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Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Cross, For Us

March 30, 2013

Whoever removes the Cross from the center of Christianity no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith
-Hans Urs von Balthasar

The following is from A Short Primer for Unsettled Laymen (Ignatius Press, 1985).

Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.

The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know  nothing but the Cross, which "destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand", which "is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles". But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:19, 23, 25).

Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith. He does not see that God's commitment to the world is most absolute precisely at this point across a chasm.

It is certainly not surprising that the disciples were able to understand the meaning of the Cross only slowly, even after the Resurrection. The Lord himself gives a first catechetical instruction to the disciples at Emmaus by showing that this incomprehensible event is the fulfillment of what had been foretold and that the open question marks of the Old Testament find their solution only here (Lk 24:27).

Which riddles? Those of the Covenant between God and men in which the latter must necessarily fail again and again: who can be a match for God as a partner? Those of the many cultic sacrifices that in the end are still external to man while he himself cannot offer himself as a sacrifice. Those of the inscrutable meaning of suffering which can fall even, and especially, on the innocent, so that every proof that God rewards the good becomes void. Only at the outer periphery, as something that so far is completely sealed, appear the outlines of a figure in which the riddles might be solved.

This figure would be at once the completely kept and fulfilled Covenant, even far beyond Israel (Is 49:5-6), and the personified sacrifice in which at the same time the riddle of suffering, of being despised and rejected, becomes a light; for it happens as the vicarious suffering of the just for "the many" (Is 52:13-53:12). Nobody had understood the prophecy then, but in the light of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus it became the most important key to the meaning of the apparently meaningless.

Did not Jesus himself use this key at the Last Supper in anticipation? "For you", "for the many", his Body is given up and his Blood is poured out. He himself, without a doubt, foreknew that his will to help these" people toward God who are so distant from God would at some point be taken terribly seriously, that he would suffer in their place through this distance from God, indeed this utmost darkness of God, in order to take it from them and to give them an inner share in his closeness to God. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!" (Lk 12:50).

It stands as a dark cloud at the horizon of his active life; everything he does then-healing the sick, proclaiming the kingdom of God, driving out evil spirits by his good Spirit, forgiving sins-all of these partial engagements happen in the approach toward the one unconditional engagement.

As soon as the formula "for the many", "for you", "for us", is found, it resounds through all the writings of the New Testament; it is even present before anything is written down (cf. i Cor 15:3). Paul, Peter, John: everywhere the same light comes from the two little words.

What has happened? Light has for the first time penetrated into the closed dungeons of human and cosmic suffering and dying. Pain and death receive meaning. (...)

Continue reading: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2140/the_cross_for_us.aspx#.UVn9BVfCn_c

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