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Eighth Station of the Cross: Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17.33 

Many women followed, mourned and wept aloud while Jesus was marched to the crucifixion. I’ve already written about the significance of a woman’s ability to more readily grasp and appreciate the story of Jesus’ passion. Personal pain ushering in new life is something they are raised up knowing in a way that is very foreign to men. It is difficult for me to not spend more time on this thought because it is such an important one that is completely overlooked in most church settings. We need to make more room for women to help us understand their understanding of “life and life more abundantly.”

Since I’ve already written a bit about that aspect though, I want to focus on how Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. ... For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” There is so much to chew on in this statement.

Why were women mourning and not scattering like the men? How does Jesus turn to them and instruct them to not weep for his being physically tortured and led to an excruciating crucifixion, but to think of their children and the years ahead? I know most of us can’t place ourselves in other people’s shoes like this when we’re experiencing oppression and adversarial people in our lives. But, somehow, Jesus does this seemingly effortlessly. His heart continuously goes out to those around him.

I can’t help but note the freedom in this. To be experiencing completely oppressive circumstances and to still have the mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom to put yourself in someone else’s shoes: love them, care for them, and be there for them … it’s beyond comprehension! It is merely and simply through Love that Jesus was able to do this. It leads me to remember that God cannot be fully known by the analytical mind, but by love alone. Love transcends places, circumstances, understandings, hurts, and opinions. It is freedom! And God is Love! 

Jesus was fully in love with God, and this made him fully in love with the people around him, in all and through all. Because of Jesus’ great Love, he saw his present circumstance as a part of a greater whole and identified himself with his oppressed “neighbors.” This Divine understanding expressed itself as selfless compassion.

Looking at the end of his life, it is no wonder why Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbor. He even said that loving your neighbor was like loving God.

“Christ Jesus, grant me a heart that transforms pain into compassion."

Seventh Station of the Cross: Jesus falls a second time

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17.33

The second time Jesus is believed to have fallen on his way to the crucifixion we get a glimpse of his physical exhaustion. Perhaps this is the most relatable station for most of us. The abandonment of self-centeredness, fear, and anger are such incredible expressions of Jesus’ intrinsic union with our Father that it is challenging to imagine adapting them to our own way of living. But exhaustion. That we know. That we can identify with. That we can feel compassion for. Maybe (and hopefully) we cannot identify with the physically tortured manner which Jesus experienced, but at least in a few of the myriad of ways which exhaustion comes to us: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and circumstantially.

Jesus often spoke of rest and peace, and he habitually withdrew to “lonely places” to pray and be alone with God (Luke 5.16). Those moments undoubtably supported and emboldened his ability to persevere through challenges with a loving heart.

I must admit, it is amazing to me how many of us know this about Jesus and call Christ “Lord,” yet refuse a regular discipline of solitude.

By refusing a regular discipline of solitude we allow our relationship with God to be directed and shaped by life’s circumstances rather than a true Relationship with God that transcends understanding and circumstances. It is our emotions and circumstances that bring us to prayer rather than God’s abiding love and presence. We cry out to God for help in our circumstances and praise God for saving us from our circumstances. Notice the problem? Our circumstances are more integral to our relationship with God than God’s abiding love and presence. All of our interactions with God center around our convenience, emotions, and circumstances; this is the very nature of self-centeredness. Thus, we are “blown and tossed by the wind,” (James 1.6 & Ephesians 4.14).

Yes, we can identify with Jesus’ physical exhaustion. But our refusal to be regularly disciplined in silence and solitude restrains us from identifying with His getting back up and walking further down the road. We must not merely call Christ “Lord” if we refuse to act like it. It makes us no more holy or righteous or Christian to behave in this way. Christ would rather us act as ones who call Him “Lord,” than be experts in talking about it.

“Christ Jesus, grant me a heart that consistently returns to You every morning so that my actions and reactions may be an effortless expression of our relationship and Love.”

