It’s the first week of January and I heard the Three Kings already feasted and now the Black Jesus of Nazarene is passing. Catholic Philippines never fails to fascinate me with their festivities.
I would think the kings carrying frankincense, oil, and myrrh would be galloping frantically on their donkeys while staring at that bright morning star. Who won’t be excited to see Jesus? Forget about feasting along the way, they’re running late for the real party! Or maybe they were feasting on the way back after seeing the good news of the promised baby born to bring hope to the world? Perhaps that makes more sense now!
I also never knew Jesus as black, I wonder how the Black Jesus of Nazarene came about. But I’ve seen an image of Jesus as Chinese, though. In the southern part of Taiwan, I went into a church that looks like a temple and saw Jesus with small eyes, broad face, and that yellow race complexion. I wonder how I even recognized him, and Matthew, Mark, Luke, John…and the rest of His followers painted on the ceiling wall. Must be the group shot that made everyone look like they just had a costume change. This gives more meaning to the old adage that when in Rome, be like the Romans, and if you’re with Jews, act like one! I’m still me even if I ate with chopsticks in China, wore leggings over denim miniskirts in Taiwan, or dyed my hair red just because. So Jesus is Jesus whether he’s colored, chinky-eyed, long-haired, naked on the cross, or clothed in gold-sequinned red velvet robe that is the image I saw on television of how the Black Nazarene looks like.
The news on the screen when I woke up today captured swarms of people swaying along the wave of other people trying to touch the passing Black Jesus of Nazarene put atop a moving car. It was a slow procession of several kilometers traversing around towns in Manila. The action on every centimeter move was far from slow, though. People climbing on top of each other. Pushing. Wailing. I heard “Viva! Viva!” White handkerchiefs were waved high up, if not thrown up just so those who were barricading the image can wipe these cloths on the Jesus image and toss them back to the crowd. These become holy hankies, if not auction items. The belief is, that when you touch the Black Nazarene, whatever you wish for will come true. If you pray holding the holy hanky, you get the same effect. Such encompassing promise sounds vague, if not outrightly ridiculous. And I’m sitting on our kitchen table vowing not to leave the house for the day if only to stay away from the mass of people and the traffic. But why, why do millions of others travel far, wait long, risk safety, health, and comfort, just to have a sight and perhaps touch this wooden image of a Black Jesus?
Need drives people to do things that sanity wouldn’t normally allow. And when you’re surrounded by a similarly-acting crowd, the passion multiplies, devotion catapults, and the motivation exponentiates. You won’t even think of the ridiculousness of how you look to others who view you from their television screens. It doesn’t matter. And now that I’m thinking about it, this isn’t of “Only in the Philippines”.
Shorty guy Zaccheus climbed up a sycamore tree so he can have a bird’s eye view of this Jesus whom he heard is awesome. (Luke 19:2-6) The bleeding lady who hustled in the streets just so she can touch the hem of Jesus’ robe and be healed of her years of torment. (Mark 5:25-34) Four guys who detached the roof of a house just so they can bring down a paralytic friend and be seen by this amazing healer. (Mark 2:3-5) A leper on his knees cutting all protocol as he crawled and begged the preaching Jesus to find favor in him. (Mark 1:40-42) These are crazy acts of people ignited by a desire to be better in their plight. And when there is but a flicker in their dark enclaves, they would defy all odds to take but a glimpse of it.
People need the Lord. It’s an old song by Steve Green. The lyrics, though, sound like it was just written today. The Black Jesus of Nazarene procession today epitomizes this song of need of a savior…someone, whoever, however, and by all means. For the despondent and hopeless who see a glimpse of redemption as long as they go another mile of walking barefoot, wrestling with comrades of similar despondency, all other inconveniences falter. I pity them, yet upon saying that I pity myself too. Because I, too, need a savior. We all do.
Whether you were laughing the whole night through, or sleepless as you wet your pillow in tears last night, we all have a need. It’s a like a black-hole of an unexplainable depth. A lot of others on the opposite side of the television screen reach out not to the Black Jesus of Nazarene like today’s devotees do, but to their own version of something or someone else on the pedestal. I know I’ve put myself, different people, aspirations, ambitions and a lot of other whatchamacallit on the throne. Who or what is yours?
Whatever it is, let’s go seeking, and I hope we seek not a transient, false, or replaceable one, but the real one who’s for real, who could really save, really heal, and really transform. Because for all that it is, it was promised that if we seek, we will find, if we ask, it will be given, and if we knock, it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7)
So I’d say to people, run, run to God, cry out to Him with tears and sobs that perhaps can tear down a wall. I do that in my secret hiding places. And I’m glad God meets me there..here..wherever and however I am. I don’t need to have a holy hanky, and I’m good on my bedroom slippers, and it works. It works to just be seeking and finding, no pretentious long prayers, no long lines…but one thing, have a heart that’s as wild, earnest, eager, and desperate as you would when you find yourself actually reaching out to a passing Jesus. And you’d have a taste of being in holy ground.
*This blog entry is inspired by watching Unang Hirit TV Show this morning and reading Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and Come, Lord Jesus Devotional Readings from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.
January 9, 2014