The Way of Beauty Suffering and beauty, part 2

Last week’s reflection on suffering and beauty introduced the topic with the many questions it raises.  In Part Two, let us reflect on the mission of Jesus and two modern-day figures who died for their respective causes.

The Mission of Jesus
Jesus spent his life for others.  He shared with them his mission and taught a universal commandment of love.  Crowds marveled at him; he won disciples. Still, he irritated political and religious leaders, for his way of life challenged theirs. This itinerant rabbi associated with people of all types but, instead of ingratiating himself with the powerful, he stood with the lowly.  According to the religious authorities, he blasphemed by daring to call God not Avinu but his Abba–his loving papa whose kingdom he was proclaiming.  His Abba was also ours, who forgives us, and makes us his children once more. To some, Jesus seemed like the Messiah, with an aura of glory about him, to others, he was a pretender and rabble rouser. How could this man be God in human form?  Jewish leaders had to deal with him under the eye of Roman rule.  He faced their criticism without retaliation, though human malice brought about his crucifixion. The person of Jesus remains the unique standard by which beauty, truth, goodness, all aspects of love, are judged.  Through the ages, his disciples have lived and have even endured martyrdom for his sake.

The Jewish Pasch
Every year at Passover, Jews throughout the world recall, re-live, and celebrate the saving mystery of God’s deliverance of them.  The Jewish Passover prepares Christians for the paschal mystery of the Lord.  At the time of the Exodus, the angel of death passed over Jewish homes marked by the blood of the lamb (Ex 12ff).  To make their escape, they hurriedly baked unleavened bread, ate and consumed the roasted lamb.  This act completed the blood sacrifice of the Old Covenant, for to eat the sacrificial victim was to partake of the fruits of the sacrifice (Jer 11:19-20;1 Cor 10:18).  The blood of the unblemished lamb was a scapegoat that spared the Israelites from continued slavery. Henceforth, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread was to be kept as a sacred memorial, for the blood of the unblemished lamb spared the Israelites.  Jesus celebrated the Passover for the final time with his disciples; Christians refer to this night as the Last Supper.

The New Pasch
Each Holy Week, Christians recall, re-live, and celebrate the saving events of Christ as the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who fulfills the Hebrew prophecies. The liturgies summarize them: the fall of Adam through pride and disobedience, the consequences of the first sin, Jesus’ earthly life, passion, death, and Resurrection.  Like the Passover ritual, the liturgies wash over the faithful as together they experience their personal and ecclesial salvation.  The mystery of the Lamb is a powerful symbol that has inspired artists, writers, and composers throughout history.  On Good Friday, the most solemn day of the liturgical year, a hushed Christian world ponders Christ’s death expressed in many texts, one of which reads:  “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world. Come, let us adore.”  Human logic recoils at this proclamation. 

Jewish and Extra-biblical Views
Universal redemption is a truth found in all cultures, but it is manifested in different forms.  Not every one accepts Jesus as the universal savior. In fact, most peoples of the world consider him on a par with other holy men and women.  Today discussions abound among comparative religionists on this issue. Some hold that Jesus is the Messiah for Christians, while  Krishna is the messiah for other religions. D.T. Suzuki, proponent of Zen in the West, finds madness in the crucifixion of Jesus: 

Whenever I see a crucified figure of Christ, I cannot help thinking of the gap that lies between Christianity and Buddhism.  Buddhists are accustomed to the sight of the Bodhisattva by the roadside.  The figure is a symbol of tenderness . . . but what a contrast to the Christian symbol of suffering.  The crucified Christ is a terrible sight, and I cannot help associating it with the sadistic impulse of a physically affected brain (D.T. Suzuki: Mysticism: Buddhist and Christian, 111-13).

Suzuki argues a strong point. In Early Renaissance North European painting as well as in Spanish Christianity, the crucifixion is frequently painted in gory and gruesome depictions.  Not so in Early Christianity or Oriental Christianity where the emphasis is on the Risen Christ who tramples down death and is raised in glory. 

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Suffering may be chosen for a higher purpose. Two figures of recent memory resemble Jesus and his mission, though his was not primarily concerned with the temporal. Mahatma Gandhi (d 1948) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (d 1968) entered public service for the sake of justice and ultimately gave their lives for it: Gandhi, to win India’s independence, and King, to implement civil rights in the United States.  The events that unfolded in their lives became the context for their respective missions.  They spoke of freedom in simple, profound, and authoritative words, drawing people from disparate places. The unjust oppression of the powerless provoked their reaction. In the face of legal but immoral laws, they resisted, but non-violently.  Though Gandhi and King saw the inevitable dangers threatening their message, they accepted the real possibility of dying for their respective causes.  

Jackie Robinson
Though he was not martyred for his cause, Jackie Robinson (d 1972) in the 1940s anticipated the mission of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a young man, he was preparing for his mission.  Robinson suffered for the cause of the Negro and for all minority men and women in sports.  He broke the intractable color barrier with grace and perseverance.  On April 15, 2007, the 60th anniversary of his first major league baseball game, a full-page tribute to this great man was issued in the New York Times by The Jackie Robinson Foundation.  It reads:

He was a soldier, a writer, an activist, a politician, a voice, a leader, a father, a husband, and a friend.  Being a Hall of Fame Second Baseman was the easy part. 

Every April 15, all baseball players wear Robinson’s number 42 in honor of this great man who was warned by Branch Rickey, that as the first black man to play in the major leagues, he Robinson, was not only not to retaliate for the color of his skin but he also had to turn the other cheek to his oppressors.  It is said metaphorically that Robinson turned his cheek so many times, that, after a while, he had no more checks to turn.

Next week, our reflection will focus on the predictions of Jesus’ passion and death in the Hebrew Scriptures.

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