Sunday, July 15, 2012
Jesus Still Weeps
By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service
SWARTZ CREEK MI (ANS) -- Madison Square Park. An almost magical piece of Manhattan, an oasis of greenery, specialized flower gardens, benches, fountains, statues, and winding little pathways. On sunny but cool, clean-air, New York City Spring days, as it was when I visited recently, it seems Heaven-like, miles and maybe ages away from urban bustle.
The original city planners of grid-like Manhattan mercifully retained old Broadway, which cuts laterally across the island, creating numerous triangles of arterial anomalies. They can be small, like Herald Square to the north, one-fifth of an acre; or spacious, like Madison Square Park. Bordered by Broadway, Fifth Avenue, 23rd Street, and Madison Avenue’s terminus, the Park is larger than six acres. In its neighborhood were the first two Madison Square Gardens; P. T. Barnum’s Museum; the pioneering Fifth Avenue Hotel and A. T. Stewart Department Store; the iconic Metropolitan Life Building; and, at its southern end, the Flatiron Building. During the 1880s the Park hosted the tallest structure in New York City: the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty, placed there for visitors to climb, in a plan to raise funds for the statue’s base and erection in New York Harbor.
It sounds idyllic and is indeed full of history, but when I grew up in New York City, Madison Square Park suffered from neglect. And when I taught at the nearby School of Visual Arts in the 1990s, it had become an ugly, smelly, unsafe place to be. So on my recent visit to New York, I was happily surprised to see the results of a decade-long project and conservancy by the city and neighborhood groups.
Fortified with an appropriate park-bench repast -– pushcart hot dogs -– I sat back and enjoyed the place and time, not quite sure that place and time did not elude me, albeit engagingly. Was it a remnant of the old days that an evident homeless couple sat on a nearby bench, chattering and sharing an old piece of bread? But a mom or nanny passed by with a high-tech baby carriage, and I thought, That child is entering a nicer world than if she were here 20 years ago. And a young woman sat down on another nearby bench and starting playing the guitar and singing songs I could not quite hear. All seemed beautiful. The way a city should be?
The old man and woman I had dismissed as forlorn homeless drifters? He said that they were, indeed, homeless; and neither had found much happiness over their long lives. But they met in the Bowery Mission downtown and become the best of friends, even falling in love. What made the world look away, they somehow found attractive in each other; and there was not a happier couple in all of Madison Square Park.
The baby in the bionic carriage? Her parents had split in an ugly scene, the father never to return and the mother addicted to an assortment of drugs. The relatives caring for the baby girl would not be able to continue for long. The young woman singing with her guitar, hoping for coins to be dropped into the shoebox? The words to her song -– all of a sudden I could discern them -– were about a hopeless life, lost love, and what she called her death-sentence of AIDs.
“So you are saying,” I asked the man, “that nothing here is as pleasant as it seems? Is there darkness behind every image?” No, he answered -– just look at the joy in the homeless couple I told you about. And you do well, he told me, to have your spirits lifted by a beautiful day, and signs of happiness. But life’s problems, unlike a city park, cannot be solved by paving the pathways and planting some flowers -– anyway, we cannot stop there. Accept the improvements, take heart from the joy... but remember that people still hurt, people still hurt each other, people still need Words that will transform their souls, not merely adjust their daily routines.
He swept his hands across the landscape of the park, and then, upwards, to the thousands of apartment windows that overlooked Madison Square Park, behind each a separate story. I could hear, and I quickly saw, that the man was crying, tears glistening on his cheeks. I looked up at the windows, knowing that his wise words were meant to remind me to appreciate the “good,” to see the “special” that was seldom readily apparent; but never to lose sight of the hurt and pain and heartache: the needs of our neighbors.
Jesus wept (it is recorded in John 11:35) when He approached the dead Lazarus. We cannot believe Christ was affected by death, because He was about to raise the man back to life. And He knew that after a short time He too would die... and overcome death. We may wonder whether Jesus wept because sin had claimed another life; “the wages of sin is death,” and that He had come that people might have life and have it more abundantly -– weeping over peoples’ wasted opportunities. Or He might have wept over the grieving friends and relatives of Lazarus, who scarcely realized that Jesus was in their midst. The Lord and Giver of life.
Jesus wept, and I believe He still does. People are still lost in sin, hurting, hurting each other, and needing the Word. Will they find it through sunny afternoons and fragrant flower gardens, or will they hear it from us? We should weep, too.
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Yet another gospel song carries this theme -– and illustrates the eloquence of Jesus’ weeping. Have you ever noticed how teardrops, just like raindrops, when you look close, can reflect whole new visions of the world, a different reality?
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.