“Red rover, Red Rover, send Johnny right over!” Children screamed these words at recess—at least when I was a kid. We stood in lines, gripping hands, bracing ourselves for the oncoming sprinter—shooting straight toward the weakest link. Would our line hold or break?
In the extraordinary novel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the commander of an academy for Hitler youth forces fourteen-year-old boys to name the weakest link: “Who is the weakest member of this group?” Eventually, the commander turns to Frederick, who is far more interested in gazing at stars and listening to birds than learning about weapons. After Frederick loses a race, he is mocked: “Are you the weakest?” Frederick responds, “Some people are weak in some ways, sir. Others in other ways.” The commandant, now furious, subjects another cadet into beating Frederick.
Later, in a particularly chilling scene, a prisoner hangs strapped to an outdoor pole, while snow swirls and ice clings. The commandant orders each boy to toss a bucket of freezing water at the naked, shivering man. One boy after another participates in this particularly cruel action. Frederick, on the other hand, takes his bucket and pours the water onto the frozen ground at his feet. Given another bucket, Frederick again refuses to participate in such cruelty. For his refusal, Frederick pays the price of being beaten beyond repair. Though tortured as “the weakest link,” Frederick proved a moral strength—a strength that power always strives to stifle.
The Palm Sunday readings demonstrate the strength of Jesus, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” who “was scoffed,” “spit upon,” “struck,” and “crucified.” Why would the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, empty Himself to become a slave—the weakest link?
Jesus chose to humbly stand with, in front of, and for, every Frederick in human history: each person bullied, discriminated against, persecuted, belittled, spat upon, abused, stripped, rejected, excluded, beaten or murdered. He became weak to confront the proud and powerful. He stood silent to speak for the voiceless. He took on cruelty to absorb pain and release kindness. Jesus became the weakest link to give the most vulnerable His strength.
During the Nazi occupation, faith-filled persons such as Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Dietrich Bonhoeffer became the weakest links—shielding men and women from violence and buffering children from danger. Though being thought weak, in Christ, they possessed the strength to die to save others.
As parents/grandparents, we name grace—God’s redeeming presence—by teaching our children about God’s strength through weakness—the cross. We name grace by encouraging our children to choose the smallest child for the team, invite the excluded classmate to a party, and befriend the child being bullied. We name grace by disdaining all belittling, degrading, or cruel behavior. We name grace by protecting and lifting up those considered the weakest.
Frederick’s character provides an important reminder for Christians to stand with the weakest in our society—just as Jesus did. According to WikiHow instructions for Red Rover: “Have stronger players join hands with weaker players to make sure your line holds.” Jesus joins hands with the weakest so the line of humanity will be strengthened for eternity. For this, “Every knee should bend and every tongue confess: Jesus Christ is Lord.” Now, that’s good news!
How have you stood with the weakest?
How will you encourage your children to defend the weak?
The blog on this page presents reflections on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding leaders of the domestic church in their vital task as “first heralds” or “first preachers” of the Good News in the home.