Let us Linger at the Foot of Cross

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.-John 19:30

Its Friday…. but Sunday’s coming. However, it was the longest Friday for the first disciples. They lingered at the foot of the Cross for a while. We don’t need to rush to Easter. Good Friday is an invitation for us to linger at foot of the Cross. It is our opportunity to attend to the invitation of our Lord.

My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me. -Matthew 26:38

The foot of the Cross is our place until Easter comes. Our thoughts should be directed to the Man who hung on the Cross on this day. His death makes a difference in how we perceive ourselves and the world.

Many people tried to tarry with him in his final moments but they failed. Some were absent at the foot of the Cross. Some felt that they failed him. Some benefitted from His death. Some couldn’t care less. All these attitudes are still with us today.

There was Judas. He wanted to do something for Jesus and himself. His betrayal wasn’t about the thirty pieces of silver. Many speculate about his motivations. Some think that he wanted to speed things along for Jesus’ kingdom. The outcome was not what he expected. He wanted Jesus to react, perhaps violently against the authorities but Jesus just remained silent. He did not understand that this world was not His kingdom. Judas wanted to see some concrete results but he only saw what he perceived as a failure. Things did not turn out according to his expectations. He could not manipulate the King to act in tandem with his desires. His desires led him to his demise. If he had lingered at the foot of the Cross, maybe he could have learned something different or maybe not. We will never know. He did not linger around for the Cross.

Then we have Pontius Pilate. It was a strange choice for the gospels to portray this man as being sympathetic to Jesus. He was a brutal governor. He was not known for his clemency. Despite his despotic tendencies, he was not able to convince the crowd to do the right thing. It just reveals how impotent tyrants are when it comes to doing what is right. They can only do things that are detrimental to themselves and those around them. The evangelists did not make Pilate out to be a good man. They revealed his true nature. He was a weak ruler. He washed his hands of all responsibilities. He did not want anything do to with the Cross.

Barabbas benefitted the most from Jesus’ passion. He escaped a certain death. We don’t hear anything about him after this. He must have been grateful to the religious authorities who manipulated the crowds to save his life instead of Jesus. It did not seem to bother him that an innocent man died instead of him. He never sought Jesus or his disciples. He never bothered to linger at the foot of the Cross. He was most likely afraid. This is understandable but he still could have sought out the disciples later. Maybe he did but we will never know.

The good thief had nothing to gain. He did not choose to be at the Cross. However, he did choose to acknowledge Jesus’ lordship even on the Cross. He knew that there were no more possibilities for him. It is doubtful that he even understood the words of Jesus when He said, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”(Luke 23:43) However, it did not matter. They were spoken to him by a Man whom he recognized as different and special. The only thing he could cling to at that moment was the words of this wonderful Man who shared his pain and death.

The centurion saw everything and was became frightened. He realized that this was not a regular execution. It was something that would change the way we understood our existence. He watched everything from the foot of the Cross and he proclaimed the only thing he could say, “Truly this was the Son of God!”(Matthew 27:54)

Finally, we come to the women and the disciples. The women and John were at the foot of the cross. The disciples observed from a distance. They watched the only person who made their lives real and wonderful expire on the Cross. They stayed and watched every moment of it. The disciples wished that they could have been closer. None of them ever wanted to be apart from Him. They lingered in spirit with the women at the foot of the Cross. They saw what the centurion saw and experienced with one major difference. They wanted to be there. They wanted to be there with Him and partake in His sufferings. For those who lingered at the Cross, the message of Easter meant a new beginning. It wasn’t just a happy ending to an otherwise tragic tale. It marked the Beginning of understanding life and death.

We tend to rush to Easter. Apart from the Catholic and Anglican churches, most evangelical churches don’t observe Good Friday but they have a celebration for Easter. Easter without Good Friday produces an inadequate theology. The Cross is something even our children in the streets can identify. I brought an illustrated Bible to the streets once and one of the boys turned to the page on the crucifixion and asked Mary to read to him. He wasn’t interested in Easter. It is too foreign to him. The Cross is something that resonates with him. It is the moment that most human beings can identify. It was a moment of despair and hopelessness. Jesus never avoided it. The disciples were forced to confront it. The women stood and wept at the presence of it. The miracle of Easter is only powerful when we are willing to linger at the foot of the Cross and face the greatest fear of humanity. Jesus faced it without any protest or attempts of self-defense. He faced it in order to reveal a greater power hidden within the message of the Cross. Those who lingered at the foot of the Cross discovered this power. We need to linger there to discover the more profound meaning of Easter.

Share

A Letter from Florida

Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.-Matthew 18:5

I have been carrying a letter in my bag for the past couple of days. It was sent about two months ago. We have been waiting for the right moment to share its contents with Ruan. There are several reasons for the delay. Our month of absence meant that we needed to reacquaint ourselves with the children. The children have a unique way of perceiving prolonged absence. Living in the streets changes the way they sense the passing of time. Everyday is the same for them. There are no holidays or weekends. They build relationships with people based on familiarity. The more they see someone, the stronger they bond they forge with the person. Familiar faces become their sense of security. We are part of this secure environment. However, our absence disturbed this fragile construction and they eventually begin to think that we are not part of their social fabric. As a means of self-preservation, they get accustomed to our absence and move on with life. Our return requires them to make readjustments once more. There is not much resistance to this but it still takes time. To help this process, we keep doing the old activities we did with them to assure them that nothing has changed. It was crucial that nothing radically new is introduced at this time. This is why I have kept this letter all this time. This letter as simple as it is is going to introduce new dimension into our relationship. It is important that it is presented at the right time.

