It never ceases to amaze me when angry young protestors destroy businesses and property belonging to their own neighbors. Or when the 99%ers smash windows of their favorite left-leaning Starbucks. I’m reading now of an administrator at Duke University who is under fire for complaining about rap music at a campus coffee shop where he buys his vegan muffins. Known as a proponent of free-speech, he’s now fighting calls for his resignation from his erstwhile “generation protest” allies.
It reminds me: God is dead…and we have killed him. Perhaps you have read that famous line from the nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It deserves full quotation:
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it (The Madman)?”
Whether or not the Madman is expressing true remorse, he does point out that we must deal with unintended consequences of our actions and that the systems we create often have a tendency to cave in on us. Nietzsche’s quote is often misinterpreted as a statement of his atheism. But really it is his commentary on the Enlightenment. As the Enlightenment dawned, sacred revelation became passé. We replaced the Divine with science and philosophical materialism. This naturalism took humans beyond the “need” for God and past a “need” for divine moral order. Nietzsche’s Madman wonders…where do we go from there?
As Jesus dragged his cross up the Via Dolorosa to Calvary he was followed by a group of women who “mourned and wailed” for him. In what church tradition calls the eighth station of the cross, Jesus spoke to the women: “…‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then “ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry (Luke 23:28-31)?””
A prophet is someone who sees clearly what is happening around him. A prophet explains what will happen to others if they do not turn from their present course. On the road to the cross, Jesus prophesies. He speaks to the women of Jerusalem. They follow him and wail since, by Roman law, they weren’t allowed to mourn a convict after death. Jesus speaks to them, but in a very real sense, he is prophesying to us.
Recalling ancient prophecies from Hosea and Isaiah, Jesus is telling those with ears to hear that judgment is coming. It is coming to Jerusalem. It is coming to Rome. It is coming to the powerful rulers in the world. It is even coming to these dear, mourning women. It is coming to us.
Jesus’ point is clear: if our world has degenerated to the degree that the Son of God was treated in such a manner – what does that say for the rest of us? The tree is green no longer. It is very, very dry.
Yes, of course, on the way of the cross we mourn for Jesus. It’s only natural and it is right to do so. The cross, as an image, is one of sorrow and regret. But if we are to clearly see what is really happening here, we must mourn for ourselves.
You see, we created this mess. This is OUR doing. WE laid the stones on the Via Dolorosa. And the sinful world system we have created will turn on us just as it did Jesus. But we can’t just blame the system…we each bear responsibility.
We thought we were doing the world a favor when we deconstructed the Bible and got rid of all those confining rules and debilitating moral restrictions. Like Dr. Frankenstein, we had good intentions of revolutionizing the world with our experiments. But the monster we created turned on us. Now what? Society can’t function without rules. Who will make them? We must become gods ourselves.
Jesus’ prophecy sounds hopeless – and it was – at least for the moment. These women would rue the day they brought children into this sinful world.
This is a hopeless statement because the victory hadn’t yet been won. But days before, Jesus told his disciples:
“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. … “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:20-23, 33).”
Nietzsche was only half correct. We did kill Jesus – but he did not remain dead. That’s why you and I can’t quit now. Yes, the Way of the Cross is difficult to understand…admitting culpability is not an easy thing. In answer to the Madman’s question, there is no water to cleanse us. Our only chance is divine forgiveness, repentance. Only here will we find hope. Just as the pains of birth lead to life, so the cross leads to life if we will follow. Will you follow?