By Michael Wren
“But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world,” (Galatians 6:14).
Tuesday I visited Chicano Park in San Diego. The park was created in the early 70s after the interstate was built right through the middle of the neighborhood. Instead of allowing the city to use the space underneath the overpasses for government offices, the people protested and demanded a public park instead. They got it, and Chicano Park is definitely a people’s park. The mural you see (in the really poor photo with my fingers in the way) is part of a massive mural telling the history of these people, and only one of many murals throughout the park, most of them painted on the side of the cement columns supporting the overpass.
If you look closely at the picture, you might discern a cross on the far left suspended above a Spanish galleon. Notice also the conquistador skeleton on the right. Our tour guide, an Hispanic pastor of a Lutheran church, pointed out to us that the cross, to many Hispanics, is not a symbol of hope. It is rather a symbol of death and conquest. European people came in the name of Jesus and demanded that the native population convert or die! To this day, the cross remains something of a negative symbol to many. Instead, as you may know, the image that best communicates their faith is that of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Sometime after the conquest of Mexico City, a local farmer claimed to see a vision of the Virgin Mary, who instructed him to build a church building on that site. She gave him roses, which were not in season, and he put them in the blanked. When he went to the priest to have the vision verified as authentic, the image of the virgin (who looked very Hispanic) was on the blanket. This is their symbol of the Christian faith.
And yet Paul saw the cross differently. The cross really is a symbol of death, especially to ancient Romans. But Paul still embraced it and claimed that this alone would be his boast. Through much hard experience Paul had learned a lesson that each of us must master as disciples of Jesus—that if we would gain life, we must lose it. As long as we boast of our own power and strength, we have no hope. However, Jesus endured pain and death for our sakes, and here there is hope! You see, the cross is both the symbol of death and hope—death and hope that are rooted in Jesus alone.
This means, of course, that the life of a disciple will be a life of death and hope as well. We die to our wants and desires, our quest for power or significance, and we live as servants of Jesus. Jesus said that the greatest among you will be the servant. This is where we find our strength. But the cross cannot become an instrument of conquest or a sword of power. This is where the Spanish conquerors severely misrepresented the gospel. It is a shame that the gospel is perverted and Jesus misrepresented by those who desire to wield earthly power.
Throughout Chicano Park, the Spanish word, “fuerte” is found in numerous texts. The word translates as “force.” The Chicano people, who inhabited San Diego long before it belonged to the United States, are seeking power in order to attain the kind of life many of us take for granted. Their needs and concerns are real, and we should not overlook their cries. However, like Paul we must remember that true fuerte is found only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a force of love, sacrifice, and service. And if the church exercised that kind of loving force, people like the Chicanos would have a refuge. If they find refuge in the cross, then they have found freedom and power indeed!