Ascending Calvary: An Act of Dignity

The following tale is installment four of one pilgrim’s fictional journey up the hill of Golgotha to the place of Christ’s crucifixion. If you are new here, read installments onetwo, and three to catch up. 
_____________

Refreshed after my earlier stop at the creek, I managed to make quite a dent in the remainder of my hike to the summit. I looked to the west and noted that the sun’s descent into the horizon was hastening. It was time to find a resting place for the night, and it was also time to think about what I would eat for dinner. I did a quick mental calculation of what remaining food supplies I had with me. “Looks like I’ll be having jerky and cheese for dinner,” I said with just a hint of disappointment. A hot meal sure sounded good at that moment!

The desert air began to cool quickly as the sun dipped lower and lower in the early evening sky. I pulled my head covering closer, this time not to block out the heat of the sun but to keep in the warmth of my body. I hiked a little further until I came to a clearing in the trail. I guess this looks like as good a place as any to camp, I thought to myself. Finding a spot that was clear of brush or rocks, I dropped my sack with a loud THUD! I smoothed the dirt with my sandal before rolling out my bedroll. I then took a quick survey of my surroundings. The crisp chill in the air was just enough to cause me to give a quick shiver, and I decided that firewood was the next order of business. 

I wondered off just a little past the clearing as I gathered various sticks and brush. I carried an armload back to my campsite before returning to gather more. After a while, I felt satisfied that I had enough wood and kindling to keep a steady fire going throughout the night. Right next to my bedroll was a medium-sized rock that served as the perfect seat, so I began the work of building my fire pit right next to that rock. I gathered stones and placed them in a circle. Then I arranged my kindling and firewood. I turned and searched through my sack, looking for the matches that I had tossed in there several days ago. Before finding the matches, my fingers brushed against my leather-bound journal, worn and filled with many thoughts and memories from my different travels. I found the matches, and I pulled out the journal along with those matches. 

It didn’t take long for the sizzling, cracking, and popping of the fire to cast its warm glow, filling my senses with comfort and ease. I hummed a tune as I organized my food, laying out the jerky and cheese. There was something about the smell of the fire that made my mouth water and my stomach rumble for a more satisfying meal. I bowed my head, thanking God for these provisions that were my evening meal. 

Just as I finished praying, I heard a rustling to my left and turned quickly to see what was the source of the sound. The sun’s tip barely peaked above the horizon, so I had to squint into the dusky light as I examined the nearby brush. There, caught in a thicket, I made out the form of a rabbit. I walked over to see why the creature was making such a commotion, and I saw at once that the rabbit was mortally wounded. Acting quickly, I retrieved the animal and relieved its suffering with care. I then rejoiced over my good fortune as I cleaned and roasted my supper. 

After finishing my meal, I turned my attention to the thick leather journal at my side. I picked up this precious possession and smelled deeply of the rich leather. The pages, brown and worn, held the stories of many adventures, all weaving together as part of the narrative of my life. Running my fingers along the pages, I flipped through the journal, skimming different entries as I enjoyed the warmth from my campfire. I came upon an entry in the beginning pages that took me back several years…

June 23: Today my hike through the African bush has brought me to a village. The children, wearing rags that hardly cover their midsections, descended upon me in swarms. The adults weren’t covered much better than their children, and they eyed me with friendly curiosity. With my unpracticed tongue, I attempted the common language of Swahili to let them know I meant no harm. When they assured themselves that I was not a threat, but only a friendly passerby, they treated me as an honored guest, insisting that I stay the night with them.

I remembered that visit with warm admiration. This tribe had some of the kindest people I had ever met. I continued reading of the events that day, wondering what had become of this people. They fed me from their poverty, and they even threw a celebration in my honor. The entry continued…

The chief took time to sit by the fire with me earlier this evening. He told me of the hardship his people has suffered at the hands of their enemies. He pointed out various children who danced nearby us this night, orphaned by earlier attacks from their enemies. In an instant, their parents had been taken swiftly from them. The chief explained that the  villagers have done what they can to care for their orphans, but their goods are limited and they continue to struggle from lack of food, sickness, and a continual threat from their enemies. Many families are doing good just to take care of their own, much less these helpless orphans. Life in the bush is not a safe life.

The face of one little boy came to my mind instantly as I read. He was about six, laughing as he tagged along with the older children. His hungry belly swelled from malnourishment, but his laughter still danced in the night. Yet what stood out in my mind most were his eyes. Oh, those little, round eyes. The chief told me that this boy had witnessed the inhumane slaughter of his parents, his innocent eyes watching in horror as his mother and father were slashed from this life one swing of the machete at a time. What stories could his eyes have told me, had I sat down and listened that night? But I didn’t. I was too bothered by it all, and I could not stand the thought of hearing more of this child’s agony. 

I quickly turned the pages of my journal, too troubled by those memories to dwell much longer upon them. The fire popped, and I looked away from my reading, a lone tear trailing down my cheek. I glanced at the sky, taking in the beauty of the countless stars that lit my little spot on the planet. I drew in a deep, steadying breath and looked back down to my journal. I turned the pages some more until I came to another, more recent entry. This next entry found me a little older and wiser, on another continent in the dead of winter.

