THE GOOD NEWS OF THE CROSS
What do we boast of, are we proud of? Our accomplishments. As child, I may boast of what my father can do. As a student, I might boast of my grades or sports achievements. When we get older, we will boast of our love goals, work goals, promotions, raises, children’s achievements, etc. Notice what Jesus says to apostles bragging about evangelism’s conquests: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah says to rejoice in God’s great mother-love. St. Paul says: “May I never boast except in the cross.” Shocking!– shame, a degrading death reserved for slaves, criminals, rebels to terrorize– sign of ultimate defeat! Yet we Christians have a different way to look at the cross… or a really “new” way! For us the cross is associated with the “new creation”– it creates all things new: it redraws our picture of God; it refashions our identities; it reorders our priorities; it guarantees our peace.
We have had changing images of God over the years. We had fire-and-brimstone images in preaching in the fifties in the United States, common still in some Protestant fundamentalist communities; God was more feared than adored and loved. We later had a kinder, gentler Lord in the sixties, but people complained that religion lost its teeth and compromised its teachings.
Whatever image we have of God must be based on the cross. The cross represents “Peace and mercy… [and] grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God cannot love more. Jesus cannot give more. That love expressed on the cross is now power for our lives. “The Lord’s power shall be known to his servants,” says Isaiah. Jesus is the “power and wisdom of God,” according to St. Paul. God does not just make demands and give commands, he gives power through his love.
We have some feminine images of God in Isaiah: chapter 42: God is like a woman “in labor, crying out, gasping and panting. Or in chapter 49 we read: “Can a mother forget her child; even if she would, I will remember you,” and in chapter 66: “As nurslings, you will be carried, fondled on the lap; as a mother comforts her child, I will comfort you.” Pope John Paul I said in 1978: “God is our father; even more, God is our mother.”
The gospel today explains how “judgment” fits in. God is always on our side, loves us, wants to help us. If we turn away from him and his values, we cause our own suffering. The gospel explains that those who turn from God cause their own problems, they determine their own fate; messengers only pronounce the judgment.
What is important? Go for the gold, build relationships, advance careers, BUT… the greatest tragedy is not missing an Olympic team, not missing lotto numbers, not sickness or death, but missing my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I belong to God; no higher destiny! All that matters is that you are created anew (Paul), and that your names are written in heaven (Jesus).
Yours in Christ,