When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.⟦Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”⟧ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:33-34
Perhaps you’ve heard this story being talked about this fall: it’s about this group of homeless people in Regina who are moving around from location to location, trying to find a place to put up their tent shelters, a place to call home. Police are continuously checking on them and landowners evict them. During the day many are panhandling to make some kind of a living. But at night they sit around the fire sharing what they have with one another finding a home together in community.
They have indicated when interviewed that some struggle with addiction and they don’t feel at home in the shelters. They have felt that the shelters that provide for the homeless have too many hoops to be jumped through and they are tired of fighting the system.
Joseph Redwood, one of the residents of the tent community speaks out of what must be his despair saying, “I’m not going to fight for it and I’m not going to argue for it, cause it’s always a losing battle…it’s always the same answer, ‘I’m sorry we can’t help you.’”
They aren’t even very surprised when they are evicted from place after place.
Now I know there are two sides to every story.
Perhaps their addictions have caused many of the problems that they are facing. Perhaps those shelters and the social service agencies have given them more chances than they care to admit. Perhaps the community that they have found amongst themselves is fostering destructive ways to themselves, to each other and to the community at large.
We don’t know the full story and we probably never will from where we sit because we are not God.
But there is one thing that we do know that has been true throughout the ages and although we would like to think that our society is better than this, it is not.
That the rules that are created, whether intentional or not, have the effect of placing some people on the inside, and others on the outside. So that those who in their positions in our structures and institutions, hold sway over the lives of others and despite whatever good intentions they have continue to make life difficult for those who cannot or will not conform.
And so we find situations just like this where Joseph Redwood and his community while attempting to find their own solution to the problems that they are facing run right into those whose job it is to enforce the rules that were made.
These officials may just be doing their job but there is the sense that perhaps the rules and the laws are not for the benefit of all people, but for the people who make them. All the while those who are on the outside are always seen as being on the wrong side of the rules or the law because they don’t fit into our systems and our ways of doing things.
So in the end, we blame the one who finds themselves on the wrong side of the system for not towing the line. We blame their addictions and their choices for the situation they find themselves in, all the while forgetting that we too have our own addictions and our own bad choices but we are just a little better at presenting a veneer of having it altogether to the world at large.
We forget that we are just better at fitting in and living within the system works for us and for our particular sins.
At least until we are confronted with the cross.
- The cross who by the legal standards of the time was one of the consequences for not following the law of the land.
- The cross upon which God was nailed for loving those on the outside: those like the woman who had to come to the well in the middle of the day because she didn’t follow the rules of her society, those like the prostitute who was shamed for anointing Jesus feet with oil, those like the demon possessed man who was chained outside of the community and kept everyone in fear.
- The cross which the law abiding, religious people of the day, used to do away with someone who made them uncomfortable, who challenged the way that laws were used to keep the outsider, an outsider even though he or she was a child of God.
Yes, on this cross, we are confronted our violence but we are also confronted with the love and mercy of God that overcomes our violence.
On the cross, we see the love of Christ reach out to the one on the outside. We see the hand of mercy given to that thief; the thief who recognized his own fault but even more so recognized that he was in the presence of God.
On the cross, we see Christ’s promise God’s kingdom to this one who could not or would not follow the laws of the land. We see Jesus promise him the presence of God even as the institutions of the day kept him out and in the end put him to death.
Nothing has really changed from that day to ours. The ones on the inside use the rules of the day to keep people in their place. And sometimes even we in the church do so.
We bemoan the fact that Christianity no longer has the power or the influence that it once did, not really remembering that having that power allowed us to keep others on the outside for way too long. Our history is not only a history of the promise of God but all too often, we have found ourselves on the side of powerful against the outsider.
So instead of grieving the power that has slipped completely from our fingertips, let us be thankful that we no longer are bound by that power but are free to live under the reign of another King:
- a King who changes the rules so that there is never an outsider again
- a King who lets go of all power for the sake us, for the sake of the ones in need, for the sake of reconciliation and forgiveness
- a King who takes all of the worst we can give and makes it new
Serving this King may set us at odds with the King makers of this world, but it also frees us to be the church in the world that we are called to be: a church that is “helping humanity…those who are exploited, destitute and struggling to survive.”
The cross may show us our worst. But it also shows us God’s best – the love of God that redeems our worst and makes it into something new, something beautiful, something full of life. Thanks be to God.
 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/programs/morningedition/when-life-took-a-turn-joseph-redwood-ended-up-living-on-regina-s-streets-he-shares-his-story-with-sheila-coles-1.3853131 and http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/homeless-wascana-park-regina-1.3840736.