Scorpions, Shadows, and Jesus
This week's Sacred Story if from John 19:1-16 where Jesus is mocked and beaten while crowds cry out for crucifixion. Read the full text here.
I have spent the past week out in the country at our family farm, helping with various work projects as we get ready for a big celebration with my brother’s wedding out there this summer. So one of the things I needed to do was clean up some brush and old stockpiles of tin. This heap of metal has been sitting there, unmoved, for quite a while. There are leaves, dirt, and debris covering parts of it. Some of it is rusty and broken in places, but it’s absolutely savable. I just needed to move it to a better place. So I would lift up each sheet to move it and as I lifted it up, light came pouring into the dark underside of each piece. Lots of creepy crawly things went scampering off to find another dark crevice to hide in. Among the bugs, I came across a lot of scorpions, more and more with each layer I exposed. And when they couldn’t immediately find a place to hide from this exposure, they went into attack mode. Tails stuff and curled, ready to strike while doing everything they could to get away from the perceived threat.
The flight or fight response is the same thing we’re being trained to do if or when a shooter comes into places of perceived safety – our children’s schools and churches….
The officials tell us the priority is first to run/get away, otherwise hide, and if you can’t do that…the only thing you're left with is to fight. Run, hide, fight. Run, hide, fight. Where does it end?
As the long dark dreary winter turns to spring and sunshine, it is not an instant transformation. Jesus’ ministry of love and welcome, humility and justice shines a light into our darkness. But sometimes all we can focus on is where darkness is exposed in us and we would do anything to get away and find another dark crevice to hide in. And if we can’t do that….we start fighting. The drive to fight is so instinctual that we no longer differentiate friend from foe, true threat from our fearful imaginations.
This dark underside, this raw and exposed humanity, the primal violence in us that we would rather not face…is the poison that Jesus draws out of us, and what God draws into Godself. Through arrest, “trial,” torture, and public execution, Jesus experiences and takes the worst of us into his own body, his own soul – our violence, our hatred, our lies, our pride, our apathy, our shame. Not just in long ago history, but continually. Jesus takes in the sin of the world every time texts and anecdotes like this are used to dehumanize Jewish people as if we don’t all cry out for Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus takes in the original sin of our country when justice is warped to convict the innocent and disproportionately incarcerate black bodies. Jesus takes in our continued addiction to power, violence, and the illusion that the deep brokenness belongs to someone else and couldn’t possibly be us. All of this, from the dawn of time to this very second is visible in our beaten and bloodied God.
Jesus takes our pain and brokenness into God’s own being. And that isn’t because you should feel real real bad like God is wagging the divine finger at you. It’s not because someone HAD to pay for it, someone HAD to be held accountable as if God’s bloodthirst must be satisfied somehow. Rather, in this act Jesus reveals that this system of tit for tat accounting of hurt ends here.
In this, Jesus reveals that we are not saved by our commitment to God, but God’s commitment to us. God doesn’t cherry pick the best and shiniest parts about us and claim just THOSE fragments of people to redeem, but proclaims salvation to our whole selves and to the whole world. Now, THAT actually sounds like Good News.
Jesus reveals that the only thing more powerful than our propensity for destruction is God’s persistent love that follows us even to the grave and back again. It is a love powerful enough to tell a dead man to come out of darkness and be freed. It is a love secure enough to bend down before others in service. It is a love gracious enough to overcome betrayal. It is a love faithful enough that it redefines our experience of truth. It is a love that isn’t afraid to stare into the mangled shadows of our souls and yet still sees a creation that is beautifully and wonderfully made. It is this divine love that will save us, change us, and make us whole. Amen.