I asked us to get in touch with our feelings last week.

As Christian believers, it is imperative that we identify with suffering — not only during the season of Lent and not only with Christ’s pains but also the world’s groaning. If not, then I’ve got a sinking feeling about what we call discipleship.

The church is called to bear witness to Jesus the Christ, who lived a sinless but sorrowful life. Despite our Americanization of his image, he was poor, homeless, childless and had spotty employment. Buried in a borrowed tomb, Jesus didn’t even have life insurance.

Some would argue that if he had come to America, then he would have had a better life. But the timeline of history doesn’t allow for such ruminations.

Also, that’s not the point or his good news. Salvation does not require cultural assimilation, and we should repent for making him “white” or “black” and every other racialized color when it is obvious that he was a Jew from Galilee.

He was presented in the temple as part of his mother Mary’s ritual purification after his birth. He was called rabbi and taught in the synagogue. Jesus was not an American, didn’t speak English and would have been considered an immigrant.

The way that we talk about his body is important. During Lent, we follow him and feel for the way that his body is treated. We tell ourselves that if Jesus were alive today, then we would have behaved differently than his disciples. And for that, Jesus has a story.

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the judgement of the nations, and he says in part:

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (25:37-40, NRSV).

Those last words haunt me: “You did it to me.”

Thousands of years later, we treat those experiencing poverty, homelessness and oppression very differently. We can’t spare any change but always have plenty of judgment to hand out.

North American Christians offer a faith that makes you rich, healthy and holy. No good-paying job and no health insurance, Jesus can only identify with one of the three.

Still, salvation in Jesus’ name is treated as a cure all. Supposedly, there is no suffering once we join the church, and if there is any cause for discomfort, then we vote the pastor out at the next business meeting.

Ironically, we worship Jesus, who showed his wounds, but we dress ours up on Sundays. We smile wide as if this is a demonstration of faith.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer would disagree. He said, “From its very inception, the church itself has taken offense at the suffering Christ. It neither wants such a Lord nor does it, as the Church of Christ, want its Lord to force upon it the law of suffering.”

Consequently, during Lent, we will follow Jesus at our own pace. We follow so long as it feels good, and when it doesn’t, we walk away. We’re just taking a break.

We can make minimal adjustments that support some other goal like losing weight or practicing self-care. So, we will give up television or chocolate — but not our lives.

We wouldn’t dare share our livelihood, the money we’ve worked so hard for with someone we wouldn’t be caught dead with. We say to ourselves and sometimes to them, “You should’ve worked harder. You should’ve made better decisions. That’s what bootstraps are for!”

I vehemently disagree. No, that’s what Jesus’ hands are for.

It’s what Jesus would do. It’s also what his disciples would do if we identified more with the suffering Christ in our daily lives than the Jesus we hang up on walls and adorn with bright lights.

But I get the feeling that we prefer our image of Jesus, our museum Jesus, rather than spotting him on the subway or the street corner. Because we want to keep our distance when it comes to suffering.

We don’t want to see suffering. Instead, we want to create enough distance to admire it.

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