“They should take them all into the forest,” he told me. And making the gesture of lighting a match he spewed out the hateful words, “Then they should light up the forest.” I looked at him not believing what I was hearing. And then I noticed the cross around his neck. I could not hold back, “You wear a cross. Do you remember what the man on the cross said to his captors when they nailed him and left him to die alone in shame?” His turn to look at me unbelievingly. I answered my own question, “He said, ‘Father, forgive them.'” He tried to change the topic. Ah, the foolishness of this cross.
Do you find it strange that Paul the Apostle once wrote, “I am not going to boast in any other thing but the cross.” Paul, or Saul as he was named at birth, once hated Christianity, so much so that he went out as a representative of fundamental Judaism, to capture Christians and put them in jail, and much worse! Hatred had gotten the best of him. Then on a journey to Damascus in pursuit of those in this strange new sect, he himself encountered the love of God. From then and there the cross became his point of reference, his message, and his life. This Jewish ‘jihadist’ who once resorted to violence when his way of believing became threatened, now learned that the greatest message for humanity was love, the kind manifested on that ugly now beautiful cross.
I grew up learning that Jesus paid it all. His death was caused by my rebellion. In order for me to escape God’s wrath I needed to really apologise, tears would help, and of course I must turn from my wicked ways. Visiting preachers came to my church quoting a sermon called ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.’ Gulp! I was only twelve years old. There was a lot of hell fire preaching going around! These days I wonder if we have put too much emphasis on how the cross appeased an angry God. Is he a wrathful God angry with all of us who should know better? My guess is He was always and still is motivated more by love than anger. I believe the death of Christ was necessary for our at-one-ment and at the same time I am drawn to the thought that the supreme message of the cross is that it displays His shocking love for humanity even at it’s worst?
I think back to a time in a taxi driven by a devout Muslim taxi driver. We talked about the violence happening in France and in the world and surprisingly we talked about Jesus. I wanted him to tell me about the cross, what he understood it to mean. I was trying to steer the conversation to a God that was more love than anger. “Do you remember what Jesus said while he hung there to die?” It felt right to bring up to him the fact that Jesus actually asked the Father to forgive his killers, the ones so blinded by hatred they didn’t know what they were doing. After saying this, a beggar came to where we were stopped at a red light and tried to wash his windows. It was the worst attempt of cleaning a window I had ever seen. More dirty after the washing! I said to the good Muslim driver, “Guess we need to forgive him, for he doesn’t know what he is doing!” We both laughed. After I got out of the taxi we shook hands warmly and I think we both wished the ride lasted a little longer.
Are there not times we humans don’t know what we are doing let alone are saying? While visiting my relatives in the Netherlands, an uncle of mine blurted out loud, “I hate them all because they hate us.” He wasn’t joking either. It reminds me of the disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven upon those awful Samaritans, they had no clue to what they were asking Jesus to do. My uncle’s remark was not much different than Donald Trump’s solution to the terrible terrorism that has touched every continent of the world, that is to simply kick them all out! It’s a tad better than Adolf Hitlers ‘Final Solution’ I suppose, isn’t it?
We no longer live in the dark ages, thank God, but I am aghast by the amount of hateful ideology that exists in our day. We hate this and that. The result is a beaten black-eyed world with the greatest refugee crisis known in the history of mankind. Apart from Germany, most European countries have said, “We can’t, we won’t let them in!” We are turning a blind eye much like during the beginning of Word War 2, when no one would take in the Jews. They were all spies after all, all bad, Nazis even! And so hundreds of Jewish families that applied for hope, like Anne Frank’s father did, were denied a new life in spite of the fact they had connections, spoke English, and were, well, good people. How many more modern Anne Franks are trapped somewhere today with no escape?
One of my reasons for writing these words today is a result of my moving to Paris. My apartment was a five minute walk from La Belle Equipe, a corner bar and bistro where bullets sprayed killing twenty beautiful people. It wasn’t the first time for us nor last time to see hatred’s manifestation up close. In our two short years we’ve seen protests turned violent, we experienced the Charlie Hebdo attacks, we were in Nice the day before an angry truck driver crushed 85 people to death with a rented 19 tonne lorry and most recently the senseless murder of an elderly Catholic priest who had his throat slit before a small congregation. I’ve seen hatred’s face here in France too often. A French friend told me that he was haunted by the image of young terrorists dancing with joy after murdering the priest. Aren’t we all haunted by hatred? In France it is a touchy topic here with a long complicated revolutionary and colonial history.
I read the papers daily and maybe like me you feel the helplessness of reading yet another headline of violence committed in the name of some ideology. As believers in the message of love, we should stand out as counter-culture to hatred and to those who propose building walls, or the refusing and sending away of the unwanted. Can I point you to yet another unspoken inference of the cross, it shows us God’s way to solve the problem of hate. I like Brian Zahnd words, “The cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence.” Fear and hatred put Christ up there on the cross. Look!
Love kept Him there. And strong love needs to keep us in the places we live, dark places and hateful spaces and offer up seemingly foolish words of life and love.
So back to the cross and the astonishing words of Jesus on that hateful tool of death; it speaks to me of finding a better way to reconciliation. It is not a quick or easy, admittedly. I am not Jesus, nor could I ever attain a love like His! I do pray sincerely, “Oh God, may hate never be the response of my heart.” And I am trying to glean from His sacrifice and of His offer to all of second chances. “Its easy to love those who love you,” Jesus once taught, “Now try and bless those who hate you and you’ll reflect better the heart of the Father above.” Jesus lived just that. Even in a cruel death by violent hearts and hands. Ultimately this foolish cross stuff is our best hope for a better world !