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Lenten advocacy reflection: Good Friday

By the Rev. Cindy Crane
Director, Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin

Cindy CraneA photo of birds perching on telephone lines fills the front cover of the book, “Mobbing,” by Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry. The small creatures look as innocuous as notes resting on lines of music. However, the birds get center attention because of their tendency to join together to overtake larger animals. Recent studies show that if two particular birds have bonded to mob their prey once, the likelihood of their banding together in the future to gain advantage over another target grows exponentially. But the book isn’t about birds. It’s about human beings.

Mobbing is bullying that involves more than one person and has institutional buy-in. At least that’s one definition. When an entire agency, school, condo association, workplace, club, place of worship, government, or a political leader with followers condones abuse, validity is added to actions we would normally find abhorrent. There is something seductive about getting in line with a crowd even when it is moving in a questionable direction.

We stay alert to public policies that could add or diminish lawful layers of discrimination or violent behavior in general. Lessons from history add urgency to our advocacy when we notice disturbing trends repeating themselves. How will we engage?

Some mobbing is almost invisible, but the harm can have devastating consequences for the target, at times even leading to suicide. Duffy and Sperry refer to mobbing as a legal way to commit murder. Survivors often suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome and are left with a changed worldview; it becomes harder to trust, have hope in transformation, and to not see life through a lens of cynicism. The treads in a brain of someone recently bullied or mobbed are most similar to those of someone who was just raped. Whether we have witnessed mobbing or have only read about overt forms of it in the news, the story on Good Friday seems familiar. We don’t talk about it, but people sometimes mob. It happened to Jesus.

A band of soldiers, police and religious leaders swooped in to overpower the Messiah. As the abuse intensified, Jesus didn’t struggle with his worldview or faith. Instead, we hear about Pilate having no power over him and of Scripture being fulfilled. At this point, it’s easy to think about this story being about the glorification of suffering, of Jesus dying because he wanted to die. These interpretations have fostered misunderstandings that victims of abuse or oppressed groups should acquiesce to oppressors just like Jesus did, missing Jesus’ resistance to injustice that led him to the cross. His profound love and forgiveness went hand in hand with his challenging parts of society that were legally designed to ostracize certain people. And his defiance of the distorted messages hurled at him up to his death was entrenched in God’s love.

Knowing what mobbing does to a person, Jesus’ air of resistance is remarkable. If there is a context in which to say, “I’m not like Jesus,” this is it. The vision that St. John lets us in on is of the Jesus who was in complete control. He wasn’t a warrior, but he didn’t act like prey either. Facing the soldiers, he exuded calm and told them to leave his disciples alone, protecting and loving them even though he knew most would desert him. He was unwavering with Pilate, one of the most powerful people in Israel. He carried his own cross. And in this gospel from the cross, Jesus didn’t express a sense of abandonment.

The Jesus whom John experienced was steady while the people around him displayed a whole array of responses. Judas betrayed him. Peter denied his discipleship. Pilate was agitated by the injustice the mob demanded but in the end went with the crowd. His mother, aunt, Mary Magdalene, and the beloved disciple stayed close to the cross.

How do we respond to Jesus? By grace, the gospel gives us courage to have a public voice when facing powerful systems that frame our society. And we discern between organizing out of love and ganging up on others to exert abusive power. This lesson teaches us that God in Jesus walks with those who are mobbed; they/we never have to journey alone. The story reminds us of Christ’s love, even when we falter and move against justice.

People sometimes mob, but that is not what defines the drama in John’s lesson. God incarnate in Jesus, Jesus’ authority and love shape the story of Good Friday. The story shapes us. For now, for this part of Holy Week, that is the hope revealed.

You can learn more about the work of Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin by visiting their website at

Our ELCA Advocacy initiatives are made possible through support from ELCA World Hunger. As we near the end of this Lenten season, register yourself or your congregation for ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving to ensure that we can continue to work for systemic change that truly supports our brothers and sisters facing poverty and hunger.

