My Beef with the Cross

Incidente Templo, Alexander Bida, 1885

Incidente Templo, Alexander Bida, 1885

One of the worst moments in my life was the first time I suffered from short-term depression. Many of us know that the first time is the hardest because it feels like you have been broken and the sky will never be blue again. I was in college and having a really tough time. I was in a job where I was being asked to commit to unreasonable and useless amounts of work. I was in my first really serious romantic relationship. My living situation was dicey, and my single mom was in the process of adopting a girl who would become my replacement—at least that’s how it felt sometimes. And I couldn’t stop crying. I cried for days and days.

I naturally turned to my constant source of comfort and guidance—my faith. But I was devastated to find that my faith only seemed to put salt in my wounds. This was a time when—in all aspects of my life—I needed most to be honest with others about my frustrations and my needs. I needed to stick up for and care for myself. I needed to put on my oxygen mask first before assisting others. But, growing up, the singular event of my learned Christian faith was Christ’s death on the cross—Christ’s self-sacrifice for others, Christ’s taking a beating without saying a mumblin’ word. And I was taught that—like Christ—I too should surrender all to serve others. And, when I think about the cross, I should think—not about the specks in other peoples’ eyes—but about all the ways that my own sins hammer those nails into Christ’s flesh.

So, while my therapist was telling me to stand up for myself and express my anger, frustration, and hurt, my Jesus was telling me to reflect on how my own sins were causing my troubles and to suffer silently. Sticking up for myself felt selfish and un-Christ-like.

But one weepy night in my bed, I believe God came to me and pointed me to this passage in the Bible that was my salvation:

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

John 2:13-16

Angry Jesus! I had forgotten about angry Jesus! All of the images I had grown up with of Jesus were Jesus, the demure. Jesus, the suffering. Jesus, the gentle. But the scriptures tell us of a very different Jesus. In the Bible, we have Jesus, the angry. Jesus, the sassy. Jesus, the emotionally independent. Jesus, the I’m-gonna-tell-it-like-it-is-whether-you-like-it-or-not.

By focusing on the cross, my learned faith had missed all the rest of Jesus that framed and gave meaning to his suffering. And, in the end, I realized that the suffering itself is just a framing of resurrection—the victory of the victim over death, pain, and cruelty. So, as we continue our journey to the cross this week, I pray that we will not throw out the Jesus we read about all the other weeks. Let us remember that to be like Jesus is not to suffer silently. It is to be brutally honest, to express righteous anger, to know the dignity and divinity of all bodies—including our own, and to resist and overcome all injustice and wrong-doing.

That Jesus is truly my Savior.