Years ago, I worked with a woman who, when she wasn’t teaching, painted. Her house was covered—literally covered—with her paintings. But the ones I remember most, the ones that just pulled me into the scene were her little triptychs. When I stood before those panels, I found myself enveloped in the world they portrayed. All week long, I’ve felt like I’ve been standing before a triptych.
In the center panel is a man dressed as a priest. A older man, his face lined with the sorrow he has witnessed and the sorrows he himself has experienced. There’s a steel to him—you might call it the look of fierce determination. You can almost feel the strength in his uplifted arm. He’s looking out at the crowd of campesinos gathered in front of his church. Men and women and little children massed together. Faces blurring. Bodies merging. Almost one body. One body dragged down by years of oppression. A people occupied. A people abused. The fruits of their labors taken from them by their oppressors. The priest stands poised to speak. His ears have been wakened by the cries of his people. Father Miguel Hidalgo crying out for them, “El Grito de Dolores.”
Step back a bit and you notice the two side panels. On the left the prophet Isaiah clad in the robes of a Bedouin. He’s seated on a little rise beside a river in Babylon. He’s facing away from the river. He’s looking out over a valley filled with people who appear somewhat at odds with their environment. A valley of exiles. Ezekiel’s dry bones. Isaiah is taking in the scene. Isaiah, his ears wakened to the cries of the exiles. His ears attuned to their suffering and their sorrow.
The panel on the right is a painting of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Ahead of him the cross. Behind him the crowd—the crowd of hungry, poor, sick, landless people that pressed in on him day after day. Their cries driving him forward to the cross for his ears are wakened to the cries of the poor.
You and I, we stand before the triptych, drawn in by the questions it raises. We, like the prophet Isaiah, like Jesus and like Father Miguel Hidalgo, are surrounded by the cries of the poor. You and I, we live in the poorest state of the country. A state where our brothers and sisters are forced daily to make hard choices between paying for food when they’re hungry and paying for medicine when they need it or heat when it’s cold or transportation to take them to work or things for their kids. You and I, we live in a country where many of our fellow citizens are one disaster away from homelessness. You and I, we live in a world where every day children die because they don’t have enough to eat.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people of the exile, the weary ones. Isaiah assures them that morning by morning God wakens his ear. God wakens his ears to hear the cry of those who suffer and God wakens his ears to hear the word of God. The word of God calling for justice to flow like water and for righteousness to flow like an ever-flowing stream. The word of God asking us to do justice and to love mercy. The word of God promising release for the captives.
Jesus says to his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” The cross. It’s a symbol of resistance. It’s a mark of solidarity. A symbol of resistance to powers that oppress the lowly. A mark of solidarity with the poor.
Today, on Mexican Independence Day, we hear the banner cry, “El Grito de Dolores”—the call of the oppresed. There are other calls as well: “El Grito los Pobres”—the call of the poor; and “El Grito de Hambres”—the call of the hungry. El Grito de Dolores. The call from the town Dolores. A call issued from the steps of the church.
Today, with the prophet Isaiah, we listen to God who wakens our ears to the cries of the weary, to the cries of the hungry, to the cries of the poor. Morning by morning we waken–our ears turned to the cries of the poor. El Grito de San Miguel. What shall be our call?