Sixth Station of the Cross: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17.33

In medieval times it became a popular belief that a woman named Veronica fought her way through crowds to Jesus to wipe the blood from his face. Whether it is true or not, just like the parables that Jesus told, there is a meaningful message behind the story. And as Christians, it’s important that we don’t choke out Truth by obsessing over fact.

For instance, the story of evolution doesn’t somehow make the Truth in our creation story irrelevant. Genesis (and all Scripture) reveals a Reality to our hearts and was never meant to merely be a scientific argument. “For the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A man looks at the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 12.7) So, Scripture and the traditions handed down to us should be searched for a Truth that speaks to and of the heart of matters, which informs the meaning of facts. It’s why Jesus almost always spoke in made-up parables.

Applying this method of thought to the Stations of the Cross and placing myself at the scene of Jesus’ walk to the crucifixion, in the midst of all the anger, confusion, self-righteous indignation, and the humility of Christ, it’s difficult to imagine what role I’d be playing. Would I just be an observer? Would I be a persecutor? Would I be lamenting and grieving with the group primarily consisting of women? I guess, if I’m honest, sometimes it just comes down to what day of the week it is.

This story of Veronica wiping the blood from Jesus’ face is meaningful to me because, in the midst of the crowds and everything happening, she was concerned with the face of Christ. Am I concerned with the face of Jesus amid the busyness of my day and circumstances?

Are we concerned with the face of Jesus in our lives above the busyness and clamoring of the crowd? If we are, we will instinctively push through circumstances toward Christ and loving, compassionate, selfless action. It is dramatically counter-cultural, and a reality within our grasp when we concern ourselves with Christ above all else.

“Christ Jesus, grant me the eyes and heart to see you through all things and in all things.” (Colossians 3)

Fifth Station of the Cross: The cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

Jesus needed help carrying the cross. Simon of Cyrene (a city in northern Africa) helped Jesus get to where he was being forced and needed to go. In a very real way, this is the role of the church. We are the hands, arms, heart, face, legs and feet of Jesus. Are we headed in the right direction? Are we each headed in different directions?

Are we headed toward selflessness, self-sacrifice, and loving forgiveness? Are we headed away from control, anxiety, and fear? Are we headed toward relationship, transcendent peace, and surpassing joy? Are we helping or hindering Jesus?

It can feel odd and maybe even wrong for some to think of Jesus as needing anything, especially help. But considering that the people ushering Jesus to his crucifixion probably weren’t concerned with his welfare, it sounds like he wouldn’t have made it there without the help of someone. This is an important lesson for us to mull over. Jesus needed help to carry out God’s will. He was more concerned with fulfilling God’s will than being independent enough to do it on his own.

How are we at accepting, and even seeking, help? How are we at recognizing and accepting our need for help?

Once we sit with our need for help and our inherent interdependence, humility begins seeping into our psyche. It helps open our eyes to the significance of others and our significance to them. It aids our being realigned to Christ’s needs rather than our preferences and opinions and expectations.

Actually helping Jesus has far less to do with strategy, knowledge, or excellence and a great deal more to do with realizing our own need for help and opening ourselves up to receiving it from the Spirit and others. 

Christ Jesus, grant us to be one just as You are in God and God is in You. May we also be in You, that we should come to complete unity. Then the world will know that You were sent and that God has loved us even as He has loved You.” (John 17)

Fourth Station of the Cross: Jesus is met by his Mother

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

Jesus’ mother, Mary, understood the crucifixion in a way that no other could because of her immense experience of his death. Imagine her profound joy in his lasting resurrection. By the depth of pain she experienced through her son, the height of her joy was even greater and more profound in the revelation of his Love and Life!

Being “people of the third day,” us protestants tend to spend little time with the pain and death of Christ. We skip to the victory, glory, and happiness of the resurrection, but with a fraction of the depth because we spend so little time with the incredible reality of pain and death. These things need to be honored.

We often avoid pain at all costs. We can’t see or think of it as being anything more than a one-dimensional haunting experiences. If we find ourselves stuck in its grips, all our energy goes toward numbing, distracting, or “healing”  as quickly as possible. Being present to it (without wallowing in it) is not an approach we are taught or given a model for, but it is in allowing ourselves to feel the lows that we are able to appreciate the highs. Fear has to be removed.

