When does it end? Lent is not merely a season but a reminder to pay attention to those who are suffering. If our eyes are fixed on Jesus, then how can we ever look away?
Lent is not 40 days, a six-week series of steps. No, Jesus is always around here somewhere in the world suffering, preparing to die. On his last leg, the church should feel the same way as the body of Christ.
If you or I are thinking about the end of the Lenten season as the end of our suffering, having suffered through whatever we gave up to feel closer to Christ, then we might have missed the point.
With so much suffering in the world, it shouldn’t take Jesus’ cross to point it out. But here we are.
Look around you and at the world. I encourage us all to take off our rose-colored glasses and pick up a cross. Because we are not walking with Jesus if we are not suffering with him.
We call Jesus the “Suffering Servant,” but too often the church in North America wants to be compensated for its pain and suffering on his behalf. “Name it and claim it!” “Blab it and grab it!” Be sure to tip the prosperity preacher on your way out of the church service.
But this is mere lip service. It doesn’t repeat after Jesus but is evidence of the puppetry of capitalism. Money will make us say almost anything.
No mention of “the cost of discipleship,” the prosperity gospel doesn’t amount to much of anything. Because what will we have to show for it in the end? Jesus died with nothing in the end.
Hands empty, still he took us all in. This, his selflessness, is an expression of love we say.
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (2:5-7, NRSV).
But too often we are double-minded, talking out of both sides of our mouth as my Southern elders would say.
This hypocrisy is costing the church an arm and a leg, with members leaving in droves. Because that’s one too many masters. We cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).
If we are to follow Jesus, then we must draw the line somewhere. If we are to follow Jesus, then those who are experiencing poverty and homelessness shouldn’t be maligned or marginalized. We should draw the line right there.
Discipleship, our commitment to Jesus, warrants the question, “Who are you committed to? What of the human condition are you privy to?” Because Jesus is always suffering.
This is made plain in Matthew 25. Jesus says if you have taken care of those whose stomachs growl and whose throats are dry, those who are new in town and the person who need clothes (not a fashion makeover), those who don’t feel well and those who don’t feel like themselves behind bars, then you haven’t addressed my needs.
We are not “too blessed to be stressed.” We are committed to relieving Christ’s suffering in the world.
Mystic and theologian Howard Thurman writes in Disciplines of the Spirit, “Commitment means that it is possible for a [person] to yield the nerve center of [their] consent to a purpose or cause, a movement or an ideal, which may be more important to [them] than whether [they] live or die.”
What is our commitment then as followers of Jesus? Where do we think that Jesus is going with this cross and his teachings?
Perhaps, this is why we have the Lenten season, because the lesson bears repeating. If when we see suffering in the world, we turn a blind eye, then we don’t really want to see Jesus.
We don’t want to see Jesus as impoverished, homeless, uninsured and underemployed. What then have we done to his image and his story?
Pay attention, Christians. We are a walking contradiction, and I find it insufferable.