Friday, April 14, 2006

Cross Purposes on Good Friday

So this semester I’m taking a Christology course, which makes Holy Week really interesting! All semester we’ve been dealing with questions of who Jesus is, salvation and the challenge of the cross. The result is that this Holy Week I just want to turn off my brain and just take everything for granted. Yet, I can’t help but recognize how “just taking everything for granted” is a way out of dealing with the scandal of the cross.

In a recent class, the professor asked me (as I was arguing for a more traditional position regarding the cross) what I thought we were doing when we venerated the cross on Good Friday. My response, which got a laugh (though I didn’t intend it to), was “something fundamentally irrational.” His point was that according to some of the theologians we’ve discussed—and it’s a good one—that the appropriate response to the veneration of the cross might not be to kiss it, but rather to turn away from it, because for them the cross represents the continuing crucifixion that the poor and oppressed in the world suffer. From this perspective, we shouldn’t celebrate the cross because our vocation in life is to take those who are poor and oppressed down from the cross. I’m sympathetic to this point of view. We can always do well to remember that one of the goals of our Christian life is to as best we can stop being the crucifier, and instead work to stop people from being crucified in the first place. Yet, my point was that there is more to the cross than that. There has to be some truth, however mysterious, however irrational to our conviction that Jesus’ death saves us in some real way, in addition to all the other things that his passion and death accomplish and witness to.

What I see in the attempt by many theologians to deal with the cross is an attempt to reason it out, to make sense of it. And, as my response to him implies, I believe that there is no way that we can wholly account for the mystery of the cross in a rational way. There is something fundamentally irrational about it. It’s an attempt to control something that can’t be controlled. It’s a way to avoid facing the reality that our lives are not about control, our lives are not our own, that if we choose the way of independence and control we will never find the happiness we desire. The cross points us to that fundamental paradox that the only way to truly live our life is to lose it, that being out of control and in touch with the ways in which we are and always will be dependent on others and, when we can’t even depend on others, utterly dependent on God is the only way we can truly be free. Jesus’ cross transforms a tool of oppression into a witness to true freedom. That doesn’t make oppression and suffering OK, that doesn’t make God into the ultimate child abuser, it shows us that Jesus was willing to make the choices required of him to be truly and fully human and in doing so, in some equally irrational way, his divinity was revealed.

As I lean over to kiss the cross today, then, I will be celebrating the life of Jesus which showed us the way, the death of Jesus which saves us, and I will be praying to stop being the crucifier and instead being one who stands for all the crucified peoples of the world.


Anonymous "omis" said...

In his sermon tonight, Fr. Murray talked about a parish he used to be at which was mostly made up of West Indians. On his first Good Friday, he was glad to see that the church was full, and a bit surprised to see that the congregants were a joyful bunch, given that it was Good Friday.

On Easter Sunday, he expected the same crowd, but he was surprised to see plenty of open seats, and a more sedate crowd.

He asked on of the parishioners about it. The man said that where he was from in the Caribbean, there were two types of Christians. There were the "servants obey your masters" types. And there were the ones who came to Good Friday services, even if they didn't come any other day.

It's because in this image of God becoming man and being beaten and oppressed by the authorities they could see a God they understoond.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Barb, sfo said...

Without the cross, there can be no Resurrection. So the cross is a blessing to us, as horrible as that may seem.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

Happy and Blessed Easter Mark!

2:45 AM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

But turning away from the cross doesn't seem like an appropriate response; it's irrational too, in my opinion. Jesus never turned away from those who were persecuted, in need, suffering, etc - and as followers of Jesus it seems we can follow his lead there by not turning our heads from beholding those who are on a cross, all around us. We need to let the reality of the persecuted sink-in, and we can't do that by turning our heads.

I don't celebrate Jesus being on the cross though; 'celebrate' doesn't work for me. I am in awe of the mere fact that Jesus voluntarily submitted his life on the cross, for my sake and for all the world. An all-knowing and all-powerful God who voluntarily dies on the cross for a people who are often feeble, inconsistent, and ungrateful - that is irrational.

Happy Easter, Mark!

9:57 AM  
Blogger GRT said...

"There is something fundamentally irrational about it [the cross]" doesn't encompass enough. By definition, there is "something fundamentally irrational" about faith.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

"This is the wood of the cross," my parish's deacon chanted last Friday, "on which hung the Savior of the world."

He did not chant, "...on which hang the poor and oppressed of the world."

On Good Friday, we are not venerating a metaphor or a perspective. We are venerating an actual, physical, wooden object -- some of us, perhaps, the actual, physical wooden object -- by which we are saved.

It's one thing to add perspectives and meanings to the Church's liturgy. It's another to replace the Church's perspectives and meanings with your own.

A theologian for whom the Cross does not represent the means of his salvation is a theologian I would not want to spend much time studying. (Speaking as someone who has the freedom to pick and choose what he studies.)

1:37 PM  
Blogger Peter Nixon said...

Hmmm...I see that Fr. Roger Haight's influence is still felt at Weston...:-)

In his recent book Who Is Jesus: An Introduction to Christology, Fr. Tom Rausch (another Jesuit by the way) is critical of the way that Haight tries to avoid the cross, almost granting it no salvific impact at all. For Rausch, it's almost impossible to make this perspective cohere with the tradition.

I'd pull out a cite, but I don't have the book handy. My point, though, is that you can do Christology that is responsive to contemporary concerns without giving up the centrality of the cross.

I love Easter Sunday. But I do venerate the cross on Good Friday.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


It just so happens I'm reading Roger right now. Though I like Roger as a person and a brother Jesuit, I have to say I have my problems with his Christology.

Interestingly, we looked at Rausch as well. I didn't find his approach too attractive either. He seems to have the need to be able to explain everything rationally. And you already know what I think about that!

Hope all is well on the left coast.


12:24 PM  
Blogger mamagiglio said...

Turning away from the cross is exactly the opposite of what the Lord exhorts us to do: Take up our crosses and follow Him.

It is good to help the poor an opressed, but it is unreasonable to believe we can ever obliterate poverty and opression. Those conditions will exist as long as there is sin. Someone will always victimize someone else.

There it is: 2 weeks late and a dollar short. ;)

10:35 AM  

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