January 13: The cobblestone roads here have all but disappeared after the thick layer of snow that fell upon us earlier today. I shiver just from the memory of walking those streets. My coat and stockings, though adequate for this climate, still could not keep out the biting winds that battered every person who dared venture out today. Thankfully, I found a hotel that had room to house me for the night. As we eat our evening meal, all of us occupants are pressing against one another to get closer to the furnace, which is hardly adequate to heat this place. Yet even as I shiver slightly while eating this stew before me, I can’t help but remember the many impoverished, hungry people I saw on the streets today. 

The memory of their hungry eyes jumped to my mind as I read that journal entry. There were so many pairs of eyes, old and young, peering from behind the alleyways and under the bridges. Some eyes stared downward, gazing at nothing from behind tattered coats and hole-filled blankets. Other eyes followed us as we passed by, hungry and cold. I looked away whenever they made contact with mine. At least I had noticed them, I thought, but I felt a sting of guilt, for I, too, had not done anything to help those who suffered on the streets. 

I felt such compassion for them, but I felt so very inadequate to help them. Why had those heartless villagers done nothing for their poor? I closed my journal and set it aside. Poking at the dwindling fire with a nearby stick, I decided to add more kindling to feed its hunger. 

My mood was somber. I finally spoke as I collected my thoughts. “Can I ask you something, God? It’s something I have always wondered.”

“Of course, My child.” The fire sizzled as embers drifted out, landing near my feet. 

“Why don’t You do something about it? About them?” I questioned, motioning toward the journal. “Those villagers, they are kind, giving people, but they face an ever-present threat from their cruel and vicous enemies. Where is the justice in that, or even worse, in a child seeing his parents murdered? And how is it fair that the poor, like those in that village, suffer from hunger and cold, when others in their midst suffer no want?”

“I never said that life was fair,” replied God.

“I know You didn’t, but why don’t You make it fair? I mean, it just feels like You aren’t doing anything about it, at least that I can tell.” 

The Lord waited a moment before replying, giving me more time to think. “I would argue that I have done something great about it,” He finally said. 

“But what, Father? Orphans abound, and the poor are always with us! The needy are taken advantage of by the wicked, and who speaks up for them?” I was exasperated by the sheer and insurmountable reality. “No offense, Lord, but it doesn’t seem that Your provision is very adequate,” I stated bluntly.

The Lord chuckled slowly at my words. “Who do you think provided you the rabbit earlier?” He asked. My cheeks warmed from embarrassment over my lack of gratitude. God continued, “One night while I walked this earth, I told my disciples about the final judgment that is still to come. Do you recall the scene I described?”

I stilled my hands, placing the stick down as I imagined the scene. An image formed in my mind of the Lord, seated on His throne, with every nation before Him. Some people were directed to stand to His right, while others stood to His left. Christ’s words, as recorded in scripture, then came out of my lips. “And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom… For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matt. 25:31-36)

I contemplated His words, then continued with the rest of the story. “In the scene you describe to your disciples, the people to your right do not remember ever doing these things for You in their lives. Then You reply to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

A chorus of insects sang their evening melodies around me, and the Lord spoke: “To answer your earlier question about what I am doing about “the least of these” who are among you, I will ask this in return: what, My child, have you done about it all?”

I laughed an awkward chuckle, for His question certainly made me feel uncomfortable. “What have I done? I am not God!” I exclaimed, trying to take the focus off of myself. His point was sinking deeply in my heart, and I did not like the feeling. “But who am I to take on such a great task as this? As a matter of fact, who in our midst can do anything to really tackle these problems…who, but You?”

“The rabbit I provided earlier, did it solve the world’s hunger problem?” He asked rhetorically. I looked to the remaining pieces of my meal as God continued. “To the one person whom you might feed an evening meal, would he say you are insufficient to meet his needs? To the one orphan whom you might give a loving and safe home, would she argue that you are not enough?” I could not respond to God’s words, for my lifetime of selfishly driven actions accused me in that moment. 

The fire popped as the Lord said excitedly, “In My strength, you are sufficient to meet the needs of those whom I bring to you. I don’t expect you to meet every need of every person, but imagine your impact if you faithfully love just those I bring your way! Don’t you see, beloved? You are my redemption plan for this world!” The excitement in the God’s voice surprised me. “I have given dignity to you by seeking you and making a way for salvation. Now, I give you the privilege of bestowing upon others that same dignity! It is you who must carry out My mission of healing and restoration.” 

I felt an inner peace as He spoke, fueled by the reality that He would give to me such great responsibility. He spoke once more: “This, my child, is an act of dignity.”

In that moment, I decided to do away with every bit of my selfishness, desiring instead to please God. Picking up the remaining bits of my dinner, I threw it all in the fire, and with that I also threw my selfish ways. As the fire grew and danced from the new kindling, I smiled with relief and joy over the wonder of God choosing me to help in His gospel mission. After a while, I moved to my bedroll and laid my head down to rest for the night.

Questions to Ponder:

  • In what ways have you allowed selfishness or a fear of inadequacy to prevent you from giving to and serving others?
  • In what ways can you join God today in His gospel mission of rescuing the perishing and relieving the suffering?