From the outside looking in, its just a road–a narrow, cobblestone street that twists its way through the ancient city of of Jerusalem. It has far too many people and such an unusual selection of “mom and pops,” you’d never know it to be the sacred place where Jesus made his final walk to the cross.
From the inside looking out, its a place that millions make pilgrimage in honor of the role it played in delivering the gift we Christians believe God gave to us so many centuries ago.
The Via Dolorosa, otherwise known as “the way of grief/suffering” or better yet “the way of the cross” starts with the place that Jesus was condemned to death and marks the events of that painful journey with 14 stations. So subtle are the markers on this path that, if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll hardly understand what you missed by the time you reach the final destination, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to mark the spot of the crucifixion and burial.
We love the Jesus of the Holy Sepulchre.
We understand this Jesus.
And we worship this Jesus because his death on the cross profoundly promises grace, forgiveness and eternal life.
But if we only love the Jesus of the cross, the bloodshed, torture and painful steps he traveled are just acts of charity that completely ignore the life he lived and the events that brought about his eventual execution.
When we love the living Jesus–the Jesus of the poor, forgotten and cast out–his death on the cross becomes much more than a gift God gave to us. It is redemptive justice that exemplifies not only how much God loves us, but how strongly he feels about the way we love others.
There is a difference between charity and justice. Charity is benevolence–something that is given to people who don’t have something. Some might call it a bandaid or short-term solution. Justice makes something right again. It goes deep into the root cause so that people who don’t have something can have it long-term.
The crucifixion of Christ on its own is just a guy who gave his life so that individual people could be forgiven–charity. The man who loved God’s creation so much that he defied theological doctrine of his time to heal the sick, lost and forgotten, was interested in far more than making sure that the people of this world had a free ticket into heaven. He lived his life as an example of how we should live ours, and he felt so strongly about it that he was willing to die trying to help us understand–justice.
If we say that we love Jesus, we have to love the whole Jesus. The gift giver AND the world changer.
The whole Jesus calls us to our own Via Dolorosa each and every day. What will your journey to the cross look like this Lenten season? Will you accept the charity that’s been given to you as a call to bring about new justice in our modern day world?