Ruan was nowhere to be found. However, we did find the others and we went to the courtyard nearby and sat there and just talked. We have been having more moments like this for which we are immensely grateful. Then, out of nowhere, Ruan appeared. He wanted to be included in our activities immediately and it did not matter what we were doing as long as he could be part of it. Most of us have grown accustomed to Ruan’s childish demands and everyone just laughed and told him to wait like the rest. He did not mind. He just wanted to announce his presence. He then proceeded to take a bottle of paint thinner and started to sniff it. We told him not to do its because we wanted him to have a clear mind when he is with us. To our pleasant surprise, he put it away and sat down with us. This was the first time he has done this.

Mary was playing a game of checkers with one of the boys. Ruan wanted to play the next game with her. I took this opportunity to take him aside. I told him that I had something for him but there was need for some explanation. Ruan knows that we are from the church but he never asks too many questions about us. Recently, he has been more open about his feelings towards us. He does not hide the fact that he likes being with us. Last week for instance, he spent a few hours with us even though he was itching to go out and beg for a snack. However, he knew that once he left us he would get too distracted to return. He stayed until his hunger pangs got the better of him and then he took off, promising that he would try to return. He never did. It doesn’t matter. It was good enough for us to know that he wanted to spend as much time with us as possible.

I shared about the churches in the States and the people who are praying for him, not only him but for the others as well. It was the first time I shared this with any child. Not because they would disapprove but we wanted them to understand that the prayer was a first step towards relationship building. Ruan wouldn’t have understood what I was saying several months ago. Our relationship with him has opened the doors for him to have relationships with others in the church. The letter, I continued, is a fruit of this prayer. It was written by a grandmother in Florida. To be precise, it was a Christmas card but it didn’t matter to Ruan. He has never written or received a Christmas card in his life. I asked Ruan if he wanted me to translate the letter. He nodded in approval. I could see in his face that he was processing everything that I have just said. The author of letter shared how she received his name and what prompted to pray for him specifically. She made it plain and simple that it was the Holy Spirit. The Spirit stirred her heart to her connect with him. In closing, she asked if she could pray for Ruan as if he was her grandson. Ruan listened intently to what was written. I asked what he thought about this grandmother praying for him like a grandson. He became a little timid at this point and nodded his head to say, “yes”. I take it that it meant ‘yes’ that he wanted her to pray for him in this way. It was a short letter and it said everything that was needed to be said. I kept the card in its envelope and asked him what I should do with it. He wanted me to keep it for him because it would be safer. However, he stressed that he wanted it back one day so that he could keep it safely in his house. Ruan usually goes home for a few weeks a year. Even though he hardly stays at home, it was a symbolic way of saying that this letter is going to be one of his treasures. Then he asked where was this person living. When he heard the words, “Florida”, it dawned upon him that this letter came from thousands of miles away. His face lit up and immediately he transformed before my eyes from Ruan the street kid to Ruan the little boy. His eyes widened and there was huge smile on his face and he said, “You mean someone all the way from Florida wrote to me!” I guess that when I told him about churches in the States were praying for him, it did not register. They sounded abstract but the letter was something real and concrete. It showed the reality of the connection between him and Florida.

I asked him if he would like to write a letter to her. He said, ‘yes’. However, it wasn’t a convincing affirmative. Then I realized that Ruan comes for generation that perhaps has no clear understanding what is a letter. I haven’t received a written letter ever since e-mail came into the picture. Ruan never lived in a time where there was no internet. I rephrased my question. I asked him if he would like to say something to her some time. He smiled and nodded his head. I told him that I would help him. Ruan was visibly happy and he stayed longer than usual with us this day. We were playing a game when a man in a wheelchair passed us by. Ruan then told us that his step-father was a paraplegic as well. I already knew this from another source but this was the first time I heard it from Ruan himself.

I was initially planning to write a post about doing ministry beyond the idea of success and failure. Then I read the letter to Ruan. I think that this interaction with him would better describe why any Christian ministry cannot be defined on success and failure. These standards are imported into the Christian ethos from the world. They look at temporal results. The gospel deals with eternity. Our goal is help the children be conscious of an eternal reality. A simple letter opened up Ruan’s world, but not just his world, but also the world of it’s author. A grandmother who perhaps will never meet Ruan in this reality has gained a grandchild for eternity. The world does not possess the vocabulary to express the beauty of this reality. It cannot define it in its narrow view of success and failure. It goes beyond what is imaginable in this world. The gospel does things like that.