Mary wasn’t worried about being overwhelmed by grief or sorrow. Her concern was for her son. She loved him and felt every whipping, strike, and insult he received more than we could imagine. She had no “joy set before her” to help her get through it. It wasn’t about what was on the other side for her. It was about her love for Jesus.

Do you love Jesus even without any joy set before you? Is the love of and relationship with Jesus enough? If it is, our fear of pain and sorrow will be diluted in our love and relationship with Jesus; in all and through all. Aversion from pain or happiness or people groups or discomfort is aversion from Christ.

“Christ Jesus, grant me a sensitivity to the suffering within myself and of those around me, with heart and mind that fully appreciate Your Love.”

Third Station of the Cross: Jesus falls for the first time

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

Tradition tells us that Jesus stumbled three times on the way to his crucifixion because of all the damage caused to his body. His perseverance to walk under such extreme circumstances gives perspective and depth to how he endured relational strains and betrayal.

Too often we brood over our stumbles as if they defined us. This is one of the reasons the gospel actually is Good News: we are not identified by our stumbles and failures, but by our being made in God’s image. Jesus didn’t see murders or a-holes as he was being terribly mocked, tortured, and killed. He saw people who had no idea who they were, who he was, what they were doing, and why it mattered so much. What is even more outstanding is how their actions didn’t rob him of his clear vision of their Greater Reality. Instead, he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

The message behind Jesus’ falling is in his never staying down or giving up. He didn’t treat his own stumbling and physical weakness as his identity. Nor did he treat other people’s stumbling or moral/physical/spiritual weakness as their identity. He got back up, picked up his cross, and moved forward with all of those around him.

Jesus remains in our midst and within us. When we belittle others because of their weakness and refuse to identify them beyond our judgements of them, we stand next to those who belittled Christ and acted out of severe subconscious ignorance. The same also applies when we belittle ourselves and refuse to see our True Identity.

Shame plays too large a role in how the Church operates. As we stumble, we need only remember that we must have forgotten who and Whom’s we are and then return to thinking and living accordingly. We need to stop seeing our ideas of who ourselves and others are and start seeing God’s idea of who we are.

“Christ Jesus, grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” (Psalm51)

Second Station of the Cross: Jesus is made to bear his cross (why women, like Shawna, may understand the cross better than men, like me)

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

The second Station of the Cross is when Jesus is forced to carry the very thing that would be used to kill him. And he did it without a fight or being disgruntled. There are certain aspects of Jesus’ Passion that I think are more easily understood or felt by women. This is one of them.

Men are predominantly raised with the understanding that pain is weakness and should be either avoided or victoriously overcome. Women are raised from a very young age with the knowledge that they can form and carry a new life within themselves, but only with immanent and incredible amounts of pains, self-sacrifices, changes, and inconveniences inflicted upon their body. And yet they (many) still desire this new life to be formed and birthed! Some, even multiple times! Pain has an entirely different significance to women than it does to most men. Pain equalling Life is nowhere nearly as hard for a woman to intrinsically understand as it is for a man.

I see the inconveniences that Shawna faces, only being 15 weeks pregnant (surprise!), and I feel my manly tendencies to want to fix them, to make them go away. But “fixing” is not what Shawna needs or wants. She needs and wants someone to be with her in and through it. Her heart feels an unspeakable joy and hope underlying the sickness, tiredness, and changes.

I can’t help but think that Life, unspeakable joy, and hope, were going through Jesus’ mind as he took on the burden of carrying the thing that would kill him. It didn’t numb him, but it moved him. Love must have been on his mind. The evidence of this is marked out clearly throughout all the Stations and Scriptures for anyone who has eyes to see.

