The cross was the most cruel and horrible instrument of punishments. It was the capital punishment reserved for bandits, rebellious slaves, the marginalized of society, those guilty of heinous crimes. Cicero, the Roman orator and writer, who lived in the first century B.C., speaks of it as “a penalty the name of which should be removed, not only from the person of Roman citizenship, but also from their thoughts, eyes and ears.”
To profess oneself as a follower of the crucified? A madness! A shame, a choice contrary to common sense. To the Corinthians, Paul writes: “The Jews ask miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal! And for the Greeks, what nonsense!” (1 Cor 1:22-23).
From the beginning of their history, Christians have chosen the symbols of their faith. On the tombs we still find the fish, the fisherman, the shepherd, but not the cross. For a long time they have shown, so to say, a certain reluctance to recognize themselves in the cross. Only in the fourth century A.D., it became the symbol par excellence and production of crosses with the most precious metals and embedded with pearls began. During the Holy Week, this symbol will be offered for our contemplation.
To venerate the cross does not mean bowing down in front of a material object, not even to linger on the sorrowful aspect of the passion of Jesus. The cross indicates a choice of life, the gift of self. To contemplate it means to take it as a reference point for any decision.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “I will follow you wherever you go”—the bride tells the beloved—.
A father who felt accused by the children of having deceived them, of not seeking their own good, but their downfall, would be seized by despair. He may be indignant, to vent his bitterness or quit, dejected, in a sorrowful silence.
This defamatory charge was often asked by the Israelites to Moses, “Why did you make us leave Egypt, to have us die of thirst with our children and our cattle?” (Ex 17:3). He also felt to direct it to God. At Kadesh-Barnea, the Israelites came upon a race of giants, and were frightened to the point of considering themselves locusts in front of them. They thought that God had deceived them, led them in that country to make them perish by the sword, and they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and return to Egypt” (Num 14:1-4).
Nothing could offend the Lord more than this lack of confidence on the part of his people. With a bold anthropomorphism, the sacred author puts in God’s mouth this reaction: “How long will this people spurn me? How long will they refuse to believe me, in spite of the signs I performed among them? I will strike them with a plague and destroy them” (Num 14:11). The language is very expressive: it shows how much God remains hurt if someone suspects that he desired the death, not the life of a person.
The paths indicated by the Lord seem, indeed, to flow into death, but the ultimate goal is life. We have every reason not to believe him, if he did not walk this path first, and if he had not given us, along with a new heart, the courage to trust and follow him.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, give us a heart like yours.”
One day God will evaluate the success or failure of one’s life. From there He will come to judge is one of the articles of the faith we profess, but perhaps we have not ever wondered what from there means. From there, from where? We have not asked this question, perhaps because the answer seems obvious to us: He will return from heaven.
The Risen Lord promised to be with his disciples “always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), therefore, there is no need to wait for his return and the throne on which he sits to pronounce his judgment should not be placed in heaven, but on earth. Where? Here’s the surprise: it is from the cross that he judges the world.
It is Jesus, the crucified who, reversing the expectations and values of the world, judges the defeats a victory, service a power, poverty a wealth, the loss a gain, humiliation a triumph, death a birth. It is with the crucified Jesus that we have to deal, because he alone is the one who tells the truth about the choices of man. It is only his judgment that should be “feared”, i.e., accepted and followed.
The judgment of the Crucified does not inculcate fear. It is, yes, the most severe condemnation of all wickedness but it is a motive of joy and hope for the sinner; from the Crucified, in fact, everyone feels only to repeat: “I did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world” (Jn 12:47).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Let me not fear the judgments of people, but to follow your judgments, O Crucified One.”
From the temple’s Religion to the worship of the heart
When one refers to the need of renunciation, self-control and sacrifice, the audience is often surprised. They express it sometimes with a wry smile and a blink while a few is amused. It’s pretty embarrassing; it was also for Paul in Caesarea. The Roman procurator had listened carefully to the apostle, but when Paul began “to speak about justice, self-control and the future judgment” he interrupted him: “You may leave now—he said—I shall send for you some other time” (Acts 24:25).
In a world where success smiles at opportunists, where those who enjoy life are admired, every intemperance is allowed and they make their force the rule of law (Wis 2:6-9). Who recalls certain values, some challenging choices, runs the risk of not being understood and becoming unpopular. Yet, this is not the only reason why today Christian ethics is viewed with distrust or mocked.
There is an error that educators, motivated with the best of intentions, often make. They expose the moral obligations before speaking about God and his love, before having made clear that he is not the antagonist of man’s happiness but the Father who desires that his children may have the fullness of life. This right theological and pedagogical approach is the first reason for the rejection of Christian morality.
There’s a second one: hypocrisy. It is the impeccable religious practice disconnected from love and justice; the worship of God associated with attachment to money and to a grudge against the brother; the performance of external rites to silence the conscience. The liturgical services are authentic only when they celebrate a life according to the Gospel. The prayers acceptable to God are those done “lifting up pure hands, without anger and dissension” (1 Tim 2:8).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “The pure and unblemished religious practice faultless is never separated from loving people.”