At the Foot of the
(From the Justice Leaders Engaging and Developing Leadership Guide)
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to this mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
There are many biblical passages to which we can turn that inspire us to do justice and seek peace – passages from the great prophets who implore us to answer the question, “What does God require of us?” (Micah 6:8), or which encourage us to be “repairers of the breach” (Isaiah 58:12). We can turn to Matthew 25:31-46 to learn that what we do to “the least of these” we also do to Jesus/God. Our sacred texts are filled with the call to do justice and to tear down the “dividing walls of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) that separate us from our sisters and brothers. We are called to unity – so that we “may all be one” (John 17:21) – as our United Church of Christ motto affirms.
We don’t usually turn to the scene described above in John’s Gospel account, but that is precisely where we need to be and where we need to return repeatedly as people of God who desire to walk humbly with our God while we do justice and seek mercy. We need to be at the foot of the cross – not just on Good Friday but every day.
So let us go there.
Jesus hangs on a crude crossbar of wood, tortured and dying. Many of those who had enthusiastically joined his movement, “The Way,” abandoned him as danger drew near. Maybe some are lost in the crowds, looking on from afar, anonymous, not wanting to be identified with this man who posed such a threat to the religious and political status quo of his time. Some in the crowd were undoubtedly morbid thrill seekers who regarded crucifixions as entertainment (much like those white people who held picnics at the lynchings of African-Americans in the United States). Some probably knew of Jesus, had heard stories, and were curious, even sympathetic, but not involved.
But there were also those who knew Jesus well – his mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene, and the disciple whom he loved. They were there at the foot of the cross, close enough to talk with him. In shock, stunned at the turn of events of the previous days, they watched as their son, nephew, friend, rabbi was about to die and they could do nothing to stop it. Knowing more than they ever could, Jesus gives them to each other as kin in the moments before he breathes his last. “Woman, here is your son.” “Here is your mother.” A new family, a new community is created at a most painful juncture.
What do we need to take from this story as justice-makers? There are at least three important lessons for us, and you will probably come up with additional ones.
First, we must recognize that humanity is being crucified everyday in this world by the “principalities and powers” of the status quo. We cannot turn our backs on this harsh reality. Our sisters and brothers are dying, literally, from poverty, from violence, from civil wars, from violations of human rights, from inhumane working conditions, from lack of water and food, from lack of hope, from HIV/AIDS and other treatable or preventable diseases, from neglect, from abuse. We must join those who bear witness to this tragic loss of life and we must be willing to name the forces causing this suffering: nationalism, corporate greed, religious and xenophobic extremism, systemic racism and sexism, and so forth. To bear witness is to be willing to stand at the foot of the cross and be seen as one who is in solidarity with those who suffer.
Second, we are not left alone at the foot of the cross. No matter what our individual reactions are to suffering and injustice, no matter how debilitating it can be to encounter what is evil, Jesus created kinship among those who were there. We are in new and intentional relationship with each other as members of the Body of Christ – strangers no more but companions on The Way, on the journey. We are there to comfort each other, to wail our grief and be held, to pour out our confusion, our despair and our sense of hopelessness and be heard by others who take us seriously. We are in community – to commune with each other and support one another. We experience encuentro – a Spanish word that means more than just to encounter. It means to accompany one another, to see the fullness of each other, and to take in one another’s being and reality.
Third, the playing field is level at the foot of the cross. No one has more privilege than or power over anyone else at the foot of the cross. We are children of God, sisters and brothers, persons of faith whose identity is rooted in our baptism and re-affirmed at the communion table. This inherent, God-created and God-given equality and our human tendency and proclivity to forget it is why we need to return to the foot of the cross again and again. Hope for justice lies in our deepest understanding of this equality, which informs how we engage in justice-making with those who suffer, not just for those who suffer. Nothing threatens the principalities and powers of the status quo more than a community in true solidarity with each other and that challenges and exposes injustice being done. What we must remember is not to lose sight of that equality when we go out from the cross and back to our own neighborhoods and our own churches.
As you engage with one another in developing ministries of advocacy, justice, and peacemaking, study the prophetic passages and the calls to do justice that are found throughout the Bible. Study books by scholars, community activists, theologians, and pastors that inspire you to action. Talk with each other, dialogue with each other, pull out the best from one another – but keep in mind always the image of being at the foot of the cross where you will be blessed and renewed. There you will bear witness and find transforming relationships. There you will be reminded of whose you are.
- In the U.S. today, is it dangerous to follow Jesus? Can you foresee a time or occasion when it might be dangerous?
- What does it mean to bear witness, today, to people’s suffering? How can we bear witness?
- Do you have a community of friends who stand with you “at the foot of the cross”? How could such a community be created?