How did a movement that began with a rugged band of first century Jewish peasants eventually become the largest institutional religion in the world? How did the preaching of the gospel move from being a prophetic ministry of calling people to faithful discipleship to being a multibillion dollar business that promises blessing, prosperity, and victory over our enemies?
How did a once inclusive community that welcomed Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, become an exclusive institution that works at its best to shut people out? How did the broken body of Jesus become the instrument of religious power?
Perhaps the most prominent metaphor to describe the church comes from the Apostle Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ, particularly his exegesis of the metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul’s selection of this metaphor was not haphazard, for the image is so closely related to the center of Christian faith that the sign and that which it signifies cannot be easily distinguished.
Indeed, the image of the church as the body of Christ signifies that the church is indeed the incarnation of Jesus in the world. The church is the mouth, the hands, the feet, and the heart of Jesus to a world in need of prophetic voices, serving hands and feet, and hearts of compassion. Yet, we have forgotten that Jesus’ body was broken for us, and as such, the body of Christ in the world today should also be broken.
Henri Nouwen wrote, "It is often difficult to believe that there is much to think, speak or write about other than brokenness". Brokenness, like many other terms that fit within its semantic domain, conjures up images of weakness and failure; images that for some reason we have taken to be far from what it means to be followers of Jesus.
Yet, for some odd reason, we are particularly guilty of assuming that all things should work out for us Christians because God is on our side. We pray to avoid struggle and pain, and in some sections of the church, we are told that if we have enough faith we can avoid these things and we can even become rich.
But, as followers of Jesus, why should we assume that our lives should be any less tragic than his own? This is certainly not to say that we should be looking for suffering, as I think some often do, but we must be reminded that Jesus, the one we follow, suffered real evil, real pain, and real death. His human existence is not a story of victory, but one of brokenness that has meaning for our own humanity.
Thus, for followers of the Crucified, brokenness means that we become and remain vulnerable in our human existence, both as individual followers of Jesus and as the collective body of Christ.
Despite the false teachings that Christians are blessed, or as we often like to say in an attempt to separate ourselves from others, “we are forgiven”, Christians have no pride of place in God’s creation, and thus, followers of Jesus must embrace brokenness as a faithful way of existing in the world both as individual followers of Jesus and as the collective body of Christ.
While Christianity has traditionally believed in a God who is all powerful, when I reflect on the life of Jesus, I am inclined to believe that the traditional view of God does not seriously consider the vulnerability of human existence as represented in Jesus’ life and tragic death. Moreover, by coupling the belief that God is all-powerful with the idea that we, as opposed to others, are the blessed and chosen people of God, we mock the cross of Jesus. At no point in his life did Jesus ever suggest that we will be prosperous and secure if we only have faith in God.
Indeed, the church exists in the world as the suffering body of Christ that engages with the pains and struggles of those seeking hope, healing, redemption, and restoration. Jesus took on human brokenness in order to be intimate with those who struggled and suffered in this life. He did not separate himself from pain and brokenness, but he embraced it as a way of being intimate with those who suffer. His compassion was not a feeling of sympathy for the plight of the hurting, while he remained distant from their hurting. His compassion was the force that led him to be intimately bound to those who hurt.
If the church is ever to return to Jesus’ vision for his followers, then those who claim to be Christian must choose to take up the cross of Jesus by choosing to be broken. Being a Christian does not remove our connectedness to the rest of humanity. Rather following Jesus leads us to be more intimately connected to humanity, especially to humans who are broken.
The church does not exist separate from the world, but lives in solidarity with the world as the broken body of Christ, incarnate and suffering with the rest of humanity.