In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes a forceful statement: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Saint Paul in the second reading speaks of one of his own crosses, his imprisonment. In many of his letters Paul explains his profound insights on how we are to view Christ’s cross as well as our own crosses, thus, becoming Christ’s disciples.
Paul asserts that the message of the cross, of Christ crucified, was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (cf. 1 Cor 1:22-23). The Jews were expecting a glorious and powerful king who would vanquish their enemies. For the Greeks, as Thomas Aquinas notes, “it seemed opposed to human wisdom that God should die, and that a just and wise man should willingly give himself over to a most shameful death.”
A Scandalous Message. Contrary to the expectations of both Jews and Gentiles, the Gospel proclaims a crucified Messiah. Utter foolishness! However, Saint Paul vigorously asserts that the cross remains central in Christian life: “here we are preaching a crucified Christ” (1 Cor 1:23); again, “during my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ” (1 Cor 2:2).
The crucified Christ is God’s way of fully sharing our humanity. During his earthly life, Jesus experienced the whole range of human joys and sufferings. Though divine, Jesus was totally and completely human. Also, Christian faith holds that Jesus remains fully human—even in the glory of heaven.
Divine Foolishness. Jesus experienced the full reality of physical and mental pain on the cross. The crucifixion is God’s radical manifestation of his solidarity with us in all our sufferings. Is this a stumbling-block? “Absolutely not!” would be Saint Paul’s answer. This “crucified Christ” is “the power and wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom; God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:24-25).
We are invited to constantly measure our lives against the way of Jesus, against the
pattern of the Gospel, against the norm of the cross. And, this is not easy to accept. Here we are dealing with paradox, with measuring rods of effectiveness not according to human wisdom, but in accord with the foolishness of God!
Living into Mystery. As we journey through life with all its joys and sorrows, we can recall a simple formulation of how Jesus is in solidarity with us. We cannot have a “cross-less Christ” [an “uncrucified” Jesus]; yet, we never have a “Christ-less cross” [sorrows or sufferings where Jesus is absent from our lives]. Indeed, a profound paradox, one of the central mysteries of our faith!
The cross is still a stumbling block and foolishness to many. However, to us who have been called, it remains “the power and wisdom of God.” In short, Christ crucified is central for living as Jesus’ disciples.
James H. Kroeger, M.M.
Prayer for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hold your cross ever before my eyes,
Lord Jesus Christ, that I might never forget the depth,
breadth and magnitude of your love for me and all humanity.
Your crucifixion reveals there is no sin
we can commit nor evil we can do
that will ever make God stop loving us.
With patience, humility and grace
may I carry the crosses others lay
on my shoulders for my daring
to speak your truth or help others
whom society calls my enemies.
And like Simon of Cyrene may I also
help my brothers and sisters
to carry their cross and
accompany them on their way to you.
Lord Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen,
help me transform my wounds into
fountains of healing for others.
I offer you my faults and weaknesses
to be changed into wellsprings of grace
that all my brothers and sisters
might recognize your presence
in one another.
By Fr. Joseph Veneroso. M.M.