St Francis Q&A

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Cross: "the power of God"

Stations of the Cross, tonight, 7 p.m. with Eucharistic Adoration to follow. All are invited!!
Anon posed the following questions: “In Jesus' treatment of the apostles, didn't He hold back sometimes and only gradually show them who He was because only in that way could they accept it? Like He knew that in their humanity they would be limited in their ability to comprehend what they were coming to and so He had to pace them in a way. He knew that they would struggle with unbelief. If this is true (I'm no scripture scholar), does it have relevance for us thousands of years later? Is the waiting we endure maybe part of His plan for our own good? And isn't it different for different people?”

Yes, Anon, Jesus gradually revealed himself and the kingdom to the Apostles. The more common question, though, concerns the times when Jesus tells the Apostles not to reveal certain things to others. And, it involves the reason you have provided: “He knew that they would struggle with unbelief”. This Sunday’s Gospel presents such a situation. After the event of the Transfiguration in Matthew’s Gospel (17:1-9), “Jesus charged them, ‘Do not tell the vision to anyoneuntil the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’”

I was reading commentary from the Fathers of the Church about this passage which suggested that Jesus did this because He knew that 1) some people wouldn’t believe the story of the Transfiguration and 2) some people would have found the Cross a huge stumbling block after an event like the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is a revelation from the Father of who Jesus is which was glorious both in sight (“his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light”) and sound (“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”). The Apostles had such a strong sense of the Sacred at that moment that they “fell prostrate and were very much afraid”.

Now, if they communicated well to others what they had seen and heard with the Transfiguration, there still would have been doubters. But, there also would have been people who believed it and had a real sense of the glorious nature of Jesus. What would have been the reaction of this latter group when they witnessed Christ’s Passion and Death? They would have been very troubled by seeing such a weak and earthly vision of Jesus after hearing about such a powerful and heavenly vision of Him. They might have walked away from Calvary with such despair that they might not have been open to believing in the Resurrection. (They might have thought along the lines of, “fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on you”.) The Resurrection is necessary to understand the Cross. That is why Jesus tells the Apostles, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Cross can be a stumbling block even for us who know the full story. We know that Jesus conquered death through his Resurrection. We know that He won victory over sin by becoming sin on the Cross. We know that His sacrifice on the Cross was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. And yet, we can be like those for whom “the message of the Cross is foolishness”, as St Paul writes in 1 Cor 1:18. We do this whenever we seriously question why God allowed His own Son to suffer or why He allows any of us to suffer (most times when people ask me why did so-and-so have to suffer, I point to a crucifix, and ask why did He have to suffer). As we bear our “share of hardship for the gospel” (2 Tim 1:8) during Lent, we hope to grow in our understanding of and love for the Cross by seeing it as “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).


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