Via Dolorosa

by Paul deParrie
(July 1989)

The photo was of an Israeli soldier placidly overlooking the teeming crowd that choked the narrow street. Some of the crowd carried full sized crosses, others prayed at significant locations along the path.
It was the Via Dolorosa, the Street of Sorrows, in Jerusalem -- the path Jesus Christ was said to have trod on His doleful journey to Calvary where He was crucified. The day was Good Friday.
The headline was referring to the annual pilgrimage but my attention was caught by its sadder truth. Fewer retrace the path of Christ it is said of the yearly rite, but a more literal interpretation leaped to mind.
Fewer retrace the path of Christ -- the words mocked as the article told of fisticuffs that broke out between two groups of "Christian Worshippers" who were vying for the same spot on the road. The scuffle was a sad and sarcastic statement from people who were there to show their faith by ritual rather than righteousness. "Christians" were willing to carry huge wooden crosses only to avoid carrying the cross -- the love that was not in tongue only but in deed.
But the application of the headline has broader significance than a brawl in "honor" of Christ's sufferings. In the Western society, though Jesus said, "Come, follow Me," fewer and fewer Christians are willing to accept suffering or sorrow as legitimate in their path. All of Christ's paths led to the Via Dolorosa and, finally, to Calvary. Yet modern believers would skip all of that and Go Directly to the Resurrection -- Do not pass Pain, Do not suffer Sorrow.
But, I see a hopeful sign in the American Church with the rescue movement. There are many sideliners who call out that the rescuers, like the marchers in the Via Dolorosa rite in Jerusalem, should stick to symbolic forms of opposition to abortion -- that they should not actually have to suffer to help the children. "Your priorities are wrong," they tell the imprisoned from the comfort of their cozy homes and cozier Bible verses. "You've gone too far," they intone religiously as jailed rescuers carry the gospel to the squalor of inmates' lives. "Your husband and children need you," they entreated while not offering to so much as cook a meal for the beleaguered family.
But now that I've so adequately pointed out the sliver in other eyes, let me show you my own log.
When rescuers are beaten and spat upon I take offense that some of these do not retaliate. I have said, "I know we're to turn the other cheek but . . ." Yet, if this is not the time to turn the other cheek -- when is? Christ must have pointed to that path for some reason. And why would I be so uncomfortable with that path unless, perhaps, I felt some sense of conviction?
When my mother heard that Operation Rescue in Los Angeles was attended by pro-aborts chanting the chilling cry, "Take'em to the coliseum, let the lions in!" . . . and the police presenting OR leaders for abortionists to spit upon . . . and the two rescuers whose arms were broken . . . and Chet Gallagher, whose thumbs were broken by fellow police officers whom he had known, she said, "What a privilege it is for them to suffer for God." No anger, no rancor, no spit-in-the-eye theology -- just a vision of the eternal sense of the occasion.
And when I think about it, I am ashamed of how often I lose that eternal view and cease to retrace the path of Christ. I can hardly imagine Christ's feelings as He walked the Via Dolorosa -- not with crowds as in the Good Friday observations, but alone. Much worse, though, was the opposition H received from His own foreshadowed by the "This shall never happen to you" of Peter and the "Shall we call down fire from heaven" of James and John. I wonder how many felt that Jesus had abandoned His responsibilities to His mother, or that He should appeal His case, sue the cowardly Pilate, or, at least, defend Himself?
It is truly a Street of Sorrows that many rescuers walk, made all the more difficult by the jailhouse lawyers among us. But it is also a privilege for them to walk this path and we, of all people, should help them do it with dignity.