Do not love from a safe distance!
The story is told of a boy named Sparky. For Sparky school was impossible. He failed every subject in the eighth grade. He flunked physics, Latin, algebra and English in high school. He didn’t do well in sports. He was awkward socially. He was astonished if a classmate ever said hello to him. He never asked a girl out for a date for fear of being turned down.
There was, however, one thing that Sparky was good at: drawing. Upon graduating from high school he wrote to Walt Disney Studios and was asked to send some of his artwork. He spent a great deal of time carefully drawing cartoons on a theme they suggested, but he was rejected once again.
So Sparky decided to write his own biography in cartoons. He described himself as a little-boy loser and chronic underachiever. Sparky’s real name was Charles Schultz, and the comic strip he created was Peanuts—a cartoon about a boy whose kite would never fly and who never succeeded in kicking the football—Charlie Brown.
There are many other examples of apparent failures who somehow were able to turn things around. Abraham Lincoln came from very humble beginnings in a tough life of poverty, with very little formal education. He failed at several occupations, ran for various political offices and was rejected many times. And yet, he persevered, read a lot, continually tried to better himself—and ended up becoming one of the greatest Presidents of our nation.
Probably having one of the most famous success stories, Oprah Winfrey was born into deep poverty in Mississippi, raised by a single mother living on welfare. She was physically, mentally, and sexually abused during her childhood. One thing not many people know about her is that she ran away from home and got pregnant when she was only fourteen-years-old. She lost the baby shortly after birth. Despite her initial struggles as a young girl, she turned herself into one of the most successful individuals of our time.
Today we celebrate the feast of Jesus Christ as our King, and yet the gospel focuses on what appeared to be the low point of his life, being put to death as a common criminal, jeered by passers-by, and abandoned by most of the people who had flocked to him not long before, including his closest friends and disciples. Clearly, this passage is the furthest thing from what we would consider a depiction of a normal king. And yet, the crucifix is prominently displayed in churches all around the world.
Of course, we know that the Jesus-story doesn’t end on the cross or in a tomb, for Jesus’ resurrection follows. Easter follows Good Friday. But for this feast of Christ the King, the cross is still being placed before us. Jesus exercises kingship from the cross. While still hanging there, he pronounces a kingly verdict: this day you will be with me in paradise. What’s this all about?
I think we are asked not to forget or bypass the cross because Jesus’ success story is quite different from the others I have considered. While Abraham Lincoln’s life moved from a log cabin to the Lincoln bedroom of the White House, Jesus chose to move in the opposite direction. He chose to be more of a log cabin person. As a matter of fact he chose to be homeless. Instead of sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom, I think we’d find him on a bench in a park across the street. Instead of seeking him in Oprah’s mansion, I think he would go to the fourteen year old abused Oprah who was forced to run away from home. I think Jesus would seek out Charlie Brown and offer to hold the football for him and not pull it away. I think he would help Charlie Brown repair his kite and try again. I think the resurrected Jesus surely is in heaven, but he said he would also be found on this earth among those who are hungry and thirsty, naked and deprived of justice, living in hovels rather than mansions.
As long as there is suffering, as long as people still live in poverty, as long as there are victims of racial prejudice and injustice, the cross is still real. And for those who are still being crucified, like the so-called good thief on the cross, Jesus is still being crucified right along with them, but promising them from the cross, this day you will be with me in paradise.
The image of a crucified king heading to resurrection reminds us that the job of redemption is not completed. We need to bring the resurrection to those that this world is still crucifying—bringing them good news, feeding their hungers, giving them hope, and telling them they are so loved that Jesus has died for them so that they can rise with him. He doesn’t love from a safe distance—and neither should we.