Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Weakness of the Cross

In today’s Gospel Reading (3rd Sunday of Lent – Year B), we read of Jesus’ cleansing of the Jerusalem temple:

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
"Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
"What sign can you show us for doing this?"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews said,
"This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?"
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.

(Jn 2:13-25).
Various “entrepreneurs” had turned the temple into a marketplace – making profit from those who came to worship God. In His zeal for true and unadulterated worship to God, Jesus chased these people and their wares out of the temple. In doing this, the Jews understood that Jesus was adopting a position of authority, which is why they asked Him: “What sign can you show us for doing this?” At this point, Jesus lifts the minds of his hearers to the greater reality of what the temple signified i.e. the Temple of His Body. He tells them that the sign He will give them is His death followed by His resurrection three days later.
In this context, St. John adds an interesting “footnote” to this episode where he tells us that many of the Jews subsequently believed in Him because of the signs that He was doing – referring to Jesus’ displays of power in the many miracles He was performing. But St. John also tells us that Jesus would not entrust Himself to them because He knew what was in them. Many of the same followers who were believing on Him at this point would later abandon Him when He would teach them about the necessity to eat His flesh and drink His blood (see Jn 6:66). But I think that by referring to these other signs that Jesus was performing, St. John is encouraging us to think a bit deeper about what is going on here.
To help us with this, Holy Mother Church has given us 1 Cor 1:22-25 as the Second Reading for today, which sheds some light on the Gospel reading:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
In this reading St. Paul tells us that the Jews constantly required signs in order to believe, as affirmed by St. John in the Gospel reading. And in echoing Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading, St. Paul tells us that the sign offered for the Jews is “Christ crucified”. But St. Paul tells us that this sign is a stumbling block to Jews because they saw the Crucifixion as a sign of weakness and not of power. Their problem was that they were seeing things from a human perspective, and not from God’s perspective. In actual fact, the Crucifixion is a sign of the power of God; and even if this is a sign of weakness on God’s part, His weakness is far greater than ANY display of human strength.
How does God make this power evident? St. Paul tells us elsewhere (Rom 6:3-4) that by the Sacrament of Baptism, we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection – and the effect of this is that our slavery to sin is destroyed in His death; and by His resurrection we are born again to a newness of life in the Spirit. This is the power of God!!!
With this in mind, we can see what St. John was alluding to in his reference to the other signs Jesus was performing. St. John was telling us that whilst the Jews believed in Jesus because of His miraculous signs of power, these were only a means to an end. The true sign would be Jesus crucified, which would also be a sign of contradiction and a stumbling block because it seemed to display defeat instead of victory, and weakness rather than power.
The Jews wanted to see signs of power; but they were not looking with the eyes of faith. St. John reminds us that it doesn’t take much to believe in Jesus when He is performing powerful miracles; but it takes true faith to look to the Crucifix and see God’s power in this sign of weakness and utter helplessness.
So today, and throughout this Lenten Season as we prepare for Easter, may we look to the Crucifix and be reminded of the power and love of God on display for us weak sinners. And may we never cease to give thanks for this immense gift of His power that He has bestowed upon us, because it is through being united to Christ’s suffering and death that we will also be united to Him in glory.

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