Jesus urges all of us to look at all the pain in our lives in this new Light:

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn … You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
– John 16.20-22

So, what pains me? What pains you? What are our burdens? What are our inconveniences and sacrifices? Faith in Christ tells us that on the other side of them there will be new Life, new Health, new Wholeness, new Completeness. Can we see with these eyes? Can we endure our pains and burdens with the gratitude of an expecting woman, knowing that in the end we will be closer to Christ, who is Life?

Christ Jesus, grant me eyes to see beyond the burdens laid on me; To see all pain as birthing pain, leading to life and life more abundantly.

First Station of the Cross: Jesus is condemned to death

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

The first Station of the Cross is the moment when Jesus is condemned to death by the government and his community. Even though Jesus was fully aware of his innocence, he didn’t argue or dispute with the mean spirited and damaging accusations which ultimately led to his social condemnation and crucifixion. The concreteness of his Love and Trust in our Father immeasurably outweighed the concreteness of his circumstances and innocence.

How much do we operate out of defending ourselves? Sure, this question could be applied to the church at large and we’d have a lot to say and question and even ridicule, but “the kingdom of God is not here or there, but it is within you,” (Jesus, Luke 17:21). So, before we start criticizing churches and their lack of kingdom-of-Godness, we should sit for a good long while with where Jesus says it is: within us.

This first Station presents me with a deeply personal question: what am I preserving with my life? With sensitivity and honesty, I can see how much of my efforts go to seeking or preserving comfort. Comfort takes many shapes: comfort on my days off, comfort in the pace of my work, comfort with how people think about me, in what people expect of me, in what I expect of others and myself, et cetera. Many times, I find myself desiring comfort rather than Christ; even desperately attempting to use Christ as my way to comfort. Talk about missing the point entirely! It is a painful mistake.

The fruits of this mistake show up in my offensiveness and defensiveness. Offensiveness and defensiveness are the product of unhappiness in life. Seeing this in myself helps give me a lot more compassion for those who treat me with defensiveness or offensiveness. When I am secure and in union with Christ, peace and happiness transcend understanding and circumstance. Jesus exemplified this with his silence while being insulted, publicly lied about and shamed, and later, physically abused. But when my relationship with the Source falls to the wayside, my emotions and actions begin taking control of me in a desperate attempt to create peace and happiness, which are uncreateable and can only be found. This is how we start seeking for the kingdom of God “here or there,” because we’ve lost it internally (meaning we lost our trust in and vision for It).

Sitting in front of his elders, peers, community, friends, and enemies, Jesus acts out in the exact opposite manner that comes so naturally to most of us. He was not concerned with preserving his reputation. He was not concerned with preserving his comfort. He was only concerned with God’s opinion and presence. He rested so contently in this that he could see the joy set before him rather than the agony presently glaring him in the face. He rested so contently in this that he could later pray in the darkest moment of his life, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He didn’t pray for it to go away. He prayed for them. We are invited into this same transcendent happiness and peace.

Christ Jesus, grant me such a conviction of Your Love that my circumstances and challenges may be eclipsed by the fullness of Your Spirit within me.

Stations of the Cross: A Contemplative Practice (and Bridging the Protestant and Catholic Divide)

Josh Pinkston

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

Having grown up on the Protestant side of the coin, the Stations of the Cross were a completely foreign idea to me. I am so grateful to have found faith in Christ to be cause for fearless exploration of the world around me and all it entails. I know many Protestant friends who are immediately adverse to things like the Stations because “it’s Catholic” (and I’ve been one of them for many years). This disposition does not honor the wildness, unfavoritism, and diversity of Christ’s Body.

If I may be so bold, some of us turn our “faith” or rigidity of formulaic beliefs into the very “life” that Jesus is encouraging us to lose in Luke 17:33 (above). It is so easy to reduce faith into something that makes us feels smarter than others, more saved than others, more enlightened than others, or healthier than others. Jesus was and is never about making us super awesome people who are better than others, but rather, people in Relationship with Christ, in all and through all. We must lose that smugness if we intend to truly follow and unite with Christ. It is a trick of our deeply entrenched self-centered nature to take something, like faith in Christ, which intends to free us of self-centeredness and turn it into something that inflates our self-confidence and/or confidence in our people group. What a terrible mistake!

