Deep River

Years ago, I read a marvelous book by Shusako Endo entitled "Deep River". If you ever get a chance, I would suggest picking it up.

Throughout the novel, there is a recurring passage of Scripture taken from Isaiah 53. Using the King James version (it sounds nicer this way) it reads:

He hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see him,
there is no beauty that we should desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our
faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was
bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed. And we like sheep
have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid upon him
the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, and yet
he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the
slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.



Perhaps it is because it is Advent, or because I'm living in New York, or because I am growing more sensitive to such things, but I am really captivated by this passage. You see, for a long time I've read these words as talking about Jesus. And it is certainly hard to imagine the Crucified Christ not fitting this description: abandoned and alone on the cross, dying a shameful and ignominious death.

But I cannot help but think of the countless numbers of crucified persons we see each day. I walk by homeless men and women every day...and do I ever really look at them? I think I hide my eyes, busy myself by making a call on my cell phone, feigning to look for some change in my pockets as I scurry past the the afflicted hand reaching out for help. How many times have I seen a person who "openeth not his mouth" to ask for help because he has scrawled a message on a piece of cardboard asking for money? How often is it just an empty cup set out in front of the person who huddles next to a building that indicates this person needs money? And how often do I walk on by, ignoring the plight of my sister or brother because I am so taken with matters of "grave consequence" that I simply 'must' attend to immediately?

Meditating on the crucified may seem to be more appropriate to Lent, but I think we must spend time with it during Advent, too. Long before Jesus was scourged, before his cry of "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me" pierced the atmosphere of Calvary and entered the very heart of God, there was another cry. A still, cold night in a Bethlehem stable was shattered by the cry of a child, a newborn baby whose future and destiny was perhaps unimaginable to his parents that night. I truly do not believe that Mary beheld her newborn baby boy and thought, "You're going to be crucified for the sins of the world." I imagine that her heart swelled with love and pride and joy at the sight of her son, a son whose future stretched out before him.

I mention this because long before Jesus was crucified, he was an infant held in his mothers arms. Long before the homeless men and women we see each day were the "problem of homelessness" or that "inconvenient panhandler" they were babies, held in the arms of their mothers. They, too, had a future that stretched out before them; they had a destiny, one often shaped by abuse, poor environments, and mental illness. Those hands stretched on a cross and mutilated by iron spikes once reached out to grab a father's finger; those hands that now shake as they inject heroin or reach out a grimy hand to ask for money once reached out to a mommy or daddy for a hug.

The season of Advent intends to prepare us for the coming of Emmanuel, for "God with us." This is not a one-day-per-year event: God is still with us, still being revealed in our day-to-day lives. We meet this God in the utter potentiality and promise of newborn babies, in the boundless enthusiasm of youth, and in the wisdom of our elderly. But as Christians, we know that our faith and our lives are messy, we know that we are disciples of the crucified One...and it is this God, the God of the broken and maimed, we still encounter. Pierced not by nails but by track marks from drugs, scourged not with whips but with harsh words, abandoned not by disciples but by society, labeled not "traitor" but "problem", the presence of the crucified poor, particularly the homeless, bespeaks the silent voice of God. We need not look far to see this face of Christ, the despised and broken Lord who continues to call us into service.

As we step up preparations for our Christmas festivities, let us not forget those who are so often forgotten. Let us try to see in the broken bodies who walk through our streets the presence of the crucified Christ, the one who bore on his back the sins of a broken and hostile world, the Christ who continues to reach out his wounded hand to each of us...wounded by drugs, by AIDS, by abuse, by neglect...inviting us into deeper relationship.
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