Yesterday I was driving to an appointment and without warning, images of Jesus began to flood my mind. He was being beaten by large, sweaty, yelling men. They spat on him, punched him. Blood ran down his face. He was dirty and sweaty, streaked with dark red and black markings. He looked exhausted and on the verge of collapsing. Then I saw his hands being pounded into the cross, then him hanging on the cross. The images came fast, chaotic. I couldn't concentrate and felt a sense of loss rise in my chest. I wanted to cry out, to make it stop. I wanted his pain to end. Tears came quickly and before I knew what was happening, I started to cry right there in the car. I was not sobbing, but was overcome. I shook my head slightly, trying to get the images to go away and return my focus to driving. I felt silly and surprised, confused about what I was experiencing. After a few minutes, the images were gone, but they left a sense of deep loss and regret. It was like I’d had one of those powerful, horrific nightmares that feels so real you can’t shake it for days and don’t fully understand why it has left you so scarred.
What came to mind next was a memory from about ten years ago. I was living downtown Chicago and my mom lived nearby. One day, I had to work late, and so I asked her to walk my dog, a black Labrador mix named Peat. Peat was not so skilled on a leash and would pull and panic at the slightest sound. Shortly after the time my mom was supposed to have walked Peat, she called me saying that Peat had pulled her down the stairs near our apartment building and she fell on her face. She had scrapes on her chin and nose. She had cut her cheek and sliced her hand. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and my knees weakened. I felt momentarily like I might faint. I pictured my mom, whom I loved so much, laying on the sidewalk. I imagined how much this would have hurt her and how I wished I could have been there to catch her, or pick her up, or comfort her, or something. I wished I had never asked her to walk Peat. It was my fault that her face was scratched, bruised, and bleeding. It was my fault that she was hurt. Her hurt was hurting me. More than anything, I wanted a do-over, to rewind the day and not ask her to walk the dog.
I spent much of the rest of the day yesterday trying to sort out what images of Jesus being beaten and crucified had to do with my mom being hurt by my anxiety-ridden, skittish dog. I realized this: although I have read in the Bible about Jesus’ suffering, heard the story of his crucifixion all my life, seen pictures and statues of him hanging lifeless from the cross, and watched movies of his unspeakable suffering, for the first time yesterday, Jesus’ suffering became the suffering of someone I love. At first, feeling this hurt me and was as real as the hurt I felt so long ago when my mom, who I love deeply and unfailingly, was vulnerable and bleeding. Jesus' pain was hurting me. In that moment in the car, Jesus became someone I love, and not just with my head, but so deeply in my heart and soul that what hurts him, hurts me. But then, in the same moment, Jesus' pain healed me. I actually felt what he endured for me. This was no longer an abstract concept. Someone I love so much loves me so deeply that even though he knew all the ways I would one day betray and ignore him, he volunteered for pain and death so that I would be spared. This is love. (1 John 4:10) This is grace. (Rom. 5:8) This is not like anything else.