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Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! –Luke 13:34
by Rachel Brownson
Why is it that we so often refuse the comfort that Jesus longs to give us? Why is it that we kill God’s messengers rather than hear the good news?
I shouldn’t be shocked anymore when I see people respond to the death of black and brown people at the hands of the police with some version of “they deserved it,” but every time it happens, I am. I remember watching the coverage of the protests after Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, the plumes of tear gas, the militarized police in riot gear, the forced confrontations, and being utterly shocked by the fear of this system of power in the face of communal grief. I grew up shielded from such realities, wrapped in the warm blanket of the privilege a white supremacist society bestowed upon me from my birth. Indeed, from before my birth, stretching back hundreds of years in a progression that had been rendered invisible to me because systems of power needed it to be invisible and I had not been forced to see it.
It does not feel like comfort to be made aware of these systems, of the ways in which these systems have comforted me at the expense of others.
Why is it that we so often refuse the comfort Jesus longs to give us? Why don’t we want to hear the good news?
The good news that Jesus brought did not feel like comfort to the religious and political authorities of his time. He threatened entire systems of power that had grown up around the core of the faith for hundreds of years. He broke rules. He exposed their hypocrisy and welcomed those they had rejected. Their lives, their society, made sense to them before he came and overturned the tables. They had already been comforted by the false but powerful comfort of rigid doctrine and legalism, of privilege, of power. The comfort Jesus offered was terrifying, and they acted out of their fear–fear of difference, of dissolving societal boundaries and structures, fear of doing something wrong in the eyes of others and perhaps in the eyes of God.
The comfort that Jesus offers, that the prophets offered, is costly to those in privilege, because it is the comfort of the realization that those not in power are just as human and beloved by God as they. It is a terrifying mercy, the dissolving of privilege and systems of supremacy. The comfort that Jesus offers is terrifying to those in power because we cannot experience the comfort God wants to give us until we experience the fear, pain, and abandonment that is suffered by those our society, and we ourselves, have rejected. This comfort requires the same sort of intense vulnerability experienced by the most vulnerable members of society every day.
This is the pain Jesus invites the powerful to experience in the journey of Lent. It is necessary if we are to be as fully human as he was. The gift of this pain is where the true comfort lies–in our common humanity, as we act as the hands and feet of Christ with the powerful and the vulnerable alike, we share and receive comfort with everyone, gathered together under the sheltering wings of God. This is the only comfort that lasts, the only comfort that doesn’t bankrupt the souls of those in power, that doesn’t plunder the souls of those society rejects.
This is the comfort my soul cries out for, even when I don’t want to pay the cost of it. So I ask God today to crack my stubborn heart, my world’s stubborn, fearful heart, and let it in.
Rachel Brownson is a Reformed Church minister, a writer, and a board certified chaplain at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in the University of Michigan Health System.