I live in a condo association in which each building is made up of two single family homes joined at the garage. It’s a relatively large complex with 140 homes. Although there are four or five different style models, there is an overall uniformity to the look of the neighborhood. So, when we expect visitors, we make sure to tell them exactly which house is ours, and provide them with as many details as possible besides our house number so they can find us. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times people have pulled into someone else’s driveway on our cul-de-sac and rung that neighbor’s doorbell. It’s a mistake that happens a lot, including people who have come to our house a number of times! Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish one thing from another; it can be hard to see what we need to see; or we get distracted and don’t notice those important markers that reveal what we need to know.
I’d like to share an image with you. It’s a painting by a 16th century Flemish painter and it resides in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The painter, Joachim Beuckalear, was famous for his paintings of everyday kitchen and market scenes.
You can see in the foreground a number of vendors with their wares — fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, and pheasants. Throughout the painting, you encounter small scenes of everyday people going about their everyday business, focused on what’s right in front of them. But in the background we find something that is in contrast to the familiar bustle of the open air market. There appears to be an animated crowd and some officials on horses trying to hem them in and control them. Most of the people in the foreground remain indifferent and unaffected by the goings on in that section of the town square. They don’t see what’s happening, or if they do, they don’t seem to care. As you lift your gaze slightly, you are caught off guard as you come upon the small, insubstantial figure of Jesus. The title of this painting is “Pilate Shows Jesus to the People.” It appears that this man’s interrogation and torture along with a crowd eager for a lynching are as commonplace as buying a fish and loaf of bread. Do the people in the marketplace simply accept this reality? Are they perhaps desensitized to such events? Or do they choose not to see an uncomfortable truth in their midst?
What about those who actually surrounded Jesus? What did they see? The guards saw just another weak and pathetic criminal and, maintaining the status quo, manhandled, bullied and tortured him. The Jewish leaders saw a blasphemer and did what those in power often do when they feel threatened; they brought trumped up charges to take him down. And Pilate? He was going about his usual business, just doing his job. He saw an inconsequential Jew standing before him who wouldn’t engage in answering any questions, and he washed his hands of the whole affair. What he didn’t see was a man who refused to break. Jesus had said everything he needed to say over the last few years, and now, like a POW unwilling to risk the mission and the countless souls at stake, he gave nothing but his name, rank and serial number. Jesus was willing to endure it all, risk it all for each of us.
C.S. Lewis reminds us that “God descends to reascend….He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.” Of course, that final ascent, is His glorious Resurrection.
Joey’s recent reflection about how we experience grace and the law came to mind when I was reminded last week about the many foundations of the Catholic Church which enslaved people from the 15th -19th centuries. What uncomfortable truths are we blinded to today as a result of deep, intractable cultural and religious biases? Hundreds of years from now will people experience disbelief and shame when they examine our moral standards? Can we, like Christ, descend to uncover those blind spots now and reascend to a more just world?
Richard Rohr writes that “Authentic God experience always expands your seeing and never constricts it.” Those who were followers of Jesus during His lifetime saw something being made new. Their encounter with the Lord broadened and deepened their understanding of God and illuminated a new path to the Father, a path, radically for the time, that was open to anyone. Now, two thousand years later, can we expand our own seeing in this Holy Week experience? What do we need to see and how do we need to see so that we can arrive at an Easter that is anything but business as usual?