Luke includes an intriguing footnote to his version of the Passion story: “All his acquaintances stood at distance,” the evangelist says (Luke 23:49). And no doubt, this is part of the reason I’ve always tended to think of Jesus’ final journey as a LONELY one.
What a shock, then, to experience early last month the hustle-and-bustle of praying the Stations along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem.
An uncaring crowd adds weight to this heavy burden…
There were people everywhere. Cars, motorbikes, carts, too. I found it nearly impossible to concentrate amid the din. I wanted to be respectful, reflective. I wound up being annoyed and judgmental — why didn’t “those people” pay more attention to the holy scene we were enacting before them?
Bargains to be had, along the Way…
One of the shopkeepers we encountered REALLY got on my nerves. “Scarves, two for five dollars!” he shouted, again and again. The more we ignored him, it seemed, the louder he got.
A few paces further along, I noticed a cosmetics ad — a shop poster showing the face of a beautiful woman, her hands caressing her cheeks and chin. She became for me a sort of “anti-Veronica”…an icon of self-involvement that all-too-accurately captured the sinfulness of our present age and culture.
We pilgrims kept trying to pray.
We kept trying to sing our tender hymns: “Jesus, remember me…” “Were you there…” “Behold, behold…the wood of the cross…”
But our neighbors in the crowded streets were having none of it. Many turned our prayerful procession into a touristy photo-op. Most just seemed to ignore us, shoving past us, doing what they could to get this mid-day distraction out of their way.
…steeped in self-involvement…
As we approached the end of the journey…in the courtyard outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre…it occurred to me that the crowds — the obnoxious, self-centered, disruptive crowds — had actually been doing me a favor. They helped take Jesus’ Passion down off the “sacred shelf”…where I typically tend to keep it as I pray the Stations.
The crowds showed me what it had REALLY been like for Jesus that day. In all likelihood, there was nothing prayerful about his walk to Calvary. All the suffering in the world on His shoulders…and still, he found himself walking through a world that just simply didn’t seem to care. Not a whit.
How did Jesus forgive THAT, I wondered?
And: How does He forgive this very same in me, in us today? How can He possibly look past all the times we “stand at a distance”…and refuse to be His hands and feet, the bearers of Good News that He commissioned us to be?
Walking the Via Dolorosa, I was very glad indeed to have been on the shores of the Sea of Galilee the week before. I was very glad to have heard the reflection offered by one of our pilgrimage leaders, at the Church of the Primacy.
There, Fr. Anthony invited us to see Jesus, full of mercy. To see Jesus, living in obedience to the Father’s will…Jesus, forgiving Peter…
Jesus, inviting Peter — and us, the church — to try again.
What wondrous Love is this? Love, offering us ever the grace to try again…
Let us remember that we are in the presence of the Holy and Merciful One.