What should I do with my life? What would give my life meaning? That’s what Cheryl Schott kept asking, and deep within she knew that someday, if she was attentive enough, the answer would come. In 1985 she was watching a segment on the evening news and saw Diane Sawyer interview a 12 year old named Mohammed who lived deep in the Sahara. He was starving, homeless, dirty, but a handsome boy nonetheless. As Cheryl watched, she heard a voice within her soul say, “That boy is my son. He is my son.” The urge to reach out to that boy lasted beyond the few seconds he was on the screen. Cheryl and her husband borrowed money, maxed out credit cards, made countless phone calls and traveled into the Sahara desert 400 miles to find Mohammed. He was sick from malaria, had an infected club foot and tuberculosis when they found him a year later and brought him to this country. Mohammed graduated in the spring of 1998 from Georgetown’s prestigious School of Foreign Service. 28 years ago, when Mohammed arrived at Cheryl’s home, he thought he was supposed to be the houseboy, and he was ready to clean and serve. “No,” Cheryl explained, “you are here to be our son, our son.” To which Mohammed replied, “I don’t know what that means, but if you teach me, I will learn.”
Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved, and he said, “Woman behold your son.”
Throughout the centuries, there have been many depictions of the crucifixion, and the focus is, of course, Jesus himself. What we often forget, though, is that there was a whole world beneath that cross: women weeping, disciples hiding, bystanders heckling, and a whole bunch of people busy about their own lives, preparing for the coming Passover, perhaps only vaguely aware of the day’s executions. It is striking, that for just about the length of a typical news story on TV, Jesus addresses himself to those who are below, giving Mary and John to each other, not only as mother and son, but as a new community.
You and I are standing at the foot of the cross. We are that new community. And some of us are weeping, hiding, heckling or just vaguely aware. Today we look at the cross of Jesus and we ask ourselves, “Have I really learned what it means to be God’s beloved?” Are we willing to learn if we are shown? It is a matter of learning three seemingly simple things: OBEDIENCE, FORGIVENESS, LOVE.
OBEDIENCE We don’t like that word because we think it is about following commands, much like a child, or even a puppy. When I was wrestling with the writing of my final vows as a Benedictine, I of course knew I had to include the 3 traditional monastic vows of “poverty, chastity and obedience”, but as I wrestled and researched the Latin word “obedientia” I came to understand that the word actually means “to listen.” Suddenly that didn’t sound like puppy training at all, and since the first word in Benedict’s Rule is “Ausculte!” (“Listen!”) I knew I was on to something solid. Jesus always listened to God. He always let God’s word direct him, guide him, strengthen him, even in the most terrible moments of his life. He wants to teach us this kind of obedience. In times of difficulty, confusion, or struggle, it is not the words in the NY Times, on Dr. Phil or the contradictory words we hear coming out of our own mouths: it is the Word of God that matters. And we must learn from Jesus to listen to that word, not simply on the Good Fridays of our life, but every day of our life.
FORGIVENESS Forgiveness, they say, is one of the hardest things to live. Maybe because it takes more than a 30 second sound bite. Maybe because it means sometimes we have to change course and drive 400 miles into the Sahara. Maybe it is because sometimes it means we have to shut up! Notice Jesus in his trial says very little. Where is his brilliant defense? Couldn’t he have used a parable or some snappy beatitudes to his advantage? No, he says in the face of hatred, there is no need to retaliate, to argue, to be right. His attitude is one of standing in the power of God’s perspective. And that is what forgiveness is : standing in the power of God’s perspective. It’s not found in the power of getting even, making our point, proving you wrong, getting the last word, making someone pay. Forgiveness says in a still, small voice, “Those things have no power over me.” Just think how different our life would have been—regardless of our age right now—if we had been willing to learn forgiveness from Jesus.
And finally, LOVE. Jesus wants those who stand at the foot of the cross to learn the meaning of love. We suck at this because we think love is bound up with how we feel. We use love as a kind of bargaining tool, thinking we are going to get something in return, something we’ve paid for by the mere fact of our loving. This is incorrect. Love, Jesus says, is when you are willing to give yourself to another, because you see God’s handiwork in them and you see yourself in them. Yes, I agree, it is way easier to love a freshly hatched newborn baby than a recalcitrant 15 year old. It’s easier to love a faithful friend than it is to love someone who is self-absorbed. And it is darned near impossible to love someone who has betrayed us, or worked to undermine our community by lying, stealing or even killing. It IS difficult, challenging and impossible to love these people if when we think of loving them we imagine hugging them and smiling sweetly. But if we can see God as their Lover as well as our own, and if we can recognize ourselves in them, then we can love them for sure. Because the unpleasant truth is that I am moody. I am self-centered. I have betrayed. I have lied. I could murder someone. Isaiah reminds us that it is only when we do not look away, that we suddenly look at the people we can’t stand at work, the shiftless and lazy, the hundreds of thousands of refugees leaving Kosovo, those who are hungry at this hour… only when we do not look away can we suddenly see, and be able to say. “That’s my son! That’s my daughter!”
God is not necessarily asking us to drive 400 miles into the Sahara to rescue a child. But maybe we could give God just a bit more than a television soundbite of our time. Maybe this Good Friday can be a turning point for us. Maybe this could be the day when we finally admit that our life is supposed to be about obedience, forgiveness and love? And if you are one who is right now wondering what it is you are supposed to do with your life, I invite you to take a look at the cross and those who are standing beneath it. You’ll know what to do.