One day, not so long ago, in the middle of the prayer meeting at a prosperous church in Coral Gables, Florida, USA, where most of the parishioners were snowbirds with sunburns, Jesus of Nazareth walked in, said “As you were”, and sat down. And, after a couple of minutes of puzzled stares and worried whispers (“If he’s here, and we’re not in Heaven, then …?” “Yeah, isn’t this supposed to be the Rapture or something?”), they all sat down too, and continued with the meeting.
Finally, a prominent lawyer in the group stood up to test Jesus, find out if he really was who he said he was. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the Bible tell you?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responded, “That’s correct; do this, and you will live.”
Then the lawyer pounced. “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus reflected for a moment, and then said this. “A white businessman – a good, upstanding citizen, said the news media, and Facebook agreed – was driving from Orlando to West Palm Beach. He stopped for some hitchhikers who proved to be thieves, and they robbed him, beat him up, stole his car, and left him for dead on the side of the road.
“A Bishop drove by, saw the man, and said ‘It’s a plant – the robbers are nearby and they’ll beat me up too’, so he went on his way.
“A lay leader was next; he said ‘damn, I’m late for a meeting, and there’s no cell coverage here; I’ll pray for him’ and drove on.
“Then a poor Mexican drove up in his rickety Ford pickup. He didn’t know if he could get that truck started again if he stopped it, but he stopped anyway, bundled the man into the back, made him as comfortable as he could, and, being fortunate with the engine, rolled on down the road.
“He had been treated well and kindly at a particular clinic the last time the police had whupped up on him for being Mexican, so he took the victim there, and was grateful that they admitted the man and did not automatically assume that he himself had been the one to administer the beating. He told the clinicians, ‘You contact me if there’s anything I can do, until you find out who he is and who he belongs to’, despite having no particular idea where his own next meal was coming from – and at risk of having the clinic pass his information to INS and getting him deported.
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The lawyer replied, “The one who picked him up and took care of him.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The lawyer exploded, “Like a goddamned illegal greaser?!? Not on your life!!” And everyone in the meeting reared up out of their seats and roared “YEAH!!”
They then, each and every one, took up stones to stone Jesus – but he vanished from their sight.
And this is why, to this day, in churches all across the land, the crosses are empty.