Journeying into relationship with my Catholic sisters and brothers (and those in other traditions as well) has helped me take myself way less seriously, while at the same time incredibly enrich the seriousness of my relationship with Christ. My first encounter with the Stations is a personally meaningful example of this.

It happened while exploring the gorgeous grounds at San Damiano Franciscan Retreat Center which has an incredible path in the woods overlooking the valley. There were pamphlets to help explain what it entailed and I made my way through. It was a shocking experience to take the steps of Christ’s crucifixion so slowly and considerately and then to apply them to my present circumstances in order that I might learn to unite with Him more intimately.

Many of us have heard the story of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion (or at least seen it through the eyes of Mel Gibson). If I again might be so bold (and I obviously am), we are even over-exposed and over-familiar with its gory details. Truthfully, it was a very complex event that played out over the course of many long, excruciating hours. Even the few paragraphs given to us in scripture merely scratch the surface of what actually took place.

The Stations of the Cross gives us an opportunity to do more than just spend a few minutes becoming more educated about the events. We are allowed time to reflect, meditate, and walk the steps with Jesus. As we do this, we narrow the distance between Jesus and ourselves by observing how applicable the incredible selflessness of Christ is in our own lives.

My next fourteen posts will be a journey through the Stations of the Cross with observations, reflections, and prayer.

A Catholic and Protestant Conversation Retreat Reflection

Josh Pinkston

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous*, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are stingy*, your body also is full of darkness.”
– Jesus, Luke 11.34

It is challenging trying to find a place to start when reflecting on the retreat Fr Dan Riley OFM and I led together at San Damiano this past weekend. People (friends and strangers) gathered together for so many different reasons, from many different backgrounds, traditions, and experiences.

Fr (Brother) Dan and I at San Damiano on the day of the retreat.

I had the privilege of sitting with a Hindu woman who grew up in Catholic schools, a man whose wife made made him attend (he ended up loving and appreciating it very much), a retired woman who is busier than ever with international works against poverty, a man in the process of coming out of the closet to friends and family, a junior high school teacher who’s just recently gone through a huge transformation with her personal health, a gorgeous gymnastics coach from the Pacific Northwest (whom I happen to be married to), a pastor and father of five children, a friend of mine since high school, and many others; not to mention sitting with my good, close friend Brother Dan who has served as a Franciscan Priest for nearly 50 years and co-founded a wonderful Franciscan Retreat Center in New York called Mt. Irenaeus. It was wildly eye-opening and life-expanding!

Yet, we spent very little time focusing on our differences. Instead, it was like there was “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all,” (Colossians 3:10). It was Church!

Sitting with individuals who are remarkably different than I and focusing on our similarities is a like breathing brand new, fresh air and seeing with clearer eyes. And we all share a very notable similarity: the dignity of being made in God’s own image. How that similarity is expressed and experienced varies infinitely (a sure reflection of God’s own infinity), although we all seek to love and be loved. That there should tell us enough about God.

In the quoted verse at the beginning of this post, Jesus says, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous*, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are stingy*, your body also is full of darkness.” What I read Jesus saying here is that what you see says more about you than it does about the thing you’re seeing.

Do you see light or do you see darkness? What do you see when you look at others, especially others you can’t relate to? Are you generous with seeing light? Then you are full of Light. Are you stingy and only see their lives as darkness? Then you are full of darkness. Some folks have a hard time (or even refuse) seeing light in others. I can’t imagine Jesus dying on the cross, saying, “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” without seeing Light in the midst of their dark actions. This is His invitation to us.

See the Eternal Light of Christ in all and through all and you discover that Light pervading who you are. See the Eternal Light of Christ in who you are and you discover Light pervading in all and through all. 

Christ is all and is in all.

 

* – Most translations say “healthy” rather than “generous” and “unhealthy” rather than “stingy,” but the original greek verbiage denoted generosity in a way that our translators have stumbled over translating.