With all thy getting, get an understanding (Proverbs 4:7)
On his death bed, Pope John XXIII (whose vision convened Vatican II) had stated:
“It’s not the Gospel that has changed, it is just that we can understand it better.”
I find this statement so comforting when I grapple with questions like the meaning and purpose of the Cross – for I am a Doubting Thomas by nature. I could not accept a+ b = c in Algebra without questioning why a or b etc. .. so it is no surprise I had difficulty accepting the statement of faith that Jesus died to save us from our sins: that he gave his life as a ransom for many that so many Christians accept without question.
Sure, I accepted it as a child. But when the age of so called reason hit me, what was black and white became grey, cloudy, and foggy. I realized I could not give a proper explanation if a non-Christian asked me how Christ’s death on the cross saved us from our sins – and why God wanted such a sacrifice from his Son. I found myself fumbling to explain what I did not understand.
- He gave himself as the perfect sacrifice as a ransom for many.
I wondered if was just and fair. Did God really want this sacrifice ?
- We are “saved” by his death.
How exactly can his death ‘save’ us? I sincerely wanted explanations. Could we not have been “saved” another way?
- What is my sin that deserved such a death?
I don’t think I commit any big sins that warrant Jesus dying on the cross for me. Maybe that alone makes me a sinner!
Like the Jews, I too had questions on the scandal of the cross, (1 Cor. 1.18-21) so I dug deep for answers.
- I learned about the Jewish/Old Covenant tradition of sacrificial atonement, the unblemished lamb and the scapegoat tradition linked with the Passover.
- I understood much more the beautiful connection to the Paschal mystery of the New Covenant.
- I realised that the Hebrew people, though saved from death by the cross marked in blood on the lintel of the doorpost (Exodus 12.7), still had to journey to the Promised Land.
- I accept that we too, even though marked by the blood of the Cross of Jesus, still have to undertake our own Exodus from this life to the next.
- I am also now closer to understanding that it was not only by Christ’s death on the Cross that we have been saved but by his whole life and works. His passion and death was a culmination of his life and mission.
I believe we could have been saved even without a death on the Cross if we had accepted Him and His message. But fickle human beings that we are, we may not have accepted his message of ETERNAL LIFE or more importantly, believed in the resurrection from the dead, unless we witnessed it for ourselves. So his very visible death was for those like me -like Thomas -who loudly, arrogantly proclaim that we have to ‘see’ to believe.
The consolation is that He my creator, knows our weaknesses and he gently invites us to probe deeper into Him, to put our distrusting fingers in his wounds as he responded to Thomas … “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe !! ”
And I also believe that His suffering and ignominious death underscored His fundamental message – the paradox of ‘death for life’:
“Most assuredly I say to you … unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25)
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
The Cross underscores the message of giving up to your life to find new life with the Father “… for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Mark..36) and is thus the ultimate and perfect symbol of :
- Standing up for truth and justice – for GOD – even at cost of your life.
- Moving away from the things that separate us from goodness and moving towards the source of all goodness
- Restoring lives created in the image and likeness of God,
- Exchanging a shallow living for eternal abundant life – DIVINE EXCHANGE .
His detractors thought they could quell his message by his death …. yet even his death, Jesus’ message was the paradox of LIFE – for he lives amongst us still:
“Saul Saul .. why do you persecute ME” Acts 9:4
No room for doubt here. He lives amongst his people.
So I found some answers to my question … “Why the Cross? I can’t say that I have found all the answers, but I have found enough to embrace – to wrap my arms around, to cling to that precious Cross.
What then of the answer taught in catechism that “he died to save us from our sins” ?
I would respond it is a doctrinal answer given – the wondrous paschal mystery explained in a brief dogma, until you can find the answer and the meaning of the Cross for yourself.
And when you do, chances are you too will give the same answer … for there are few words that can capture the glorious essence of the saving power of the Cross.
I would like to invite you to share your experience, love and hope in the Cross with other believers to strengthen and help fellow travellers.
Reflections on the Cross of Christ from the early church fathers
• What Happened on the Cross, by John Damascene
• A Few Drops of Blood Renew the Whole World, by Gregory Nazianzen
• What We Behold on the Cross, by Augustine
• Contemplating the Lord’s Passion by Leo the Great
• The Lamb that was Slain by Melito of Sardis
• The Power of the Blood of Christ by John Chrysostom
• By One Death and Resurrection the World Was Saved by Basil
• The Life-giving Cross of Christ by Theodore the Studite
• Let us too glory in the Cross by Augustine
• The Cross of Christ by Leo the Great
• The Body of Christ Gives Life to Those Who Receive It, by Cyril of Alexandria
• The Death of Death by Augustine
Photo credit: The Cross – divinemercychurch.com.
Doubting Thomas – numerous sites; source unknown.