There are courtroom dramas that are barely seen or heard. On this occasion, the protagonists were a father and his son. The son was detained. He had been brought from jail to the detainee’s box. Today was just one of many delayed hearings for his preliminary hearing. He was facing various serious charges: drug possession, breaking an entry, theft, and other related misdemeanors. The young man, barely out of his teens, was quite a spectacle. His entire face was covered with tattoos, as well as his arms, clear down to his fingertips. His gaze was threatening with more than a touch of insolence.
Sitting in the crowded courtroom was also a gentleman in his sixties. His face and arms had other markings: the wrinkles of age and the unmistakable tan of having worked for many years under the scorching sun in the agricultural fields. His gaze displayed a sober mixture of sad anxiety. As I interpreted to the young man the various nuances of his charges, he seemed more interested in cleaning his fingernails than in my translation. As soon as the attorney finished, the defendant spoke to him, “Tell my f***ing dad to put some coins in my jail account, and tell him I wanna talk to him on the phone.”
Minutes later, we were out in the hallway delivering the message to the defendant’s father, the older man from the courtroom. As we spoke to him, tears welled up in his reddening eyes, “Sure, but please tell him not to yell and curse at me.” We went back to his son and gave him the message. His reaction? With the same insolent gaze, he searched out his dad in the crowd. When their eyes met, he hurled a mouthed obscenity in his dad’s direction and pretended to spit on the courtroom floor. The father reeled back as if shot by a bullet. He then leaned forward, lowered his gaze, and put on his cap. With his head lowered, he walked out of the courtroom. I could see his shoulders trembling from his muffled cries.
We reel at this kind of behavior toward any parent. But we’re often not far from doing the same. Sometimes we catch ourselves murmuring criticisms under our breath about our aging parents, perhaps even mocking them as we did when we were kids, or quickly denying what may seem to us as an unnecessary request. But the Ancient of Days in his heavenly throne leaves us without excuse: “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12). If we don’t honor sincerely from our hearts, the words that come out of our mouths are mere nonsense, and our parents know it.
It’s easy for others to know when we are sincere in our compliments, and when there is a degree of self-interest attached to our “honor.” We have all failed in our “honoring” of the other, especially those with whom we have serious differences of any kind.
He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, even as we curse and yell at him for not pleasing us with our pettish wishes.
There’s only one who has perfectly honored his Father. He lovingly kept and fulfilled his Father’s will, which was beyond any imaginable task our parents ever thought of giving us. “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). “I have come… to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:7). He fulfilled the most difficult task anyone has ever had to accomplish: taking on his sinless body our horrible and most perverse sins. With just one of our sins, he would already have had enough reason to plead before the Father to modify the task. But when he drank that bitter cup filled with the filthiness of our evil, he was honoring the Father saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luk. 22:42). That is what it looks like to honor one’s father and mother, and the entire family of the human race. That is why he is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, even as we curse and yell at him for not pleasing us with our pettish wishes.
I could not get that 60-year-old dad out of my mind. As soon as I finished translating for the young man’s attorney, I walked out of the courtroom and ran after the father. I caught up to him right outside the courthouse door. I had no idea what I would tell him. But I awkwardly asked him, “What are you going to do now?” His eyes were still red, and his face was still wet from his tears. But he did not hesitate. “I’m headed to the jail, gonna put some thirty bucks in his account. I’m sure he can use it for some extra food. He likes to eat something before he goes to sleep. Maybe he’ll also call me. He yells and cusses at me, but I still like to hear his voice.” Now it was my turn to get teary-eyed. The man reached for me, and we embraced. I sensed that he needed to hug somebody, and at that moment, so did I.
It almost seems superfluous “to draw the spiritual application.”
But what if Jesus had been asked after leaving Pilate’s courtyard, where he was lashed, spat, and beaten, “What are you going to do now?”
What would have been his answer?
“Well, I’m headed to justify those soldiers that just gave me this beating, spat on me, and pounded this crown of thorns on my head. Gonna give my life for them, gonna forgive them so as to make them right again before God. They’re covered with the scars of their own sins. Gotta cover them with my righteousness, it’s too cold and dark for sinners all over this world. This cross is heavy, but nothing like the sins they carry. On this cross, I’ll take their sins on my body. That will justify them forever and put them right with God. I don’t like it when they cuss and spit on me, but there’s no other way to present them whole before their Father. On that cross, it’s all about them. I must become just like them before God. That way, I will bear their sin. Every blow and every bit of spit just lets me know how much love and forgiveness they need. I wish they would call me afterward. But they don’t need to. I’ll be calling on them, yes, you can be sure of that. I’ll be calling on them day and night. Gotta go now. There’s a lot for me to do up there on that hill yet, and I gotta finish it, clear to the very end. All sinners must know that they have been forgiven and justified.”
And so on he walked up the hill to the Place of the Skull, his shoulders trembling from all the weight.