Third Sunday in Lent – This is the Time of the Cross
Our second reading today is, perhaps, the highpoint of Christian literature. Paul tells us that the crucified one is the stumbling block, the absurdity for the unbeliever.
But to those who are graced, and gifted with faith, this is the power and wisdom of God.
St. Paul always speaks out of his experience. He has known the heights and the depths of life; he has been on top and cast down. But Paul makes no bones about it, time and time again he says Jesus is the source of his strength. He says, “In Him, I have strength for everything.” Jesus crucified is the power, the wisdom of God: the cross is the source of Paul’s strength.
A professor who taught me the New Testament used to say in his private moments, “It is the cross that leads me to say that, were it not for Jesus, I would be an Atheist.
Jesus gives me the only God I can believe in, a God of love that is revealed in suffering.” Christianity has a very specific understanding of God.
He is not a God of power, throwing thunderbolts into people’s lives, He is not a teddy bear God, He is not an unknown God.
As Christians, we believe that the God we find in the Gospel is, above all, a God of love.
A love that is revealed in the suffering of the cross. The cross is central to the Gospel and understanding of God. The cross is not an accident in the life of Jesus, it is not that He happened to be in Jerusalem one day, said something out of turn, rubbed some people the wrong way, and got nailed to a piece of wood. No, the cross is an essential aspect of Jesus revealing God to us.
The cross plunges deeply into the reality of God, almost like a dagger, and what it reveals about God is awesome. It tells us that our God is not unaffected by our suffering, not unaffected by our way of life, not unaffected by what happens to us.
It tells us that our God loves us so much that He was prepared to become one of us
It tells us that in order to reconcile us to Himself, He was willing to undergo the most painful form of death ever devised.
This is the God who embraces our lives in Jesus of Nazareth. And still, we hear people say every day I do not believe in Him or His cross. Prove to me that God exists.
Believers should never accept that kind of challenge. It is not that we are unable to answer it; we can show that belief in God is reasonable. First of all, if we want to be correct about it, we can say that God does not exist, existence is a human category of thought, and there is no way we can confine or express the reality of God in human categories. God does not exist, apples exist, oranges exist, we exist. God is.
Whenever we speak of God, we are only half right. God defies capture by words, categories or human thought. You will often hear unbelievers say they believe in the human spirit, and the human spirit is a wonderful thing. However, if history teaches us anything, it should teach us that the human spirit, even the educated, cultured, civilized human spirit has often been responsible for some terrible things. To believe only in humanity, humanity without grace, without God, could be a very frustrating experience.
Others say they believe in a God of nature. This belief is appealing, especially as spring is around the corner, one can almost experience God in the freshness that we are beginning to see. It is God’s creation, but it is not God. All that comes to life in the spring will die in the fall.
One of the things that Jesus did supremely well, more than anything else, better than anyone else…. He loved. St. John highlights this on the first page of his passion narrative. When Jesus knew that His hour had come to pass out of the world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
Loved them to the utmost limit of love, loved them totally, loved them to death. In the words of St. Paul, “He loved me and gave Himself up for me. Show me a man writhing on a cross in agony and I will be moved to pity, to horror, to disgust. Show me a man writhing on a cross, surrendering His body to crucifixion because He loved me, and I will be drawn to belief. To self-giving, to love in return.”
During this mass, we can see in a striking way how the cross and the Eucharist interlock. That breathless moment when time turns back and Calvary comes alive in the words of love ever spoken….. This is My body, which is given up for you. This is My blood, which will be shed for you.