Friday, March 25, 2005

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (New Living Translation)

Ecclesiastes 3

1There is a time for everything,
A season for every activity under heaven
2A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to rebuild.
4A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6A time to search and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak up.
8A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Feed a cold, starve a fever. It’s an old adage. Terri Schiavo, as the adage goes, is a fever in our midst who needs to be starved into submission.

Another day, another appeal, another denial. Terri Schiavo is on death’s doorstep. About all that’s left now is to watch the death dew gather cold on her brow as she slips into eternity.

This is, of course, Passion Week. Today is Good Friday, a day set aside by Christians to commemorate the death of Jesus.

Passion Week! It’s a marvelous way to express this most solemn of all weeks in the Christian calendar. It speaks to me of the things that ought to stir in the human belly at times like this. It speaks to me of zeal, the type of passion that Jesus himself expressed. It was zeal that sealed Jesus’ fate.

Just before the Passover feast Jesus went to Jerusalem. There, in a “fit of passion” He drove out the money changers:

John 2:13-17 (King James Version)

13 “And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;
16And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
17And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”

Jesus’ passion, His love did Him in. He cared, He gave. His response to the cold calculation of that time (and ours as well), was visceral. It was love and passion from the gut. Jesus led with His chin and as every boxer who has ever climbed into the ring knows, that’s dangerous stuff.

Jesus’ passion stands in stark contrast to those who plotted against Him. He had earlier seen a close friend die. He’d wept over his tomb. Then, in a full display of passion and love he raised his friend from the dead. The grave itself could not trump His passion and love. It was a foreshadowing of things to come.

Religious authorities, legal scholars if you will, seeing the power of His passion, met to develop a counter-strategy to deal with the zeal of this man and His power upon people:

John 11:45-50 (New International Version)

45 “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place[
a] and our nation.”
49Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

There was a cold, hard logic to Jesus crucifixion. Whose jurisdiction was he anyway? Pilate’s? Herod’s?

Pilate tried to bargain for His life. The “people” chose to spare Barabbas, a murderer and a terrorist rather than this guiltless man. His executioners gambled for His only earthly possession, His robe.

It had all begun in secret, hidden from public view. It ended with Jesus in full view of all who, in one way or another, actively or passively, condemned Him to death.

It’s Good Friday and, as best I can, I am remembering that death and passion. I’m sitting here looking out my window at birds twittering, noticing out of the corner of my eye that our forsythia is beginning to bloom. I’m contemplating Jesus’ passion and death. I think of the many times in my journey that I have broken the bread and taken from the cup. Just symbols, bread and wine or bread and juice, depending on your tradition. But today the passion has hit me at a very visceral level too. I see my part in this drama and feel the need to once more touch my lips to the cup of redemption, not symbolically, but deeply and fully. As I do I sense that the poet’s words are right and true:

“Never could learn to drink that blood,
And call it wine,
Never could learn to hold you, love,
And call you mine.”

As I sit here and reflect I can even see in my mind’s eye that Pinellas Park, Florida, is as close to me as the finches and starlings feeding on the mulberry tree outside my window. I look at the pictures of Bob and Mary Schindler in the news media and see that they are dead ringers for Nancy and me. It’s eerie. It’s all very close to home.

I’m told as I read some of my fellow Christian bloggers that folks like me need to focus more on His passion and less on Terri Schiavo’s. They’re right of course. His was a passion with a redemptive purpose. Her passion may have some sliver of redemption in it in the end, but I understand that it won’t redeem me; it will not open Heaven’s gates for me. Yet I wonder as I sit here how all of this would have played its way out during Passion Week two thousand years ago if we moderns had been there. What would polite conversation have sounded like if we had been there? “He’s just one man, Dillon. There’s thousands of people who die senselessly every day.” “You need to focus more energy on the living.” “You never paid much attention to him when he went through your home town. I mean, after all, Capernaum is a long way from Jerusalem.” “Why can’t you spend some time and energy focusing on what’s going on in your home town instead of getting yourself fixated on something far away from your “sphere of influence?”

The logic of it all is impeccable. It’s when their words hit the belly that the pain sets in. They’re obviously right and I’m wrong. Why is it then that their words don’t make me feel better? Why is it that they seem so void of absolution?

I’ve tried the logical approach. Who am I to say what’s right and wrong here? The judges hearing Terri Schiavo’s case may be Christians to the man. It could be. I’ve heard that the BTK strangler could be one too. Who am I to say? After all, a thief crucified next to Jesus made it into Paradise. Who am I to say that Terri Schiavo’s executioners aren’t, as they say in my circles of Christendom, twice blessed? I’m sure, too, that in his own way, Pontius Pilate was an alright guy. And so, in their own ways, were the members of the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus to death. Who am I to say?

I’ve heard it said that the technology now available has turned all of this on its head. It’s made the decisions all the more difficult. It’s the science that makes the agony all the more agonizing. The technology seems to be trumping God’s ability to just “take” Terri. We’re prolonging the inevitable. I hear it and it seems to make sense. But then my gut interferes again. Maybe we shouldn’t have brought in all that earth moving equipment when Jessica McClure fell down into that hole years ago. Maybe I should stop scheduling the blood tests I take every year to make sure I don’t have prostate cancer. Maybe I should stop taking my inhalers and my blood pressure medication and just let God “take care of it.” Maybe we should all stop getting those mammograms and colonoscopies and just leave it all in God’s hands. Maybe we should refuse to give our children antibiotics when their bodies are wracked with pain and infection. Yes, technology changes everything, doesn’t it?

I hear what makes sense and it makes my blood boil. In 1986 I was passing through Crown Center in downtown Kansas City. There was a large crowd of people watching the Challenger make its way into space. I got to the back of the crowd just in time to hear the words, “Challenger, go with throttle up.” For the astronauts it was over in a matter of seconds. For the rest of us it was just beginning. I don’t remember how many times I heard the words “This was God’s will” after that day. More than I can count. We’d pushed the envelope; we’d gone too far. Never mind that it was really poor engineering, that sin had run amok in the halls of NASA, that expediency had triumphed over safety and life. I hear the words today and they have a tinny ring to them. “We just need to let her go. It’s God’s will.” And I hear the judges, one by one barking out their command, “Go with throttle up.”

I’ve heard it said that she’s “not there,” that she’s nothing more than a shell now. It smacks to me of Manichaeism, “Christian dualism.” The “spirit” is good and the body is “just a shell.” So much for the resurrection of the body. She’s just a shell. Her body isn’t of any value. It’s just a mass of fallen protoplasm in a fallen world. My gut wrenches into knots when I hear the euphemism. Terri Schiavo is more than that. She’s a unity, a living human person, a unity of body, soul, and spirit.

There is indeed, as I saw as I started this piece, a time to grieve and a time to dance. I look out my window and Pinellas Park, Florida seems even closer than it did a few minutes ago. This is indeed a time to grieve. The air outside my window seems cold. I touch the glass and it confirms what my eyes behold. It’s as cold as the ground into which Terri Schiavo will be interred in a matter of days.

Passion Week is quickly coming to a close. The time for mourning, sackcloth, and ashes will soon be over. In its wake there will come a time to rejoice. Tomorrow my heart will dance. I’ll celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Until then I will mourn His death, my part in it, and Terri Schiavo’s pain. My heart and my belly tells me this is right, despite the logic, the law, and the science that rage against me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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