Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
It would be easier if the dead stayed dead. It would be easier if the hungry ceased to eat and simply perished with their need. It would be easier if the naked disappeared in their shame, easier if the prison walls were high enough and thick enough to hide the loneliness and the abandonment which they contain. The wounds which we inflict upon one another are bloody ones, hard-to-look-at messy wounds that we are used to making for the sake of getting through the day, managing life as best as we’ve received it: another stranger passed on the way to where we need to be, another dollar cut from funding for our schools, another plastic grocery bag blowing in the wind. It would be easier if the wounded ones would simply die already, and easier still if they would stay buried in their graves right beside our faded memory of the wrong that we have done and all the wrong that has been done on our behalf. It would be easier if the dead stayed dead. Because it is very hard indeed to believe that the dead shall rise again, very hard to face the wound of our wrong-doing laid open fresh before us, and very hard to imagine that the one who has received the wounds of all into his own flesh upon the cross will be throned in glory as a judge above us. Hard because it speaks, deeply, of a reckoning that few of us would be prepared to face.
Occupy Wall Street looks at times like an open wound that seems impossible to heal. Little wonder then that so many have found it to be so irritating. On the city-wide day of action that took place this past Thursday the irritation was palpable on the sidewalks of New York as demonstrators spread out to several local subway stations with placards and chants in tow. At the 23rd Street Metro stop angry New Yorkers butted past and into sign-holders with the same clear message of distaste and distain that had already taken firm hold in Lower Manhattan. What exactly are you doing here? What do you hope to accomplish? And most importantly, why are you in my way? For a movement that claims to advocate for 99% of the population, they inspire no small bit of ire from the majority of people who see their work, and I suspect that this is primarily because that work confesses a wound in our society that most of us have little idea how to start bandaging. We do not like to be confronted with our wounds. We would rather not see the scars that war has left upon our veterans and rather not hear the growl of our neighbor’s empty stomach. We admire and lift up people who can “hold their own”, who can hide their pain and pull up their bootstraps and move on. The occupiers are something of the opposite of this. They say: “Look at what you have done. Look at the need and the pain you have ignored. Come here so we can make peace with one another and begin to do something new.”
The new thing being done in Zuccoti park over the past two months can not be buried with the raid which cleared the park out in the dead of night this past Tuesday. Its spirit, so easily identifiable wherever it springs up, had already spread to cities across the globe, and experienced something of its own resurrection in New York itself on Thursday, and it is amazing to behold. It is street theatre, it is visionary, it speaks truth to power. It feeds many with stacks of donated and shared take-out food, cultivates conversation between the unlikeliest of characters, it seeks consensus and to let unheard voices rise. It dreams big, vulnerable, crazy dreams. It dances and sings and meditates and holds inter-faith prayer services and silent vigils by candle-light. It fist-bumps with understanding cops, it suffers through rain and cold, it travels in tents. It seeks to occupy a space of privilege, and then ensure that all are welcome there. The new thing done in Zuccoti park is in many ways a very old thing, a very biblical thing, and its expansive, embracing, messy nature may be precisely what makes it so hard to get a firm hold on. Yet to dismiss it as incoherent, or misplaced, or lazy or even partisan is in one sense, simply to isolate oneself from the miraculous work of healing which this open wound conducts beneath its surface.
Jesus occupies a throne of glory in this morning’s Gospel. Jesus comes to occupy a place of power that his followers had only hoped to see in their own lifetime, a Messiah whose authority is at last, clearly demarcated by angels in attendance and all the nations of the world prostrate before him. But when he comes to occupy that place of power he brings with him the very company whose association so undermined his authority while he walked among them on the Earth. The wounded ones, the troubled ones, the ones who could not help themselves. I was hungry, this King of Glory says, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was alone. I was on a cross and you abandoned me so you would not have to see the gruesome image of wounds you were afraid to face because you could not bandage them. It may be that one fundamental difference which remains between the Church and occupiers is that we believe culpability goes far beyond the 1% and extends to all of us but one. The one God, the Presence to which all our life and all our memory is present, before whom all remains open for as much as we ourselves have tried to hide it deep inside us, is the one source of our forgiveness, and yet remains as close to us as the hunger and the thirst and the nakedness and isolation nearest by. Come now, this King of Glory says, and look at what you have done. Come now and look at the need and the pain you have ignored. And when you are ready to step out of the punishment you have inflicted on yourself with this denial, come to me so that my mercy may pour over you and we can begin with something new.
The kings of this world have rarely coveted such offers of mercy and renewal as these, and it should not surprise us to see the harbingers of any new peace blinded by pepper spray, shoved to the pavement, and nipped at the heels by motorbikes of the police. This past week has seen a coordinated effort across many U.S. cities to shut down demonstrations of non-violent civil disobedience with undue force, and for any citizen it is more than a cause for alarm. For any Christian, it is a call to go and look for Jesus, because our faith teaches us that where there is a cross of hunger and thirst for righteousness his labor of reconciliation in the world will not be far behind. The parks can be cleaned out, but the wounds of injustice, and disparity, and greed which this nation has inflicted and endured with little question for so long cannot stay buried in the ground. They persist in rising to the light for the healing of the world. A small part of the world, it seems, is already waking up to a brand new way of living. And, in the midst of this revival, the task before us Christians is as clear as it was two thousand years ago. Go forth, and be with Jesus. Visit the imprisoned and the lonely and the poor. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Heal the sick. Raise the dead up from their graves.