The price of love.

This was offered as a Good Friday reflection on the Seventh Word of Christ, at St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville.

Luke 23:44-49 “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”

At the beginning of this week

we saw Jesus welcomed, hailed and celebrated

with cries of Hosana! as he entered Jerusalem. 

Jesus had become a well-known figure.

He was sought after and celebrated

by many as the coming King of Israel,

as the Messiah — the Savior of the world.

But then the mood shifted.

Many people – especially those in power —

became increasingly wary of Jesus.

No one knew quite what to make of him.

There was a growing consensus that he was dangerous.

A threat to the powers that be.

The cost of being his friend or his follower

rose sharply.

That last supper, which we remembered

yesterday, must have been wrought

with tension. 

The foreboding that filled the air surely

could have been cut with a knife.

One of those closest to Jesus

rose from the table, betraying him

in exchange for a small purse of coins.

By now Jesus’ closest friends have scattered.

As the horror of his execution

comes into focus, a few followers gaze

on the scene from a distance.

Terrified.

Confused.

Perhaps feeling betrayed

themselves.

Jesus is isolated and alone as

he hangs on a cross at Golgotha.

For him, the betrayal is complete.

All he has left is a Father who seems

      absent at best.

At worst, indifferent.

Excruciatingly cruel.

In the midst of unimaginable suffering,

at the point of death, Jesus finds the strength,

the courage – despite evidence to

the contrary — to trust.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

We may have moments in our lives

when we are able and willing to trust,

even in the face of immeasurable hardship.

But to be so completely free of self-interest,

free of self-centered fear and worry that

we are able to surrender our wills,

to let go absolutely?

Our 12-step friends know that the courage to

surrender in the face of such pain and fear

is grace-filled. It is God-given.

A few weeks ago, we met with Catholic lay leaders

at the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

to see how they might join with us through

our Church Without Walls, to collaborate

in our ministry with the homeless and urban poor.

After our meeting — when we walked out

onto Duval Street —

I met a man named Antoine.

He had just walked past us, but then

spun around and lurched toward me.

“Can I talk to you?” he pleaded.

His face was contorted in anguish.

“I’m having such a hard day,” he explained.

“I’m homeless. Everywhere I turn, people

are being so mean.

Shouting at me, cursing me.”

In the course of that one day,

Antoine had been spat upon,

threatened and shamed.

Looking into the depths of those dark,

soulful eyes, I saw Christ.

The One who poured himself out for us all.

The One who chose to trust, when those

closest to him had pulled away.

When the Father who sent him was

seemingly absent.

In our brief exchange, Antoine somehow

chose to trust.

He asked for nothing but someone to listen.

He shared his heartache and exhaustion.

We prayed together. 

Then, as quickly as he’d approached me,

he turned on his heel to make his way

down the street.

My Catholic friends were perplexed.

“How did you know it was safe

to engage with him?

How did you know what to do?”

I assured them that there are incremental,

concrete steps that can be taken to educate

and equip those interested is learning

this ministry of presence.

There are trainings and supportive

conversations we can provide that can

help build a comfort level for

engaging in this transformative work.

No experience is necessary.

In fact, it is often better to come to it

empty-handed, with open hearts and minds.

For, when we are willing to bring only ourselves,

that is when the Spirit moves

most profoundly among us.

It takes courage to be present in the

face of another’s suffering.

It is human to resist it.

That’s why so many of us get anxious even at

the thought of visiting someone in hospital.

When we become willing to take the first step—

   to suit up and show up –

the Holy Spirit always fills in the gaps.

“We cannot serve at a distance,” writes

author Rachel Naomi Remen. 

“We can only serve that to which we are

profoundly connected,

that which we are willing to touch.”

The greatest gift the Church can offer

in the face of immeasurable suffering

is a compassionate presence.

It is counterintuitive – and very awkward at first —

for we are a society of people conditioned

to Act. To Fix.  To Measure. To Solve.

Antoine owned nothing but the clothes

on his back.

On the street that day, he did not seek

money or material things.

He sought something that proved nearly

impossible to attain.

He sought human connection.

He sought someone to listen.

Jesus has done the heavy lifting,

walking to his death, willingly.

Shedding the comfort of friends and community

as he found himself rejected, vilified,

forsaken.

“All of his acquaintances, including the women

who had followed him from Galilee,

stood at a distance, watching.”

In our own way, each of us suffers

during our earthly pilgrimage.

But it is hard to imagine that the One

who created everything that is —

that the One who is Love —

wants us to suffer alone,

utterly abandoned.

As followers of the Way of Jesus,

we are called to draw on the well of compassion

that is shaped and filled by our own suffering. 

We are called to be present to the suffering

in our hurting world.

Jesus does not call us to pay the price of sin.

He calls us to pay the price of love.

Amen.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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2 Responses to The price of love.

  1. Joe Mazza says:

    Beth
    Thank you for this.
    It has helped me remember so much that I had for some reason forgotten during this Holy Week.
    Between retirement for real this time, an upcoming second surgery, a shooting at the shopping center where Carol has her pack and ship store I have been having my own pity party.
    The words you just wrote are a wake up call for me. Your words brought back the time I spent with you and Church Without Walls and the blessing that you continue to be for the homelessness of Jacksonville.
    I am proud to have been a small part of Church Without Walls with you. Happy Eighth Anniversary
    Joe Mazza

  2. Erin DuPristle says:

    Your words are always a salve. Thank you!

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