Thursday, September 14, 2006

reflection on today's lectionary readings: gazing upon the Cross

Based on Numbers 21:4-9
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

Oftentimes when we think of the cross what immediately comes to mind is our calling to imitate the way of the Cross, to follow Christ’s example.

The Cross as example for us is certainly true, but I think what the readings today remind us is that first and foremost, even before the imitating and the following, we are asked first to stand back, and look at the Cross, gaze at it, contemplate its meaning:

To gaze and look upon the Cross first as God’s supreme accomplishment, unrepeatable and unique...the focal point of world history.... the means with which God has saved gaze upon it and to be reminded that Jesus suffered on the Cross so that others, you and I, need not. Jesus died on the Cross so that others may not.

What comes to mind when we stand back and gaze upon the Cross is a paradox. C.S. Lewis wrote that “Christianity is a religion that humans could not have invented.” And I think it’s because of the paradox of the Cross. It’s unexpected.

Who could have invented the scenario that God would save humanity in this way? How could anyone have come up with the scenario that the instrument of death, a sign of defeat, should become the tree of life and the sign of victory? That the cause of suffering should become the source of healing? And that, as St. Paul beautifully writes in the second reading, from God’s self-emptying and humbling, God’s glory is revealed.

This is the paradox of Christianity, the paradox of the Cross. And we are called today to gaze upon it, to contemplate it, just as the people of Israel in the first reading was told to gaze upon the bronze serpent on a pole in order to be healed of their snake bites: to gaze upon that paradox—the cause of their affliction has become the source of their healing.

I think when we first gaze and look at the Cross this way, we begin to remember when in our lives we have experienced a paradox like that of the Cross....where have we experienced our self-sacrifice bearing fruit in self-fulfillment, our suffering being transformed into real joy, our dying to sin bearing fruit in our rising to new life in Christ.

I think when we first look upon the paradoxical Cross of Christ, and then recognize the Cross already traced in our lives, we can confidently continue to follow Christ on the way of the Cross, on the way to true life.

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