I recently got a new sticker from Art of Marza for my laptop. It’s a depiction of the story of the Good Samaritan, with Jesus in the role of the latter. There is text around it that reads, “REFUSING TO HARDEN YOUR HEART IS A RADICAL ACT”.
This message is a reminder to me that it is so tempting to look away from the suffering all around me instead of doing the right thing. Our society tells us to just ignore our neighbors who suffer under the weight of white supremacy, poverty and discrimination. Or worse, we are encouraged to blame them for their own pain, rather than the systemic abuses that are the root causes of inequality and death. It’s easy to just look away. But Jesus calls us – all of us who consider ourselves his followers – not to. I’m reminded of an antiphon that we used to sing during Lent in the Roman Catholic parish I grew up in, based on Psalm 95: “If today you hear his voice,/ harden not your hearts.”
Good Friday is a day that, despite my best efforts, doesn’t always make sense to me – at least, not in the way I was brought up to understand it, in the penal-substitution-theory-kind-of-way. I do not understand the need for the cruelty, the blood, the agony. I don’t understand why it was all necessary. It makes me uncomfortable and sad and I often do not want to engage with this day, which is why this call to not allow for a hardening of heart feels particularly live for me. It is all the more easy for me these, when there is so much pain around, to keep scrolling past a call for action for a neighbor in need than to stop and think about how I can help. It can be so tempting to simply not make eye contact and keep walking past someone experiencing homelessness than reaching into my pocket and give them some money.
In the Episcopal Church, we often liken the arms of Christ stretched out on the cross as an embrace open to all. I love that image, because it speaks to the heart of who Jesus was and is for me: someone so full of love that death could not snuff out his life for good. Jesus, even in his last, agonizing moments, asks God to forgive the people torturing him and assures a man dying next to him that he too will receive eternal life. Even with hands and feet nailed to wood, even while struggling to breathe, Jesus’ heart did not harden.
Jesus told us that what we do to the least of our kindred, we do to him. We cannot look away from the suffering of our neighbors, for doing so is looking away from Christ himself. This is how I have come to understand Good Friday and enter into it.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32
When he was lifted up on the cross, Jesus drew all marginalized, oppressed, dejected people to himself. He took on our pain. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, entered into full solidarity with those who fought and died for liberation from powers and principalities, with those wrongfully accused and sentenced to languish in prison, with those discriminated against for the color of their skin, their gender, who they love, their disabilities or their economic status. Turning away from the suffering of the “least of these” is turning away from Christ himself.
If we are to be an Easter people, we must enter into Good Friday and the silence of Holy Saturday. That requires something difficult from us: we must not allow our hearts to harden. We have to interrogate our own involvement in the systems that abuse and kill our neighbors. We cannot look away from the suffering around us, but must enter into it as Jesus did, and allow our hearts of stone to become hearts of flesh that break and mourn.