Thursday, April 06, 2006

Jesus Meets the Women I would like to excerpt from another of the BBC's Lent talks inspired by different sites along the Via Dolorosa. This particular talk, recorded in the city of Jerusalem itself, was delivered by Fr Michael McGarry, CSP, Rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute and a scholar of Christian-Jewish relations. Here are a few excerpts from the transcript: Only in Luke are we told about the women (8:13) who accompany and financially support Jesus in his ministry - there named Mary of Migdal, Joanna, and Susanna. Now here in Jerusalem another group of women accompany Jesus in his suffering, where Jesus takes a moment to address them, just having had Simon of Cyrene relieve him of the weight of cross. These women, who perhaps had shared the last supper with him, they did not abandon Jesus. And when the final moments came, the women, including Jesus' own mother, were there as well. And these same women were the first on Easter Sunday morning, were the first to rush to the tomb only to find it empty. And perhaps they too walked in Easter Sunday night with the heartbroken disciples as they unknowingly accompanied the risen lord to Emmaus. Yes, Luke shows us, the women from the very beginning to the end were Jesus' intimate accompaniers all along the way. Here in the Old City of Jerusalem, along the path that marks our pilgrim way to Calvary, we turn a corner from a maddeningly active intersection off the main market street. A small chapel, maintained by brown-robed Franciscans, offers a quiet chapel for meditation. Not so for the place where the women encounter Jesus. Up a few steps, shielded from the wafts of saffron and oregano and freshly ground coffee, from the assault of Far Eastern toys and locally made trinkets, we pause, as one must pause for the stations, to ponder the women's compassion. Along this path, usually called Via Dolorosa, Latin for "the sorrowful way," pilgrims, tourists, and the simply curious ply their way to touch what Jesus touched, to walk where he walked, as we are doing today. Each walks with his own question; each allows the aroma to sift into his nose. Today we do not wish to be a tourist, for a tourist asks many questions of the place: Is this where it really happened? Did Jesus actually walk on this spot? Where should I take my picture for the photo album? The pilgrim, by contrast, allows the place to ask questions of him: Why do you look at these stones, what do you hope to see? How do you confront suffering, your own and others? ... I have lived here in Jerusalem, the city that Muslims call "The Holy," for seven years. I have observed so many Christians become frustrated when, from their well-ordered Western countries, they hit upon the chaos of this Middle Eastern market. Many come thinking that the Via Dolorosa will be a tastefully appointed religious pathway, flanked by candles and religious mood-music wafting in the background. What they - what we - find here is quite another world: a cobblestone alleyway with postcard hawkers, underwear merchants, and falafel sizzling in the open oil vats. With hardly a nod towards Western habits of personal space, keffiah garbed Muslim men push their way to the haram as-sharif for afternoon prayer. Ringletted, black-hatted Orthodox Jews drive on through, as they make their determined way to their yeshiva or the Western Wailing Wall. Far from the aroma of incense we are assaulted by the smells of freshly butchered meat spices here, or newly shaved carrots there, and produce rotting from yesterday's spillage on the street. Less devotional tourists push on through as more religiously motivated pilgrims strive to find a niche for prayer and quiet. And such prayerful alcoves are not to be found at all on this Via Dolorosa. But slowly it dawns on us that the surroundings we experience probably reflect more truly those which those faithful women who were following Jesus found 200 years ago. They like us find Jesus in the middle of the common place and it is these women, who burrowed to the front of the crowd to accompany, to comfort, and to touch the one they loved that we identify with today. ... These women notably present along with Jesus, what really is it that brings us back to them, and what do they in turn bring to us in their encounter with Jesus on the way? For after all, they are here to move us, not just to provide a moment to ponder. We need to look more carefully at their encounter with Jesus. We are told in chapter 23 of Luke's Gospel that when these women, "wailed for" him, Jesus turned to them - here one can only imagine Jesus' excruciating pain being neutralized for a moment by these women's compassion. He turns to them and says, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say to me, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breast that never nursed.'" Luke remembers that Jesus turned to them - the first and most important gesture. Despite his, he saw them in their suffering and lifted them to another place, to a moment of generosity. It has been said, you can recognize a Holy Person by the way he picks things up, holds them in his hand, and reverences them. How his looking up to them must have encompassed their hearts. They counter the mocking rabble that has called for his crucifixion by holding him in a distant but very warm embrace. So Jesus holds them, reverences them, and then moves them to beyond their own pain, beyond themselves. When he turns to these women, Jesus sees something more precious than their courage, he sees their love. Here in the Jerusalem's bustling streets, with their hawkers, their insistent merchants, their strangers, and their lost souls, Jesus struggled with his cross towards Calvary. Many contemporary pilgrims, if they make the Stations of the Cross a second time, they begin to feel that their ambulatory prayer is offered not despite the swirl of commerce and pushings and sweaty figures, but precisely in the midst of these at first mundane behaviors. When Jesus made these same dogged, slow, painful steps, he made them in the midst of, and for, this very rough world. The women we are called to imitate here insert themselves exactly in the midst of such a street scene because that is where the encounter with the Lord happens: not sanitized from the world but plunged precisely into the middle of it. So, yes, these daughters of Jerusalem are moved by Jesus to feel not only for Jesus but for all they will come into contact with after him. The cross of Jesus is not to be taken into a private house of religious imagery and pristine aesthetics of the cerebral but into the place where life is lived as we feel so grittily here on this Jerusalem street.

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