He has not despised

File:“Stations of the Cross I, Christ Condemned” (1995), Saint Mary’s College of California, Moraga, CA.jpg

“Stations of the Cross I: Christ Condemned” — glass art by Robert Kehlmann (1995)

He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him. (Psalm 22:24)

We have two instinctive reactions to great affliction: one is to stare, the other to turn away. We find the images on the evening news or the freeway roadside compelling. We look – or want to look – or we turn away. What we do not do naturally is see the person; we see the affliction, the suffering, the deformity, not the person – a leper, not Simon; a beggar, not Lazarus at the gate.

Suffering evokes pity in us, but we want to make it go away. If we can’t alleviate the suffering we see, we don’t want to see it anymore. We want it to go away. We get impatient with the grieving who won’t get over it. We keep talking about closure because we want their chapter to close. We tend to react the same way to the chronically ill, the chronically in pain. If their problem can’t go away, they should go away. Or we go away.

The ancients perceived that the deformed and debased were unclean, unworthy of the sacred precincts, unworthy of the temple. They polluted the place. So the priests and people kept them out.

It’s more subtle in our time, but it’s there. It’s mixed with fear and impatience and our own busy busy, but it rattles around in us. The wounded and failing and homeless are different from us – yet enough like us to make us fear it could happen to us. Who wants such a reminder? So we turn away. We ignore. We pretend. We whisper. We judge. We distance.

And we think God is like we are, that God is pretty and successful and wants us all to be pretty and successful. The suffering belie that myth.

Those who name the name of Jesus must struggle with the picture of a suffering Messiah. Good American protestants don’t want that picture. “Jesus is risen,” we say, “he’s no longer on the cross.” Now he’s pretty and successful again. Arrayed in light. The ascended Lord. But knocking at the door, pressing against all that lurks deep in the psyche, hidden within the human heart, is this peasant messiah crucified and a God who does not turn away.

He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

God does not turn away from the grieving. God does not turn away from the hungry. God does not turn away from the homeless, the wounded, the beaten up and beaten down. God does not turn away from the debased in Abu Graib and Guantanamo and a thousand other such prisons. God does not turn away from the failing. God does not turn away from the lonely, the weary, the angry betrayed, the addicted and the abused who keep going back.

He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

And where the priestly laws of purity kept out the wounded and the disfigured, the prophet says God will welcome all who seek his way, and Jesus eats with sinners and outcasts – not hypothetical sinners but real live rejected, some whose names come down to us like Zacchaeus and Matthew and maybe even Judas with whom Jesus broke bread even while his betrayal was underway.

And so here we are, not the ever ascending glorious and successful, but the walking wounded who do not turn away, who are grateful that they have been welcomed to the banquet that has no end, who cherish the promise of the healing of our broken world, who dare to follow the master who has washed our feet and said “Go and do likewise.”


Image: By Kehlmann Studio Archive (Kehlmann Studio Archive) [CC BY 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

About dkbonde

Pastor, Los Altos Lutheran Church
This entry was posted in Christianity, Psalms, Reflections on the Scriptures, The Cross of Christ and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to He has not despised

  1. I struggle with this so much….the tendency to not see…it is too graphic and I feel so helpless. This feeling is hard for me…helplessness, I mean. Yet, the images remain seared on my inner picture screen and come at any time, unbidden. Thanks be to God that He sees and does not turn away. May His name be praised forever, AR

  2. Pingback: All the ends of the earth | Watching for the morning

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