Share

The Temptations of Jesus: Not by Bread alone

And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.-Luke 4:4

I don’t know why I chose this text to meditate upon. In a sense, I did not choose it but it chose me. I am reading the gospel of Luke for my personal devotion and this text appeared to be relevant not only to my personal life but also to our ministry. We have moved to a new stage in our relationship with the children. They have become our children. We have adopted them but not in the traditional sense. They do not want a family in the traditional sense. The Holy Spirit is moving in our hearts to become the kind of family that is most fitting for the understanding of the gospel. One of the things that a family should do is to prepare the children to live in the world. I found the temptation of Jesus as the first step towards a better understanding of the world we live.

The temptations reveal two distinct world views and they are not compatible with each other. These temptations are a symbolic representation of the temptations Jesus faced throughout His life. There was never a moment where he was free from these temptations. Those who want to live full and complete lives have to confront these temptations. Our children living in the streets need to confront these temptations; we need to confront these temptations. No one is exempt. The answers Jesus gives are scandalous not only to the devil, but to the world. The arguments of the Devil have the appearance of wisdom, but only if we live according to the standards of this age. We need to move beyond the worldly wisdom to understand the way Jesus lived in this world.

Jesus was hungry. This overlooked detail is the premise of the whole text. He was hungry not because of lack of planning on his part but due to a spiritual exercise of fasting and prayer. It wouldn’t be wrong for him to reward Himself and use His power to transform stones into bread. The devil was not asking Jesus to do something immoral. It could even be considered as a prudent use of his powers. This temptation is not restricted to Jesus. It is an universal temptation. Naturally none of us have the power to turn stone into bread. However, we have gifts and resources given to us by God. As Christians, the very first thing we need to acknowledge is that nothing we have comes to us by our own merit. We can argue that we have gained things by our own hard-work but the situations and circumstances to make this possible are given to us by God. If we claim that something belongs to us and only us, then we are not really a Christian.

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee-
1 Chr. 29:14

The first temptation is about using the resources God has given us to satisfy our own needs. The devil’s argument is simple. He wanted Jesus to take care of Himself first and then He can use His powers to do God’s work. This argument comes in many shapes and forms. We should use all our resources to take care of our own family first before helping others. We must think about our own neighborhood first before reaching to others beyond our borders. The list can go on and on. All the arguments end with the results. God gets the leftovers after we have served ourselves. On the other hand, It is hard to argue against this reasoning because it makes sense. Jesus did not try to argue his way out of it. He plainly set forth another principle that is superior to this argument and mindset. His answer distinguishes humanity from the rest of animal kingdom. Jesus simply responded, “Man does not live on bread alone.”

Bread is a symbol of our physical sustenance. Humanity does not live and function only for its physical needs. Animals act according to their physical needs. Even among them, some are able to go beyond their basic needs and we adopt them as pets mainly because this trait. It is our human tendency to identify this in animals and yet many times we ourselves fail to act beyond our basic needs. It is not our human nature to base everything on our physical needs. This does not mean that we neglect our physical needs. Jesus did not do it. He enjoyed Himself, maybe a little too much according the Pharisees (Luke 7:34). However, our needs should not define how we use our God-given resources and talents in this life.

The things we consider as needs or necessities in our society might be luxury in another. This does not mean they are not necessary. In most developed countries, internet access is a necessity. People might miss job opportunities if they don’t have access to internet services. It is not a frivolous accessory by any means. It is important but it is not essential. However, if fulfilling our needs becomes our priority in life, then we will never get out of the desert and discover the world that the gospel impels us to go and discover. If needs are the only priority, then the drug dealers in impoverished neighborhoods are justified in engaging in criminal activities because this is the only way to meet their needs, well at least according to them.

Many things can be done or left undone by using this argument. The world thinks that no one should be deprived of what they consider to be basic needs. However, there is no clear understanding of what we really need in this life to be fully human. Jesus wasn’t concerned about filling his stomach. He was interested in living an abundant life. In other words, He was interested in being fully Human.

The gospel of Matthew gives a more complete answer to the argument of the Devil. Jesus says that man lives on every word that comes from God’s mouth. I started this post saying that the Spirit is moving us to a ministry of adoption. However, it is not an altruistic motivation on our part to do this. It is a participation in the movement of the Holy Spirit. We cannot impose adoption on the children. They have to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as well. They have to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The author of Matthew’s gospel distinguishes the living word of God from any reduced concept of it. It states that humans live on the living word that comes from God’s mouth. It is the living word of God that gives us the strength to overcome the lies of the world trying to rob our humanity. St Paul tells us that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’.”(Galatians 4:6) The world has no access to our hearts. The devil cannot speak to our innermost being. God speaks eternal truth that transforms the way we understand the world.

Jesus listens to the living words of God and it becomes contagious. People were drawn to Him because He lived by every word that came out of God’s mouth. Our children realize that they are adopted when they meet people who believe that God has adopted them. Jesus made tax collectors and fishermen look deep into their souls and discover their true calling. Those who live by every living word that proceeds from God’s mouth motivate others to listen to this voice as well. Thankfully, God speaks to those who are willing to listen but we need to first discern that there is another voice in this world as well. It is a lifelong journey of discerning the false wisdom from the life-giving words of our God.

Share