Lenten Advocacy Reflection: Poverty and Grace

By: Peter Severson, Director, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-Colorado for the Rocky Mountain Synod


Few of Jesus’ parables are as familiar or artistically resonant as the parable of the prodigal son. Rembrandt immortalized it on canvas. Benjamin Britten set it to lyrics and music. Henri Nouwen wrote a spiritual autobiography around it. Of the multitude of literary and linguistic artifacts that the Bible has deposited into Western culture, the idea of the “prodigal son” is among the most well-known and well-trod.

All of which sometimes makes it hard to hear the parable with fresh ears. Those who grew up in the church will know the beats by heart. The son asks for his inheritance early. He travels to a distant land, squanders it all, and ends up destitute. He comes to his senses (or as the King James and NRSV say, “he came to himself,” Luke 5:17) and realizes that even his father’s servants have enough to eat, so he beats a quick retreat back to the old homestead and begs his father’s forgiveness. Whether the son’s plea is sincere or not, the father welcomes him back joyfully and promptly throws a huge party, fatted calf and all. The brother returns from the fields, sees the party in progress, and is more than mildly piqued at the excess of it all. Jesus wraps it up with the heart of the parable: The father has forgiven this son, who was dead and now has come back to life.

It’s a model of reconciliation and forgiveness, an almost staggering display of generosity of heart that is hard to imagine playing out in modern Western culture. In our culture, those who would presume to ask for an inheritance early would be looked on with suspicion and probably scorn. Anyone who would squander their resources in profligate depravity certainly deserves to live in destitution. And a son who would come home after all that and beg forgiveness, well … certainly no one is obligated to forgive him, even his own parents. These are the messages we’d most likely hear in the contemporary cultural moment.

As an advocate, I find myself hearing something new in the parable this time, and it comes from the juxtaposition of those culturally defined reactions with the beats of the story. Typically, this is read as a story that is principally about forgiveness and reconciliation. I still read it that way. But what if we read it also as a story about generosity and solidarity? A story where a person who has reached the depths of destitution is treated as still human, still worthy of welcome, still worthy of “caritas,” still worthy of grace?

Many advocates who work with and on behalf of people living in poverty will tell you that familiar tropes arise time and again among opponents who don’t want to change the system. Many people are comfortable with our economic status quo, and many believe in the ideology that our position in life is determined almost exclusively by our relative merit and skill in society. The poor, the argument continues, are largely in that condition by their own fault, and so a social program to assist them is predicated on a false assumption that they don’t actually deserve their destitution. This is the “bootstraps” mentality, which is especially prevalent here in the American West.

As I read this parable, however, I encounter something amazing: Here is a person who actually does create his own economic reality, and actually does squander all his resources and land himself in poverty – a far cry from the circumstances of virtually any impoverished family in the United States today, but with the same endgame of penury. And yet this son, who by all rights deserved to be mucking about in the sty with pigs, who deserved no “helping hand” up, is welcomed back with joy anyway. It doesn’t matter that he “brought it on himself” – grace and welcome and “caritas” are given freely. The older brother’s rage then becomes newly familiar, perhaps, as we see him frustrated that someone so reckless would be given help to be restored and made whole. Doesn’t he deserve to get left behind and trampled underfoot? How dare he be welcomed back? When we read with this lens, the parable becomes an even more deeply and radically counter-cultural message. It does everything that our modern competitive capitalist economy tells us not to do.

How rich in compassion is the father for his prodigal, profligate son. And how rich are we called to be with our impoverished neighbors, whose circumstances deeply resemble that of the son and yet did not arise by “squandering [their] property in dissolute living”? (Luke 5:13) Rather than viewing our neighbors as competition to be defeated, as discardable, as somehow less-than-human beings, what if we chose the way of Jesus? He asks us instead to be reconciled through him to all our neighbors, to be restored to right relationship. He asks us instead to be vessels of grace and mercy. May it be, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Our ELCA Advocacy initiatives are made possible through support from ELCA World Hunger. As we enter the season of Lent, register yourself or your congregation for ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving! to ensure that we can continue to work for systemic change that truly supports our brothers and sisters facing poverty and hunger.