This Lent is different. As I am recovering from my bypass surgery I see things in the Text that I have not noticed before. Jesus suffered deeply. The suffering was not just physical but also deeply emotional and spiritual. These last two are the toughest. It is the intense loneliness of Jesus that strikes me. “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” These words have been flattened by repetition. It contains the seeds of deep feelings of anguish and pain as well as frustration and lamentation. These words are far removed from most of our popular first world Christianity that focuses on victory and happiness and quick fixes.

The other day I read through Luke’s version of the passion (which is a word meaning suffering). I noted these two verses.

And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. ” (Luke 23:48–49, ESV)

 

When one goes through suffering it is a spectacle for some … it manifests in gossip-like conversations starting with, “did you hear what happened to so and so …” It was the crowd who found Jesus’ suffering spectacular. For them it was a form of entertainment, like Facebook updates about someone’s misery. The incessant links to the devastation of the tsunami in Japan comes to mind. I can imagine the crowd posting an update, “Just saw Jesus suffer and die, was very painful for me to watch, please pray for me” or “spectacular scenes here at Galgotha” maybe even an instagram picture attached of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. The thing about the crowd is that they talk about Jesus but He remains an abstraction.  They don’t talk to him. The suffering becomes a way to project attention back to oneself. They beat their breasts but ultimately they move away from Jesus. What is fascinating to me is that the word ‘spectacle’ in this text is the Greek word theoria from which we get the English word theory. The crowd experienced the crucifixion as a spectacle or as a theory – in Afrikaans [‘n skouspel]. A theory is not a relationship. A theory can be discussed without it making a claim on oneself. A theory doesn’t necessarily lead to a relationship. This Lent I am deeply conscious of Jesus’ experience with the crowd and them viewing his suffering as a spectacle, as a form of entertainment.

Then there are “all his acquaintances”. They are there … but at a distance. During my hospitalization my acquaintances were not at a distance. I know what it meant to have my wife, parents (on both sides), brothers and sisters and friends come close by. Visiting hours became a cherished time that uplifted my spirit. If my family and friends were “at a distance” my suffering would have been so much worse. During my last day in the hospital a man was admitted for bypass surgery the next day. His wife has chronic asthma and that meant that he faced the last day before the operation alone. His acquaintances were “at a distance”. I decided to move towards him, how could I follow Jesus and stand “at a distance”? I could be with Thys and in doing so move towards Jesus.

It struck me that during the crucifixion Jesus had no one who visited him during visiting hours. He was alone. Utterly. One of my friends is a devout atheist. He visited me frequently and he offered deep and loving support. The other day he asked me the following question, “If God helped you through the heart attack, then who gave you the heart attack, and if it wasn’t God where was he when you had your heart attack?” My answer for now is that God suffered while I had my heart attack. He suffered in Jesus. Jesus suffers with us.

I am having a totally different Lent this year.