Sunday, March 3, 2013

Third Sunday of Great Lent: Veneration of the Holy Cross

Hebrews 4:14-5:6 / Mark 8:34-9:1

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

On the face of it, there seems something childish and immature in these words of Jesus. We are all too aware of how, as children, and perhaps even as adults, we have reduced our exchanges with others to a tit for tat, a quid pro quo. Admittedly, when we have been rejected by others or dealt with by them in less than civil ways, our immediate reaction is to strike back, or at least to withdraw, taking our care and concern with us. This is what Jesus Christ seems to do here on a more cosmic scale, returning on the Last Day his own reaction of shame and rejection on those who had been ashamed of and rejected him in this world. Yet, we count as a more mature response to initial rejection a willingness to understand, to take the higher ground. We might thus like to think or hope that Love, God himself, would be equally as broad-minded regarding our smallness of heart here and now.

However, this might not be the best or most useful comparison. Imagine, by contrast, someone who keeps returning, seeking love and reconciliation, to someone who has been abusive and remains steadfastly unwilling to change. Can the abused person be able to love the abuser? Certainly, but that love is not going to be expressed by a constant return to be exposed to abuse. Indeed, so long as the other remains unrepentant, it is not just his abuse, but he himself, who remains worthy of disdain, worthy of rejection. We can will what is good for him, but what that means is we can will that he be transformed, but this means that what and who he is now must die. Even when that death is a painful one, to wish anything else would be to fail to love. If he will not die, then he wills to remain not merely estranged, but indeed an enemy of love, and to the extent he remains in that state, we ought properly to be ashamed of him.

This is at the heart of Jesus' teaching about the necessary connection between being his follower and taking up the cross. Jesus knows, far better than we do, how very much we remain, and even freely and wilfully so, his enemies, unrepentant and unwilling to die to those things that stand irrevocably opposed to life and love. He loves us enough that he does not merely counsel us to suffer and die on our own crosses, he demands that we do so. For him to do anything else, for him to fail to demand the cross of us, would mean for him to have abandoned us in our sins, indeed, to have been finally ashamed of us. Instead, even more than demanding the cross, he ascends it first of all, even before we do. He knows that we must die, but in the abundance of his mercy Jesus transforms even the act of a sinner dying to and because of his rebellion into an act of conformity with divine love. What might have been a reason for shame, to suffer and die because of our willful rejection of love, has become, by the awesome and terrible mystery of Calvary, the very means of our glory. We are, then, not merely glorious as a result of what the Cross of Jesus Christ has done for us, we are made glorious in our own crucifixions, our own dying to our sinful selves so as to follow him who alone is worthy of all of our love.

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