Rev. Dr. James Forbes reflects on racism.
Weariness is the constant companion of those who seek justice.
A year punctuated with tragedies around racial inequalities culminated in a burst of hateful violence during a Wednesday evening Bible study at the Mother Emanuel church. And as these nine faithful souls have been laid to rest, I have been struck by a refrain that many of my friends have been voicing.
I'm tired, they say. I'm growing weary of fighting these same fights. No matter what we do so very little is actually changing. Why must the fight for justice be an uphill battle? Very often that weariness is accompanied by frustration and disappointment and anger and hopelessness.
I have to admit that I'm tired too. Despite the small victories that have come in the wake of these tragedies, I'm tired of our propensity to lament them but do very little to stop the next one. Despite the growing awareness I see in so many people, I'm tired of our continuing denial of our mottled pasts and the way that the sins of yesterday linger with us still. Despite hopeful steps, I'm tired of seeing the same pain visited upon us over and over again.
I'm tired, but I'm still awake. I'm tired, but I press on.
But if I'm honest, I'm tired, and I want to stop. If I'm honest, I feel hopeless more than I care to admit.
The text this week from Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 narrates the return of Jesus's disciples after Jesus sends them out "two by two" to cast out demons and proclaim the good news that God had drawn near to God's people. They come back, relishing the way God has moved through them but also exhausted. On their return, Jesus tries to shield these weary disciples from the many who were coming to hear Jesus's words and to seek his healing touch. Jesus and his disciples were so surrounded by the needs of these people yearning for God's justice that the disciples could not even find time to nourish themselves. The work of the kingdom was so all-consuming that they were forgetting to eat. Jesus suggests heading to a deserted place, so they could recover from their work.
But the crowds quickly notice them and engulf them once again with their hopes for healing, their seeking of a word of grace. These crowds touch Jesus's heart. "He had compassion for them," Mark records. He was moved by their faith and their plights. He was moved by the fact that they were like lost sheep, uncertain of where to go. Yet somehow they knew the voice of Jesus, knew that his words were a much needed balm in this deserted place. They knew that his words and his actions contained the justice they had always hoped for, that even at the fringe of his cloak the power of God was emanating.
The disciples return from the hard work of ministry exhausted. Jesus sees them and tries to create space for them to recuperate. And yet the needs of the world are too great. No matter how many of us are seeking God on the path to a just world, there is always more to do, more people who yearn to hear the good news that God can free us from our many prejudices, more needs than any of us can possibly meet on our own.
But in Jesus's presence all this changes. As the disciples rest, Jesus's indefatigable grace cleanses all who come to him, even those who merely touch the edge of his cloak. As the disciples find new energies, Jesus's healing is inexhaustible. As the disciples recuperate, hope is ever present.
That is, even when the disciples are weary, Jesus's own hands and feet, even his cloak, continue to heal all those who come to him.
This story makes me wonder if I have misunderstood the meaning of all this weariness I feel. Have I misunderstood why I feel so tired, so burdened that the forces of hate and violence continue their unabated march?
What if weariness is grief and hope? What is weariness is not just a path toward resignation but the way Jesus heals us anew? What if weariness does not sap our faith but strengthens it? What if weariness is a marked sign of hopefulness? What if weariness, the kind of weariness that emerges when injustice seems close and justice a distant memory, is the very way that God meets us in our cries? What if our weariness is mirrored by the Jesus who cries out from a cruel cross, a Jesus who feels utterly deserted by the God he followed? What if sometimes weariness is the most faithful way we are followers of the inexhaustible Jesus?
And so what if our weariness, our fatigue is not the end of our call to love the world but its very beginning?
Weariness is the constant companion of those who seek justice. But so also is the God whose justice we seek. And if God has never faltered, then our faith in God--whether we rejoice or weep, seek or hide, run or grow tired--is never empty.
Bible Study Questions
1. How do you cope with the weariness that accompanies tragedies in your life and the lives of others?
2. Where do you find motivation for continuing the faithful work of justice when you feel least hopeful?
3. How have you felt God's healing presence in your life recently?
For Further Reading
M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010).
Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).
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