Holy Week Reflection: Personal and Systemic Injustice

We’re taking a break from our continuing conversation about Christian feminism to reflect this week on Christ’s journey to the cross, but I wanted to share a few things about that journey that parallel our own efforts to struggle against injustice and therefore, share in the sufferings of Jesus. Theologian N. T. Wright describes the last week of Jesus’ life (emphasis mine):

We can see this very process working its way out as the story unwinds. All the strands of evil in the world seem to rush together upon him. The power-seeking politics of the local elite. The casual brutality of imperial Rome. The disloyalty of Judas. The failure of Peter. The large systems which crush those in their way, and the intimate, sharply personal, betrayals. And everything in between, the scorn, the misunderstanding, the violence. The story is told in such a way that we see and feel, rather than just think about, the many different manifestations of evil in the world. Matthew invites us to see them all converging on Jesus. That is what this story is all about.

We are encouraged to see this scene, too, as somehow a revelation of the glory of God. It is one thing to be transfigured in the sense of shining with the dazzling light of God’s glory. It is another thing, perhaps equal if not greater, to be seen in agony, sharing the sorrow and pain of the world. Perhaps the two scenes need each other to be complete. Certainly our own pilgrimage, if we are faithful, will have elements of both. One of the reasons we read and reread this extraordinary story is because we know, in our deepest beings, that the scriptural story to which Jesus was obedient must be our story too. Matthew, telling us that Jesus’ disciples all forsook him and fled, wants us by contrast to stay the course, to see this thing through, to witness the glory of God in the suffering face of his crucified son.

Many of us understand the depth of evil as it is manifested in our personal relationships. Most of us watch the news and look at crime as a man versus man conflict. We get the personal nature of evil, still, few of us (particularly those of us who are privileged) can clearly identify systems of injustice.

A lot of what we are talking about in our conversation on Christian feminism is personal and focuses on our beliefs or even the beliefs of people who have hurt us. But we are also addressing systemic injustices as well: injustices that have built up over time, injustices that are so woven into our culture that they’ve become a seam that appears to be holding treasured institutions together. As N.T. Wright points out, Holy Week draws our attention to all the ways evil works in our world, and asks us to watch the Lord Jesus take them all on: not with swords or an exercise of political power, as many of his day were expecting, but through suffering, love, and endurance that bears the brunt of injustice all the while making a way for it to be overcome and made new.

He invites all of us who believe to share in that journey by taking up our own crosses daily. We do that when we recognize and struggle against all evil: the evil we do, the evil others inflict upon us, the systemic evil that oppresses. We do that when we enter into places where others are suffering and we take the blows someone meant for them. We do that when we surrender our way of thinking and being to God’s way of thinking and being.

But in this, we can also share in Christ’s glory and triumph over evil. We get to see His kingdom coming when we see hope or justice restored: be that in desolate places in our own hearts or in our communities. These are hard and sometimes confusing efforts, but we do not struggle in vain, nor do we struggle alone. Christ has gone before us, and He is with us as we go.

My hope is that through an exploration of Christian feminism, we wrestle with God on these issues. We look for ways to be made new. We join Christ in His work in the world, and we remember our enemies aren’t the people in front of us:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12-13)

As we allow the pain of the cross bring us to our knees this week, I pray that the joy and hope of His resurrection will give us all the power to stand whenever and wherever we confront evil.

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