It’s near impossible to think about Jesus as a slave, but this word is repeated in his death story enough to catch our attention. Jesus took on the form of a slave and died on the cross. People treated Jesus like he was less than human. He was disrobed and whipped and spat on and ridiculed and ultimately put to death like a common criminal. Like someone easily discarded. Like someone the world has forgotten, someone who doesn’t matter at all.
Jesus chose to really live as a human. He chose to really die as a human. He makes this brilliant move, a move our whole faith is centered around. Our God chose to die as a human slave, looking human darkness in the eye and suffering greatly so that we might love each other more deeply. He had to be a ransom. There had to be a real, tangible transaction. At the center of our faith is the cross. At the center of our faith is suffering, so at the center of our faith can be love.
Jesus’ death is hard to read about because it reminds us what we are capable of. Lent is a hard time because we have to come to grips with the darkness inside of us, the darkness in the center of society. We can say we’d never do it. We’d never put God on a cross. We’d never own another person. We can’t understand how people could make other people suffer so much for their own enjoyment.
Yet last week, Pope Francis brought our attention to injustice happening in our country on our watch. In the middle of our Republican primaries where talk of walls and immigration reform run free, Pope Francis ventured into no-man’s land between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez to pray for compassion toward immigrants before saying Mass in the Mexican border town. It was quite a moment. During his trip to Mexico and the border, he spoke of forced migration and the slavery of human trafficking, as well as poverty and corruption. It was a strategic trip with a powerful message for our country.
Sadly, slavery is still real. It still happens today on our watch in brothels, factories and fields. We support systems that value some lives over others. We are capable of putting God on a cross. Pope Francis, by standing between the US and Mexico to pray for compassion, is challenging us to look at the slavery of Jesus this Lent and reflect on its meaning for our own lives today.