The way of Jesus is the way of compassion. It involves sharing life with those around us and suffering with them. I want to be careful here; embracing the suffering of others doesn’t require that we treat suffering like a holy fetish. There is a danger in this, particularly for Christians. We worship the One who suffered on a cross. But, as Dorothee Sölle writes in her book Suffering, the cross is not “a symbol of masochism which needs suffering in order to convince itself of love. It is above all a symbol of reality. Love does not ‘require’ the cross, but de facto it ends up on the cross. De facto Jesus of Nazareth was crucified… Love does not cause suffering or produce it, though it must necessarily seek confrontation, since its most important concern is not the avoidance of suffering but the liberation of people.”
Jesus’ compassion led to the cross. When he broke bread with sinners and fellowshipped with outcasts, he drew the ire of religious gatekeepers. When, in the temple, he raised a ruckus over the exploitation of the poor, he upset the religious elite. And his words of dangerous liberation sealed his fate. He was betrayed and summarily executed by the state. And he decomposed in the grave for three days.
This is the way of the prophets. Prophets have to be dealt with. Their truth is too explosive…too dangerous to the status quo. And so, prophets often become martyrs.
But Jesus shows us that there is something waiting on the other side of the tomb. Those of us who follow Jesus hold a reckless hope that death isn’t the final word and the violence of the Powerful isn’t the final authority. Those who speak truth will be vindicated.
What does it mean to be prophetic today? In this era of Trump and Brexit, of capitalism and war, of racism and Islamaphobia, of fear and uncertainty? What powerful truth is the Spirit stirring in our souls? And will speaking and enacting that truth lead us to the cross?
The way of the Cross isn’t a heroic path. It isn’t found in momentary choices of boldness. But in the long journey of compassion. Speaking truth to power comes only for those who find themselves in solidarity with the powerless. If our eyes aren’t acclimated to the shadows, we will miss the glimpses of opportunity to throw our bodies into the sinister gears of oppression.
Jesus spent at least three years in his long march to the cross. A journey through wilderness and city, through solidarity and resistance, through prayer and silence. And if we, followers of Jesus, are going to embrace the prophetic path, we need to embark on such a journey.
Jesus’ earthly ministry began journey of descent—an experience of katabasis—a psycho-spiritual ordeal in the wilderness. His earthly ministry ended with another sort of decent before he rose from the dead, incorruptible. And then he poured out his spirit upon his disciples so that they could do even greater things.
Seminaries and churches often train pastors, but rarely train prophets. Why do you think that is? What would it look like to train for a Cruciform—a cross shaped—way of life? One that so thoroughly embraces the way of solidarity that “de facto ends up on the cross?” And how does that lead to a deeper more vibrant life?