Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: 22 January

The Cross of Christ

 The Cross of Christ   ING-003
20 January 2023

... so that the Cross of Christ may not be made in vain!

Saint Paul’s warning, with which today’s second reading concludes, should truly make us tremble.

The Cross is the sign above all things which uniquely identifies us as Christians; it is without any shadow of a doubt, universally known and recognized. Even in the eyes of those who do not share our Christian experience, the Cross is the symbol par excellence of a life given out of love, of a fidelity that has gone to the most extreme point possible, which manifests the radical truth of the One who gave His life so that we might live.

The Cross, which bore the savaged body of Jesus of Nazareth, was transformed from an instrument of torture into an instrument of salvation. The wood of the tree that became an instrument of death is now a symbol of new and eternal life.

The Cross was foolishness for the pagans, because it was and still is for some, philosophically impossible to admit that God could die and moreover, die having been judged guilty of a crime. For the Jews it was a scandal, because a death sentence by crucifixion was reserved for those “rejected by God”.

The Cross of Jesus cannot be confused with the scaffold of all the other crucifixions that have taken place throughout history: it is unique and escapes any exclusively human understanding. It is the supreme place of the manifestation of God’s Love, it is the complete unveiling of the divinity of Jesus, and it is the turning point in the history of humanity.

Whilst it was dark on earth, as the evangelists tell us in the account of Jesus’ death, the Cross became a source of radiant light. This light must be welcomed with the free and priceless gaze of faith, without the preconceptions of so-called human wisdom and without the dull prejudices of religiosity, crystallized in predefined schemes.

Through the Cross, God surprises us, that is, takes us and lifts us up to allow us to see things from a different, new and true perspective: His!

In Your light do we see Light, says the psalmist (Ps 36:9), and offers us the criterion for understanding life and history.

The Cross is not understood on the basis of human wisdom or even religious reasoning, but, on the contrary, it is human wisdom and the life of faith that are illuminated and strengthened by the Cross. O yes, the risk really is enormous, the stakes are very high, the highest: so that the Cross of Christ and His victory may not ever be made in vain!

Let us be careful not to reverse the factors: it is not like in mathematics, where, inverting the addenda of a sum or the factors of a multiplication, the result does not change. In our relationship with the Lord, each element must be placed in its place and in its order. The same dynamic is proposed to us again by the first luminous words of Jesus’ preaching, addressed to the people who walked in darkness: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”(Mt 4:17).

Often the attention of the listener focuses on the imperative “Convert”, offering an immediately moral reading, as if it were a simple exhortation: “Work to change your lifestyle”. Instead, the emphasis should be placed on the reason that motivates the request for conversion: “For the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The first action to be carried out is to let oneself be enlightened by a surprising newness: the proximity of the Kingdom of heaven, that is, the loving and saving presence of God, who in His synthetic and complete form is the very person of Jesus. For in that Kingdom, as Pope Francis reminds us: “Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity” (Laudato Si’, 240). It flows from the mystery of the Cross.

True light that emanates from His presence, from His works and His words, in Him, with Him and through Him, we have all that is necessary for conversion, first of all, our thoughts, our reasons, our understanding of life. It is only on the basis of intelligence made wise by a personal relationship with Jesus that we are able to build a new and solid moral life. If conversion depends on our moral choices, it collapses with the daily appearance of our human frailty. But let us not become disheartened because, if, on the other hand, our conversion moves from a theoretical transformation of thoughts, beginning with accepting Jesus, the Crucified and Risen and Living One, then it is our whole of life that changes and becomes Christ-like. A life that has the taste of eternity, of holiness, of true and lasting freedom.

It is exactly this invitation that is addressed to us today, to the first disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee: “Follow me: and I will make you fishers of men” — simply: ‘Share My life, and you will become like Me!’

It is by obeying this command that the Cross of Jesus may not ever be made in vain.

*Custody of the Holy Land

By Fr Luke Gregory ofm*