Monday, November 3, 2008

Stumbling Toward Triumph

As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

                        Luke 23.26

Too Heavy to Handle

The Passion builds a series of mounting humiliations, each more horribly inhumane than those before it. Yet of all the scorn and agony Jesus endured, none captures the poignant nature of His suffering more than when He stumbles beneath the weight of the cross. The Gospels don’t report this; they simply say the Roman guard randomly selected a stranger—a country peasant who inadvertently crossed paths with Christ—to bear His cross. But tradition holds that Simon was recruited after the brutality of Christ’s torture drained His physical strength and His cross proved too heavy to handle. There’s a good reason why we assume this and venerate these episodes (three times in The Stations of the Cross). When we see Jesus stumble, it’s the only instance we have of His utter helplessness, our sole glimpse of the Savior’s reliance on another’s mercy, and our best sight of Him at His most humanly frail. Therefore, it’s when we most closely identify with Him—and, perhaps, when He most closely identified with us.

The Human Precedent

Christ’s buckling beneath His cross set a human precedent. If He stumbled while handling pressures levied upon Him—rejection, derision, and abuse—we shouldn’t be alarmed when we stumble. Let’s put ourselves in Christ’s position for a moment. Here He was, God Incarnate, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He’d just spent the longest night of His life being ridiculed and taunted to prove Himself. Now, here He was, dragging His death along an uphill road flanked on either side by angry people. Many of them once loved Him, supported Him, and looked to Him for help, only to yield to political and religious fear-mongers when He needed them most. The instant the cross slipped and He stumbled into the dirt, no doubt their mockery reached a new crescendo. What must He have thought? How must He have felt? But what did He do?

Where the Road Leads

Stripped of all dignity, obviously too weak to carry His own cross, Jesus pulled Himself up and kept walking. His physical suffering to this point—the lashes, beatings, and thorny crown—surely resulted in sufficient internal and external bleeding to kill any man. His mental state surely teetered toward longing for death. When He stumbled, He could have abandoned His mission, curled up, and died in the road. But He staggered ahead, fixing His sights on where the road led. In all His pain and confusion, He never stopped believing what looked and felt like His inevitable destruction would end in inexplicable victory.

When we stumble, we can’t allow weakness to destroy us. We muster the little mental, emotional, and physical strength we have to pick ourselves up and keep moving ahead. We may stagger, we may reel, but we push forward. The defeat planned for us will look final. Our enemies will cackle to themselves, confident that they’ve got rid of us once and for all. Let them laugh, mock, and ridicule us to their hearts’ content. We know where the road leads. We may not look so steady and assured, but we’re stumbling toward triumph. We’re following Jesus and because He ended in triumph, we’ll get there as well—no matter how many times we fall.


Stumbling toward triumph.

(Tomorrow: At All Times)

Personal Postscript: Fellow Americans

Having got to know—and genuinely love—so many of Straight-Friendly’s regular readers, it seems superfluous to urge every American who comes here to vote tomorrow. We know what’s at stake, just as we know this election’s outcome very well could represent a major turning point in our nation—a return to the values and policies that once made us great, a chance to put eight years of fear, discrimination, inhumanity, and war-mongering behind us and pick up where we left off. There’s a lot of undoing to get done, a lot of healing that needs to happen—both inside our borders and around the world. Tomorrow blesses us with an opportunity to begin the process.

Amid the tension and excitement, let’s not forget to pray. More than ever, we need God’s Spirit to speak to the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. Let’s ask Him to bolster their confidence to choose what’s right, to clear their minds of the negativity and lies meant to manipulate them, and to inspire their courage to consider their neighbors above themselves.

Especially in states with same-sex marriage bans on their ballots, let’s pray God will make Himself known in every polling place. May His presence rise between religiously fueled bigotry and its influence over sincere believers who truly desire to please Him. May He embolden them to ignore the crafty deceptions aimed at them and honor Him by speaking truth to power.

In 2 Chronicles 7.14, God gives us a thrilling promise:

If my people, who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Change that matters starts with prayer.

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