In the ritual rhythms of the Christian church, we have reached the last week of the period of fasting and reflection called Lent. This period before Easter is a period in which followers of Jesus reflect on the nature of human being in relationship to (and with) other human being and to divine being. It is also a period in which followers of Jesus reflect on the nature of mortality and the necessary tension between death and life.
In the Western world and related paradigms, which tend to resist and be intolerant of death, this tension must be resolved in favor of life which is the perpetuation of one individuality over and against any other concerns or individualities. Put another way, to live a Western life, with its fear of death, means preserving one’s on self-interest, one’s life, even at the cost of other’s self-interest, the community’s interest, other’s lives.
The theologian and mystic Howard Thurman put it this way, “Life and death are seen more and more as two separate entities; we cling to one and fear the other. All of this adds up to a profound distrust of life. Life is seen then as something to conquer, to struggle with and against.”
So, we come into Holy Week — a ritual remembrance of Jesus’s decision to set his face toward Jerusalem and toward death. Jesus’s understanding of whole-making means living fully the dream with which he one is imbued and enthused by God. It is a dream which necessarily means, “I must decrease, even die, that the greater vision will increase and bear fruit.” This is the nature of love; the embodied performance of Ubuntu.
The trajectory that brings us to this moment in Jesus’s life begins with Jesus in the wilderness and emerging from the wilderness. This trajectory begins with Jesus passing into life, not as a babe in a manger, but in a truly born (born-again) way. The wilderness was a womb, a place of becoming, not unlike the formless sea of Genesis over which the Spirit hovered like a hen brooding over her chicks. And have been formed into a new wholeness, Jesus passes into the world, into new ways of being with a vision of whole-making that is good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner, recovery of vision to those without vision, and that sets the oppressed free.
Emerging from the wilderness, Jesus is met by a trickster who challenges Jesus to privilege his being, leverage his being, in a ponzi scheme to gain the world and to validate the quality of his being. But Jesus saw such a scheme for what it was — a corrupted vision which imprisoned, oppressed, and blinded. The scheme, to quote Thurman again, would leave him and us “creeping through our days, reacting to our world as if our faith were in magic, rather than in life.”
While I know that this the political reality around the world is not promising, my mind turns particularly to Mother Africa and the leadership that has taken root in her various nation-states during her evolving post-colonial history. Sadly, too many leaders are filled with their own self-importance and understand themselves as the whole instead of a part of the whole.
They are tricksters who understand themselves, or at least brand themselves, as the messianic truth with the only hope of salvation and thus declare that they must reign eternally. They are dams blocking life. There is no healing, no whole-making, no Ubuntu. There being is understood to transcend the tensions of relationships where I am wholly human because you are wholly human and thus we are wholly human.
They defy the living way of the ancestors having become diseased with a Western way of seeing. They fear the human because they fear life and the dying that is essential to life. They will not pass and will not allow others to pass. Because they have no vision, the people are anxious and perish; the oppressed sink deeper and are crushed; and all the people are bound up in webs of deceit as prisoners. The sacred space becomes a den of robbers.
Jesus lived in such a world — a world under occupation. A world in which even some of the oppressed sought to profit at the expense of their kindred. It was a world in which leaders declared themselves about the masses — superior to the whole. How then could anyone be saved from that body of death? From whence shall come those prophesying deliverance? What does it mean to say that salvation is very near you, even within you?
Having spent almost 40 days reflecting on the nature of being and becoming, with its essential components of surrender and dying, we enter into Holy Week. Jesus passes into another realm of being crying, “Africa, Africa, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to deliver you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were blinded, jaded, and not yet able.”
As he passes into this new realm of being, Jesus is celebrated as a hero, because he has lived out the dream of God in him. The masses admire the seeming defiance of one who lives as if the systems of the world don’t matter — because they don’t. Yet, the ones who have laid palms and cloaks on the road before Jesus will soon realize some of the chains they perceive as binding are actually chains they cherish and stubbornly cling to.
They will realize that they too must disrupt dominating paradigms and that this will put their mortal realities in danger. They will realize that their human being requires letting go of ego and embracing the dream of God within. It is a vision of whole-making, of Ubuntu. This prophesy of salvation is innate to all human beings. The Creator has made it so.
Sadly, to surrender to the vision of the creator, to the legacy of the ancestors, to the prophesy within will prove too much for too many and thus Jesus will be scapegoated with cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And the colonial paradigm will be pleased as will those whose power flows from that paradigm. And the masses will go back to business as usual — jaded, blinded, and anxious. Life will remain an illusion and something to be feared… And the people will continue to perish.