Jesus and Johnny Cash

LAMENT. If I were pressed to put a name to the last few weeks of my life, it would be lament. Some news from left field came and totally knocked me off my feet in a way that surprised me and left me reeling. During this season of sadness, I’ve leaned on the things that I know are good for me: family, prayer, margin in my schedule, time in nature, and the bible.

I’ve recently discovered some peace through an unusual source: The Man In Black himself, Mr. Johnny Cash. I was looking for an audio version of the New Testament and stumbled on one narrated by Johnny Cash that had great reviews. I listened to a sample and was hooked. The timbre of his deep voice and the almost sing-song-y cadence of the narration makes it so simple to listen to. Sure, there’s a small part of me that is just waiting for him to start singing about getting married in a fever or falling into a burning ring of fire, but only in the most wonderful way.

It always delights me when I am able to view a familiar passage of scripture through a new lens. Mr. Cash’s narration of the book of Matthew helped me do just that this week.

If you’ve spent time in church or if you’ve studied the bible much at all, you’ve likely heard/read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. But do you remember what happened right before that? Jesus had been showing compassion to a whole group of people who were following him and he had been healing their sick. And do you know what happened RIGHT BEFORE that? Jesus had gotten some awful news. Some news that I suspect would have knocked Jesus (in his human form) off his feet and surprised him and maybe even have left him reeling. Some news that might have caused the Son of God to lament.

Jesus’s dear friend had been murdered in a very public and horrifying manner. The beginning of Matthew 14 tells the whole gory story and in verse 12 it says that “…they came for his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what happened.” And when Johnny Cash read those words I was on the edge of my seat: WHAT DID JESUS DO when HE got bad news? The next verse says that as soon as he heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. And man, oh man, I’ve never felt more like a Christ follower than when I heard that. I am a retreater when I’m sad and grieving. I need room and space to process and think, too.

It didn’t take long though for the crowds to find him. And when they did, he had compassion on them; he healed them and then he fed them. Even though his heart had just been crushed by the news of his friend’s death.

Or maybe, just maybe, it could have been BECAUSE he had just learned that sad news and the process of grieving had caused a new softness in his own human heart.

Now, I would never accuse even human Jesus of not always having a kind, tender heart. But I can’t help but wonder if this is an example for me. An example to show that maybe my own sadness could be used to knock some of the crustiness off my heart and soften it up. A way for me to see that even seasons of profound sadness and grief and lament can be used for good, if we are looking for those opportunities.

How surprising to have found some common ground this week with both Jesus and Johnny Cash. And how interesting that the thread that binds us in this moment is one of lament. And hope, always the thread of hope. Hope that can be found here in southwest Missouri, just like it was found in the remote area that Jesus retreated to. And even, I suspect, in Folsom Prison.

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