SEPTEMBER 14, 2004, FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS: PHIL 2:6-11; JOHN 3:13-17
GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM MAY NOT DIE BUT MAY HAVE ETERNAL LIFE. These words of St John’s gospel are the Evangelist’s inspired interpretation of the meaning of the life of Jesus. More specifically, they explain the hidden meaning of his painful death on the cross. Only by means of divine revelation could we come to know that the meaning of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is the surpassing love of God for his creatures, the men and women of our human race. To recognize divine love in suffering and death is beyond the capacity of human insight into the mystery of God and of the human condition.
Certainly that proved to be the case historically. The way to happiness for the Greek philosophers is the acquisition of wisdom; the classic Greek poets taught the same view. Euripides found no worthier conclusion for one of his best tragedy than the following thoughtful reflection: “Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness; and reverence towards the gods must be inviolate. Great words of prideful men are ever punished with great blows, and, in old age, teach the chastened to be wise.” (Antigone) Prosperity, success, riches were considered the indications of God’s favor by the Jews and there is in the Hebrew Scriptures a broad support for such a view. In fact, it is a view that is so natural to human nature that still for the large majority of Christians, happiness and success are inseparable manifestations of God’s favor and approval. Suffering is experienced as a punishment and interpreted, by most of us, as coming from anger, even as a sign of rejection.
The cross of Christ changes that way of experiencing and interpreting the various sufferings that come upon us mortals under the guise of sickness, loss, failure, disapproval, rejection and the innumerable other shapes assumed by the things we suffer.
Jesus himself had to struggle with all his strength to maintain his conviction that the sufferings he was to endure were imposed by love. More, they were the ultimate expression of a surpassing love that seeks only the best of things for those whom God loves enough to give his only son. His suffering even the shame of a criminal’s death was to give new meaning to human suffering for the future. And the meaning he imparted is divine love, as St. John tells us in today’s gospel. By his cross the Lord Jesus not only gave a fresh meaning to suffering, he also imparted a new manner of loving. Love is not a seeking of satisfaction of an ideal relationship; rather, it is the radical surrender of self to the Father for whom we are created. Such a surrender, made from the depths of the heart to the will of God, entails, in one form or another, the acceptance of humiliation, of loss, of pain and suffering. In the first reading today, St Paul tells us that it was just such a way that the Word of God himself chose in becoming man and in carrying out the Father’s plan of salvation. “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave … obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.”
Through faith in the power of that love that has given what was most precious that we might belong to the Father in all truth, may we respond in kind and make of our life an offering of love. In this Eucharist we are given a further sign of the Father’s love for us, and the assurance that by the blood of the cross we have access to him who has so loved us that he gave his only Son that we might have life in his presence forever.
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