On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion are: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; and Luke 22:14-23:56. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.
“What evil has this man done?” An exasperated Pontius Pilate asked the crowd this question after he judged that Jesus was guilty of no crime. But, for their own reasons, the people insisted on violence; Pilate capitulated and sentenced Jesus — an innocent man — to die. In equal parts, both Pilate and the mob had blood on their hands for Jesus’ death.
“Passion of Matthew Shepard” by Rev. William Hart McNichols, a Catholic priest-artist, who dedicated this icon to the memory of LGBT youth who commit suicide, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered.
“What evil has this man done?” Pilate’s words echo in my mind as I remember Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was beaten, tortured, and left to die on a lonely country road in Wyoming in 1998. I remember the television news that showed the wooden fence where Matthew spent his last hours, alone and in pain.
I remember hearing the eyewitness testimony that described Matthew’s face as caked in blood, except for where his tears washed the skin clean. And I remember that Matthew’s murder was the first time that I (as a naive fifteen-year old) realized lesbian and gay people are sometimes hurt or killed due to their sexual orientation.
Many years have passed since Matthew Shepard’s death but, unfortunately, LGBT people are still victims of discrimination and violence. Every year, the Passion narrative of Palm Sunday should remind us that innocent people still die today and that, while we are not responsible for violence committed by others, we are responsible for creating the culture in which we all live.
Are we contributing to a culture where homophobia can flourish? Like the mob surrounding Jesus, do we allow voices that call for blood and violence to remain unchallenged? Or are we building a culture that values every person and embraces genuine diversity? Do we share our stories of love so that such love can abound and multiply in our midst?
As we enter the holiest week of our year, I pray that we hold near to us these stories of violence and death — of Jesus, of Matthew Shepard, of LGBT people in our own time and place — and that we will be inspired to cultivate lives of love and hope so that all God’s children will be accepted and welcomed as they are.