Holy Week

I am working in the backyard. It hasn’t rained since September, apart from the two freezes which terrorized our plants by beating them with hail, sleet and freezing rain. Thinking about plants has become an act of hope.

The neighbors are playing on their side of the tattered fence, and Reina, the ten year old, comes up to me with a small milk carton that has a March of Dimes logo on it.  “Would you like to help babies that are born sick?,” she asks, sweetly.

I give her all of the quarters I can find. She thanks me and begins inserting them, one by one, in the slot.

It is Holy Week, and this year, doubly so, as Jews and Christians celebrate their high Holy days at the same time. Solemnity rules.

I am daily made solemn in my drive to the office, as I pass two large billboards, each placed within a mile of the other.

The first is an enormous crucified Christ, with two compelling statements, “Live for me; I died for you.” Compelling, as they appear to be the last statements of someone who is dying. Compelling, as well, for being a stark example of unconditional love. There are no profits to be made in the enterprise of giving your life for someone.

Each time I pass this image, I think, “I personally would have preferred an image of Jesus as the shepherd, or chatting with the woman at the well,” and, just as I am finishing up this thought, I come upon a second billboard, offering class three weapons for sale.

Two polar opposite messages, each within a minute of the other.

If only it were an ad in bad taste; if only the weapons were used as Gothic wall hangings in some millionaire’s ranch house.

Sadly, that is not the case.

In the past two weeks, authorities just across the border have found more than 150 bodies buried in mass graves. It seems that the victims were passenger bus travelers who were kidnapped by the drug cartel and told that they could be assassins, or be assassinated. While some were beaten to death, others died from “wounds caused by a high caliber rifle”-like the one being advertised on the highway. The connections between “us” and “them” are not hard to make. Selling weapons of destruction is not only legal in Texas, it is a good business.  (The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco claims that 90% of the weapons used in cartel murders were purchased in the USA).

The Passing-Over of the People of God under Moses’ leadership was a bloody business, meant to end a previous bloody business. The passing-over of Jesus of Nazareth into the Resurrection, likewise.

We clearly have a ways to go; the religious festivities of the week are a way of reminding us of the work yet to be done. The passing over is not at all magical, just wonderful.

As I drive past Jesus on the cross, I decide to I need to fill my little neighbor’s March of Dimes’ coffers to the top–for sick children, for sure, but mostly for my own sanity.  It would be a good time to dip into a little bit of Holiness.

Compassion

When Jesus went ashore, he saw a large crowd, and felt compassion  for  them  and  healed their sick. (Matthew 14, 14). The New Testament Greek word for compassion is  splagchnizomai. Its literal meaning is “to have a feeling that touches one to her very bowels.”

Time has passed; the characters have moved on. The woman has moved back to Mexico, and the physician  is practicing his kindness elsewhere.

The doctor had come to visit our community, a very poor community, one in which a person who had Medicaid was considered someone of great wealth. He was part of large crowd of medical students, professors and practitioners who had come to see the other side of America, the one  that lives on the far side of the tracks.

During a home visit, the doctor came across a woman who was suffering from a goiter. The swelling made it impossible for her to lie down. She was struggling to breathe, and eating was a chore.

The doctor was a good man, and decided that he would take care of her. He realized that she required a complicated and expensive surgery, but volunteered to do this at his hospital.

I carefully explained that the woman had overstayed her tourist visa and now had no immigration papers. I told him that she could well be arrested by border patrol agents at the various checkpoints that are in and around the Valley, and that he, too, could be subject to arrest.

The doctor, with an east Texas accent that made my bones ache, said, “I am a Christian, sir, and I fear no man who would interfere with God’s law!”

I did my part to be sure that the woman understood the risks. She, however, was desperate to be relieved from the malady that was squeezing her throat, and could not imagine a worse fate than the one she was living out.

The doctor decided that they would fly out of the local airport. To reach the departure gates, one has to ascend a flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs, there are usually two Border Patrol agents standing guard along with airport security.

The doctor called me from his cell phone.  “Hey!” he shouted, “We are going for it! Say a prayer for us!” and hung up.

Three hours later, he phoned back, “Praise the Lord! It was a miracle,” he exclaimed. “We were heading up those stairs, and those two agents were staring us down. And then, right before we got to them, they went away.”

“What happened?” I asked him.

“God gave them gas!” he said, bursting out in the loudest bit of pious laughter I had ever heard, “God gave them gas! Praise the Lord!”

The surgery was successful; the woman returned to her home her along the border, where she continued to help raise her grandchildren before, just a while ago, returning to Mexico.