March 7th, 2016

The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All” 

cross26“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:19-21)

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ – in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:10-14)

“See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised – only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule – peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.” (Galatians 6:11-17)

The crucifixion of Jesus is not only the most crucial event of history, it is also a present experience for believers, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” The verb is in the Greek perfect tense, indicating an action that began in the past and continues into the present. Crucifixion with Christ is the daily cruciform existence of the Christian. It means conforming one’s life to that of Christ, being incorporated into his way of living and dying. That is why Paul can also say, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Being crucified with Christ and letting him live in the believer means taking on his vision of life, his concern for the outcast, his passion for justice, his trust in the Father, his fidelity to the call, and accepting the pain and suffering that comes with such a life.

Paul then explains another meaning of Christ’s cross by citing two passages from Deuteronomy describing “curses.” The first says that those who do not obey all the laws written in the Torah are under a curse; the second says that anyone hung on a tree is under a curse. All people including Paul have lived under the first curse since trying to follow the many prescriptions of the law creates enslavement. Yet on the cross Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us and embodying our curse as he hung upon the wood of the tree. Rather than live by the law, we can now live by faith, which brings about an inner transformation and unites our lives to Christ.

The concluding verses of Paul’s letter are written in his own handwriting, rather than dictated to a secretary as was the rest of the letter. These verses are a summary of the main points of his letter and he writes with “large letters” for greater emphasis. His primary point is that the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the way to salvation for all. Paul states that he can no longer boast of his circumcision which is the ancient sign of his Jewish heritage, and he boldly challenges those who demanded that the Gentiles be circumcised in order to follow Christ. Everything about Paul’s former way of life has been made relative in light of the supreme gift of Christ’s redemptive suffering and death. His only boast is the cross.

Since crucifixion was used by the Romans against Jews involved in uprisings, the Jews came to see the cross as an instrument of torture and oppression. For a Jew of the first century to “boast” about a cross was like a Jew of today boasting about a gas chamber. It seemed utterly absurd. Yet, for Paul, he knew he could boast in the cross because he had found ultimate meaning in its power. He no longer follows the standards and enticement of the world. He is now subject to the authority of Christ, whose cross has brought about a “new creation” – a new existence where the standards of the world are reversed and hostility and division between people no longer reign.

Paul concludes by stating that he bears the marks (stigmata, in Greek) of Jesus on his body. This Greek word originally referred to the tattoo marks or brands given to slaves to indicate who owned them. Paul’s marks are the physical injuries and emotional scars he acquired as a result of his suffering for the sake of Christ: beatings, imprisonments, stoning, and shipwrecks. These marks are the evidence that he has been “crucified with Christ.”

Reflection

What are the marks, wounds, and scars you have acquired as a result of following Christ?

Prayer

Jesus, by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. Help me to renounce and leave behind all that is useless or hostile to the goal of my life. May the marks on my body identify me as your possession.

Amen

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