but I was helpless to stop it.
Because I knew it was so unjust, so terribly, terribly, wrong, my hurt was compounded by what went on beneath the cross. There were these men, watching Jesus, waiting for him to die. It was their joy. Yes, I know it the custom for the guards to be given possessions of the “Criminal.” Criminal! Criminal! How could anyone think of this good and kind person as a criminal?
The total indifference of the men who watched there, caused me so much grief. Here was Jesus on the cross. Did I know he was the Christ? No, I only knew that he was a good, good man, who loved people and cared about people like me. I knew what was happening was wrong. Incredibly wrong. And I could not do a thing to stop it.
Jesus was suffering and these men can find nothing more to do than to spend their time gambling. Gambling to determine who would “Win” Jesus’s cloak. His suffering didn’t touch them. They were out to get something for themselves. They were going to ‘Win’? Win what? A cloak! A simple cloak! While all the time, up above them on the cross, someone I loved was dying.
So accustomed to watching men die on crosses, nothing moved them anymore. As I watched, thinking about their nonchalance, I began to ask myself, “Was I any different?” This time on that cross was a person I loved. This time, the suffering mattered to me. This time, I paid attention. This time, I felt each cry of pain.
Had I ever really paid attention before? I’d seen suffering, but how often had I ignored it? Is it that we never really recognize pain, until we experience it for ourselves? How often had I turned away? What separated me from the men who gambled there, at the foot of the cross?
I thought of all the times I had shut my eyes to beggars in the street . . . homeless men, women and children who lived under scraps of tents and in shells of buildings. I thought of children dying of hunger and how I had excused my lack of concern by saying, “They were really better off dead.” I thought of foreigners within our borders. I hadn’t cared if they were provided for or not. After all, they weren’t like us!
There on the cross, the day Jesus was crucified, I saw life in a way I had never seen it before. I heard again the words of Jesus telling us to love, really love our neighbors. I remembered how he talked about giving to those in need as if we were giving to him. Words echoed in the chambers of my mind. A strange things happened to me. Through my tears I saw others on their crosses.
There was Barnabas, lame since birth, ridiculed by children, scorned and laughed at by adults. I saw Suzanna, a young woman with three small children, whose husband left her. I remembered how I had blamed her when he left, and felt no need to give any charity there! I thought of Jeremiah, my father’s slave, separated from his wife Esther and children when she and they were sold. There was John with his sick wife, who was in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. I wondered how I could have been so indifferent? I had followed Jesus almost from the beginning, but I had never really heard what he was saying. I’d considered myself a follower, because he treated me with compassion and I’d come to love him.
Yet, I wonder if I was really all that different from people in your world. People who love Jesus and are grateful for his love, but never move to the next place of following Jesus, a genuine love for the other people that Jesus loves. I see much pain and suffering here. I see hungry people in every land. I see poverty and a world being polluted. And like the gamblers at the cross, so few seem to care . . . To care about the pain and what is being done to this beautiful world God gave you.
I see people busy with their lives and getting what they want, whose eyes are blinded even to the pain of the Savior on the cross. I see Jesus being crucified again, with each child that dies of hunger, each person struck by cancer, each child being killed by another child. I see Jesus being crucified with the homeless, dying on the streets of your cities.
All the while people nod their heads, ignoring the pain, saying, “It won’t do any good to help, to try, to ease the pain or change the world.” So preoccupied with their own plans, wants and having “It their way,” feeling fulfilled and getting their cloak, winning it away from someone else. They have no time for the ongoing suffering of Jesus.
Naively thinking, that Jesus’ suffering ended two thousand years ago. Naively believing, that a risen Savior has no pain and doesn’t feel the hurts and suffer with each child baptized in his name, and all the others who aren’t. While my eyes were on the cross, I began to understand Jesus, and what he needed me to do.
Wherever there is suffering, wherever there is anguish, Christ is suffering. Whenever there is indifference, wherever, apathy, wherever there are people who fail to care about future generations, Christ is suffering still.
I changed that day. The day I watched Jesus die. I thought of the people I’d ignored and afterwards, I began to do something about them. I started with little Barnabas, by teaching the children another way. I told them the story of his birth and shared his suffering with them. It was truly remarkable to see how the children became protective of Barnabas after that.
Suzanna had her hands full with those three little children, and I could help a little with time to spare. She really needed very little material help, mostly support and encouragement.
I found a way to reunite Jeremiah with Esther and their children. What a glorious day that was!
I paid the ransom price for John, such a little price, not much more than the cost of a loaf of bread to set him free. Then I sent him home with a basket of food for his family.
There were others also. I found that when I wanted to, there were all kinds of ways to help ease the pain and burdens of others. Yes, it did mean giving up some things I would have liked to do. I simply used my time differently. It meant spending money for others instead of myself.
I like to think, I eased some of the pain of Jesus with each small act of compassion and charity. I felt his presence then, like a smile from God, and I knew I had finally gotten the message of his life. Oddly enough, those gamblers at the cross showed me the way.
*This is one of a series of monologues I wrote and used in the churches I served, prior to retirement.
Devotions for Ash Wednesday through Easter came be found here.
Wow!! This really hit home: So accustomed to watching men die on crosses, nothing moved them anymore. As I watched, thinking about their nonchalance, I began to ask myself, “Was I any different?” Thank you, Shirley.
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That is the problem, isn’t it? We struggle with compassion fatigue and it is easy to shut out other people’s pain.
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