This year for Holy Week I thought I’d re-post something from two years ago. It’s the basic gist of a sermon I gave at a small church in San Rafael de Vara Blanca, Costa Rica, where I was living at the time.
Several weeks ago, shortly after I arrived here in San Rafael, my friend Tomas introduced me to the pastor of the local church before one of the services. That morning during his sermon, the pastor called on me by name several times, which I suppose was a way to make sure I was paying attention. I’d nod vehemently and perhaps mutter an amen. The following Sunday he did the same thing, four or five times. One of those times, he went so far as to ask if I’d do the sermon some upcoming Sunday.
Yesterday, Palm Sunday, turned out to be that day.
In preparation, I read and re-read and re-re-read the biblical account of Jesus’ triumphal entry, but nothing was really coming together for me, and in the end I landed on Isaiah 53, which is fitting for Holy Week, albeit more of a Good Friday passage.
The theme of the chapter, as you may know, is the woundedness of Christ as foretold by the prophet Isaiah. It’s a brutal passage, really, full of words like suffering, pain, pierced, crushed, wounded, oppressed, afflicted, a lamb to the slaughter and cut off from the land of the living. But it’s also a wonderful passage, especially because in it is the tremendously good news that by his wounds we are healed.
I spoke in the sermon about our brokenness, our woundedness, our sin. It’s pretty obvious we’re in need of healing, if you take the time to stop and think about it. When we do our own thing, when we play by our own rules — when we wander off like sheep, as Isaiah puts it — things get pretty screwed up really quickly. And there’s generally quite a lot of collateral damage.
Not to get all sociologically insightful on you, but as people who have been nurtured in a society that highly esteems personal liberty and individual rights, I think we often make the costly error of reading the Bible as if it were addressed primarily to isolated individuals having their “quiet times” with God. But taking a step back, remember that the Old Testament books were addressed to the people Israel, and the epistles of the New Testament (at the very least) were addressed to churches.
With all of that in mind, when Isaiah writes that “by his wounds we are healed” it follows that he actually does mean we. There’s a communal element there, which is really good news because of that collateral damage I mentioned earlier, which we have all undoubtedly experienced. Our woundedness has everything to do with the fact that we interact with people who, like us, are broken and sinful.
So the question I posed to the church, and the question I pose to you, is this: what will we do with our wounds and the wounds we have inflicted — knowingly or not — on others? Will we hide them, pretending that we’re mostly healthy people, that we’re not wounded and that we do not wound others? We might try for a while, but we won’t succeed for long.
The tremendously good news, then, is that Jesus — by whose wounds we are healed — didn’t come for those who had their act together. He came for the notorious sinners, the ones who seem to fail at hiding their brokenness, the ones who were just waiting for someone to offer them a new and better way of life, to offer them healing.
In the gospels, many of these notorious sinners turned out to be tax collectors, those who abused their positions of power to achieve great monetary gain with no apparent concern for their dismal social standing in street corner public opinion polls. Here in Costa Rica there’s a great word for just this sort of thing. The word is chorizo, defined formally as a “willful action or act of corruption to gain public funds.” One who engages in chorizo, then, is a chorizero.
So in my sermon I talked about the tax-collector-turned-disciple Matthew, a chorizero if there ever was one. Jesus called Matthew to follow, and next thing you know, they’re eating dinner at Matthew’s place, along with a whole motley crew of chorizeros and other scoundrels. The Pharisees, professionals at hiding their own woundedness, took issue with Jesus’ apparent lack of discretion. To which Jesus responded that he had not come for those who had it all together, but for those in desperate need of healing. So that’s either really good news or really bad news, depending on whether we’re honest about our wounds, self-inflicted or otherwise.
But even if we’re honest about our wounds and we accept the healing Jesus offers, the pain tends to linger for a while, and we’re often left with scars, in some cases permanently. These spiritual and relational scars, like all the miscellaneous physical scars we carry around on our bodies from years of wear and tear, give us opportunities to tell the stories. Not just stories of being wounded and of wounding others, but of being healed, and even of being used by God as instruments of healing in the lives of others.
And on that note I closed the sermon, reminding the church and myself that God does not bless us and heal us just for our own sakes. He blesses us and heals us so that we in turn may bless others, so that we might be instruments of shalom — undoing, by his grace, a bit of the collateral damage all around us.
If you’re wounded, this week is for you.
[Image credit: Woodcut by Sr. Mary Grace, O.P. via elmiradominicans.blogspot.com]