Last weekend I was on a silent retreat, sharing prayer spaces and meals with a few church friends and a larger group of Buddhists. On Saturday I walked the Stations of the Cross at the retreat center, knowing that the next day was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Sometimes when I walk that path, one or another of the statues portraying the events of Jesus’s last hours overwhelms me. This time it was the first statue, the one that portrays Pilate sitting in judgement, with a child pouring water from a pitcher over Pilate’s hands as he washes them, and into the bowl beneath. It struck me that this really was the decisive moment, the official decision that set the crucifixion into motion, with all the other participants (executioner, soldiers, and the like) carrying out their assigned roles–just doing their jobs.
Grief washed over me, along with the realization that this dynamic is at the root of the harm being done to creation today, as individuals relinquish their responsibility in the face of powers that seem out of human control. Looking at that stature brought home to me how Pilate’s action of washing his hands of Jesus’s fate is exactly the cause of the extremity of the global situation we face today. I wept.
Of course, the stage for Jesus’s trial and execution had been set long before. Jesus’s passion for the reign of God and his teachings and actions to bring it about had threatened the uneasy collaboration between the Jewish religious establishment and the Roman army that occupied Jerusalem.
I will return to the story of Jesus’ trial and execution in a later post in this series. For now, let’s consider the story of Palm Sunday. Surely Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt and the people calling on him to save them and hailing him as king further antagonized the religious authorities. They saw him as a political threat to the established order of the violently enforced Pax Romana, the so-called “Roman Peace.” When the Pharisees demanded that Jesus order his followers to stop, he replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40).
The way Luke tells the story, as they came near to Jerusalem and saw it, he wept over it. Jesus wept! He could see what was coming. He said, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:41-44).
Jesus weeps because he can foresee the terrible things will befall the people of Jerusalem and their descendants. This destruction is not God’s will, but is the result of people not recognizing God’s presence among them or “the things that make for peace.”
Jesus weeps. As we look at creation’s dilemma today, which is also our dilemma since we are part of creation, we also have reason to weep. According to climate scientists, (in many ways the today’s prophets), we can see that the terrifying consequences of industrialized civilization are already upon us and are coming at ever greater degrees of magnitude for future generations. Who are our “enemies”? According to Ephesians 6:12, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In other words, against the powers and principalities.
Like the Pax Romana, Pax Americana will not bring us “the things that make for peace,” for it is also ultimately enforced through violence, including racial, gender, and economic violence. Today’s corporate-dominated global capitalist system is also enforced by multiple modes of violence. It is incapable of protecting us from the certain ecological consequences of our current way of life, which are essentially locked in by our interlocking network of global institutions, unless we discern “the things that make for peace” and perceive where God is at work in our world. Only then will we be able to discern what steps we might take to avert disaster.
What can we do? When William Stringfellow was asked this question, he said, “If you want to do something, the most practical thing I can tell you is: weep. First of all, care enough to weep.”[i]
Like Jesus, we can weep.
This is the seventh post in a Lenten Series, “Creation, Cross, and The Powers.” The other posts are as follows:
- Creation, Cross, and The Powers.
- Extraordinary Temptations
- The Spirituality of an Epoch
- Creation: Moving from Awe to Lament to Resistance
- Banking on Our Future as Demythologized Exorcism
- Don’t Look Up
- Care Enough to Weep
- The Death of Jesus in Context
- Resurrection and New Creation
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[i] William Stringfellow: Essential Writings, Bill Wylie-Kellerman, editor (Fortress Press, 2013)), page 180.