Sign of Contradiction
The cross stands as a sign. It points to the reality of suffering, which is one of the most perplexing of human realities. The cross is not only the most cruel instrument invented by human beings for the execution of other human beings. It is also the means God has chosen by which the human family is redeemed. The cross points to the reality of suffering, which we, as a society, spend a great deal of time, energy and resources trying to eradicate and defeat. Yet it is intrinsically bound to our imperfect nature, as inevitable as the dawning of daylight after the night has run its course. The cross is a reminder to us of our sinfulness and our selfishness, which separates us from God. Yet it is also a necessary requirement Jesus imposes upon us if we want to be his disciples.
What is our fascination with the cross? …
The cross is itself one great contradiction, two beams fastened together in direct opposition one to the other. Many spiritual writers have pointed out the significance of each beam, the horizontal representing our earthly physical reality, the vertical representing the eternal divine reality. These contradictory and opposing forces meet uniquely and wonderfully in Jesus Christ, who is at the same time earthly and eternal, suffering and glorified.
From the moment of his conception, he would stand in opposition to realities we accept without question, to give us occasion to pause, to help us realize how we often surrender without a fight to narrow-mindedness and blindness. He was the only begotten Son of the Most High God, but he chose as his mother a young maiden with no standing in society. He was accustomed to glory at the right hand of God in heaven and among the hosts of angels, but he chose to be born in a lowly manger, in a place where animals were sheltered, because there was no room where travelers lodged. He ruled the universe with the power of his eternal word, and his every desire was fulfilled without discussion or opposition, but he chose to be subject to Mary and Joseph, to experience the indignities of childhood and adolescence, to perform the menial tasks as a member of a family, and to learn a carpenter’s trade. He had never known poverty or want, but he would live off the generosity of friends. He never demanded anything for personal pleasure or profit, but he chose to bestow upon others abundant blessings, sight for the blind, hearing for the deaf, speech for the mute, wholeness for the broken, life for the dead. His will alone sustains all creation in existence, but he chose to forfeit his own life in the face of hatred and violence, without bitterness or scorn for his adversaries, but with a hand extended in compassion and friendship.
Jesus calls us as his followers to join him and become with him signs of contradiction in the glare of this world’s selfishness and pride. The cross on which he died he has transformed into a throne of grace and mercy. That which brought about his death is to become the source of life for all. How do we live our lives in harmony with him and his cross? Should we not then stand with him in opposition to the values of this world?
Since the beginning of recorded history, human communities have dealt with conflict by resorting to intimidation and the use of the sword. The cross stands in direct contradiction to violence and hatred. There can be no end to violence unless we oppose violence. We cannot be true lovers of peace when we resolve our differences by advocating war. What does it mean for us to love our enemies as Jesus instructs us? Did he truly mean what he said? How do we love our enemies while enduring their bitterness and hate? We look to Jesus’ example. It is only with patience, gentleness, forgiveness and restraint that we will bring an end to hatred.
Being creatures of comfort and convenience, we surround ourselves with much ease and excess. We are not ashamed to compete in the race of who owns the latest technology and who most closely resembles the painted faces on magazines and TV ads. The cross stands in direct contradiction to self-promotion and vanity. True discipleship is about seeking the lost and bringing others to give praise to the Father. The beatitudes remind us that true happiness is not to be found in the values of the world. Happy are the poor, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst, the merciful, the peacemaker and the persecuted. Why do we continue looking for happiness somewhere else?
We enjoy our self-sufficiency and independence, that we can get around at will, that we are able to determine our own destiny. Yet we sometimes see nothing wrong when we surrender our freedoms and take on slavery in the guise of choice and free will. We may regard the disabled and the terminally ill as prisoners of their broken bodies, yet they experience a freedom of the spirit which surpasses our physical mobility. We may regard the very young and the very old as restricted by their lack of understanding and physical strength, yet they know the beauty and wonder of God in unique and miraculous ways. The cross stands in direct contradiction to willfulness and pride. On the cross, the almighty God was held fast and immobilized, yet he effectively freed all people from their slavery to sin and death, and gave them hope for eternal life.
The cross of Jesus Christ is ultimately a sign of contradiction. It stands in opposition to the world and its values. We are his disciples. How often do we stand with our Lord and his cross against the world and its values? Is the cross we venerate a sign of something more valuable than what the world has to offer? Or is it merely a pretty piece of jewelry we wear on a chain around our necks?
Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”