Joan and I have been reading Ecco Homo Behold the Man – Ethical Imperatives of the Lenten Journey by Samuel Balentine. This Lenten journey is focuses on an imperative spoken twice from different perspectives. The first perspective is that of Pilate who presents Jesus—bound, scourged, crowned with thorns, wearing a purple robe—with the words, “Behold the man” (John 19:5). The second perspective is that of the resurrected Christ who says to the disciples, “Look at my hands and feet…Touch me and see” (Luke 24:39). These two perspectives are distinctive: Pilate is an onlooker whose power and privilege make it possible for him to condone abuse and suffering from a distance while Christ’s words convey a first-hand experience with suffering that makes it impossible to ignore a reality of brokenness and loss.
As a long-time local church minister who regularly and often engaged in pastoral care, I walked with people through their painful life experiences. My perspective toward another’s sadness and suffering was powerfully influenced by how close my relationship with that person was. It was much easier to stay objective when the individual was a casual acquaintance; however, when I stood at the bedside of a close friend with whom I had shared much, I could not look away from the suffering. I could not not feel.
I must also confess how much pain I could look at and how much I allowed myself to feel was quite different in my first half of life. When I was young, I could watch a scary movie and not feel much. Now, when I see gruesomeness happening on the screen, I feel and react, and I’m not always happy about that! I love watching college football. Back in the day, witnessing a massive hit on a running back or receiver was quite satisfying. The words of Paul Bear Bryant echoed in my head, “That’s a goodie!” Now, I literally feel the hits myself. I’ve come to recognize I’m growing in my capacity to “feel” as I get older.
Balentine’s purpose for writing his book is to invite us as readers to look at our journey with Jesus from two different perspectives. Our vantage point as an outsider or an insider will affect our understanding. Clearly, Pilate doesn’t look at Jesus in the same way the disciples do. Yet, Pilate vacillates in his opinion of how to treat Jesus. He is conflicted because he knows Jesus is innocent but relinquishes him to be executed anyway. The disciples, on the other hand, are members of the inner circle who shared intimately with Jesus on a daily basis. Strangely, just three days after his death Jesus appears to the disciples and they don’t even recognize him! Jesus is out of context; he’s unexpected. Jesus feels like a stranger until the disciples see his hands and feet and witness his pain up close and personal.
As we approach Holy Week 2021, we do well to ponder the questions posed by Balentine. As we gaze on the suffering Jesus on Good Friday, do we keep Jesus’ image at arm’s length—making the experience primarily cognitive? We can theorize about the pain Jesus suffered and never make it personal, but to linger and reflect upon the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet triggers us to feel something and we recoil.
The world in which we live today encourages us to move on from painful encounters as quickly as possible. We hear statements like “Just get over it” or “Don’t dwell on it” or “It’s not the end of the world” or “Don’t be so pessimistic.” We try not to cling to negativity, difficult images, pain, death, inconvenience. Today’s newspaper headlines highlight much suffering that are then recycled and replaced with tomorrow’s tragedies. Our harried pace doesn’t allow time to attend or respond.
Such is not the case in God’s kingdom. Jesus calls us to “look and see” (linger long and study) and then “follow” (choose your response wisely). We respond by taking up the cross—the instrument of suffering—and going where Jesus goes. We journey with Jesus to places of pain and suffering which prompt us to make a difference with deeds of love and service. As part of the post-resurrection community, we are called to live the Jesus way in word and deed – by sharing a word of encouragement, loving by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, offering clothes to the naked, providing community to strangers, sacrificing for the other.
As you journey through Holy Week, linger long enough at the cross to feel something. Then, when you encounter the pain of others in this broken world – and you will — take time to reflect on what you see, what you feel, and what Spirit prompts you to do about it.