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The road to Jerusalem is clear

Sixth Sunday of Lent


The miracle of the Red Sea,” the rabbis taught, “is not the parting of the waters. The miracle of the Red Sea is that with a wall of water on each side of him, the first Jew walked through.” The implications are clear: God is not in this alone. Yes, God may be all-powerful and eternally unfailing, but that’s not the point. The real key to the coming of the reign of God on earth, the rabbis imply, is not God’s fidelity. The real determinant between what ought to be and what will be in this world is the mettle of our own unflagging faith that the God who leads us to a point of holy wakefulness stays with us through it to the end. The key to what happens on earth does not lie in God’s will. All God can do is part the waters. It lies in the courage we bring to the parting of them. It lies in deciding whether or not we will walk through the parting waters of our own lives today. Just as surely as there was need for courage at the Red Sea, just as surely as there was need for courage on Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem, there is need for it here and now, as well.

The waters part all around us, too, now. The road to Jerusalem is clear. We are surrounded by situations that have solutions without solvers with the political will to resolve them: The old cannot afford their prescriptions. The young have no food. The middle-aged work two jobs and slip silently into poverty whatever their efforts. The globe turns warmer and more vulnerable by the day. Species disappear. The unborn are unwanted. The born are uncared for. Racism, sexism and homophobia destroy families and poison relationships. The mighty buy more guns. The powerful pay fewer taxes. The national infrastructure slips into disrepair. Fundamentalist groups and governments everywhere seek to suppress opposition, to deny questions, to resist change, to block development. We are all on the road to Jerusalem again; some of us dedicated to restoring a long lost past; others committed to creating a better future.

It takes no special vision to see what is happening. We have an entirely new worldview to integrate into our spiritual lives. The cosmos is different now. The globe is different now. The unthinkable is thinkable now. What takes vision is to realize that this is the same Jerusalem over which Jesus wept. This is the great society that has forgotten the widow and the orphan, that enthrones the Pharisee and stones the prophets, that speaks of morality while it institutionalizes the immoral. We decry violence and practice it. We talk about equality and deny it. We practice religion and forget the gospel.

Into this mix of struggle and tension, of cultural divides and future possibilities, of global unsureties and dogmatic certainties, comes the sixth question of Lent. It is a simple but a searing one: Who will cry out?

“Rabbi, stop your disciples from calling attention to you,” the Pharisees demand in this Sunday’s scripture (Luke 19:28-40). There is another agenda here to be attended to, after all: theirs. Or “tradition.” Or it is simply any present event “at which such a [fill in the blank -- conversation, action, question, request] is improper.” Everything and anything but Jesus is on those agendas, in fact. “Gentlemen,” -- you can almost hear the tone of voice -- Jesus says to those who want to ignore the greater questions with which he confronts them, “if these [disciples of mine] do not speak up, even the stones will cry out.”

There are some things, in other words, that are so major, so world-shaking, so morally demanding that they simply will not go away, no matter how much we try to ignore them or damp them or nicen them up or command them away. They affect so many people that they will not be minimized. They are erupting everywhere and cannot be dismissed. They may be denied the public arena over and over again but they will not be smothered. Though, heaven knows, smother them we try.

But the flow of history moves inexorably on with each issue that is disregarded in one period rising even more violently in the period that follows. In every decade and in every country and religion, the woman’s movement keeps reappearing. In every nation everywhere the plight of the poor is threatening the rich. In every part of the globe every year the ongoing loss of natural resources undermines the well-being of people everywhere. So, the question persists: Who will cry out if not you, if not I?

It is a shattering moment, this confrontation with the inevitable, in the middle of this 40-day retreat into the self. Just when it would be so much more comfortable to sink into the symbolism of Lent, we are required to face reality. Just when we would like to put it all down for awhile -- all the clamor, all the dirty business around us, all the ecclesiastical arm-wrestling, all the social issues -- and concentrate simply on the “spiritual” life, on “Jesus,” we find ourselves in a crowd on the noisy, sweaty road to Jerusalem, caught between the Pharisees and Jesus. Caught between the keepers of the system and the word of God. Caught between the stability of the past and the painful beginning of a new future where, deep down, we know we hear the deniers denying him and mourners crying for his absence and the question hanging in the air: Who will cry out? Who will cry out? Who will cry out?

The honest answer, the smart answer, is “Not me.” And many people say it. They walk away and abandon the church to its incestuous self where only those remain who profit from the structures or who dabble in the structures for whatever social or personal placebo it might afford. They leave the political system and ignore the elections. They flee the tough conversations in the family and the office in the name of “nice.” They say they have “no time for politics” and “no interest in the church.” They drop out on the way to Jerusalem.

But there are those others who keep on shouting, who keep on telling the story even to those with no ears to hear. Over and over again they cry out. But is it worth it? And does it work? Did the disciples on the road to Jerusalem make any difference at all? Well, look at it this way: It got our attention, didn’t it?

So whose turn is it to cry out this time?

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, author and lecturer, lives in Erie, Pa.

National Catholic Reporter, March 30, 2001