The Cross, the consequence of fidelity
GOD’S WORD TODAY - Manoling V. Francisco (The Philippine Star) - March 18, 2018 - 12:00am

Theology of the cross. The Gospel of John proclaims, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Several similar New Testament passages give meaning to the crucifixion of Jesus by tracing it to the Father’s salvific plans for the world. Any attempt to interrelate these three elements – God the Father’s will, Jesus’ death on the cross and its impact on humanity and history – may be called a theology of the cross.

Just as every text – a cell phone message or a biblical verse – is open to multiple interpretations, so is every experience or event.  Jesus’ death on the cross is thus open to multiple interpretations or can yield numerous theologies of the cross, either profound or distorted.

A predominant theology of the cross proposes that God the Father from all eternity willed Jesus’ death in order to save us. Such may sound orthodox or correct but is actually misleading, because the cause of Jesus’ death is attributed to God the Father. Despite his desire to redeem humanity, God the Father is construed as a cruel God who designs from all eternity the suffering and death of his Son, which is contrary to the over-all revelation of God in the Bible.

Jesus’ mission. In Luke 4 the disciples of Jesus inform him that many people from Capernaum were waiting for him to continue to preach and heal their sick. He replied, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Lk. 4:43)

Evidently Jesus’ mission was not to die on the cross, but to proclaim and embody God’s kingdom of inclusive love, justice and mercy. Jesus’ death on the cross was not willed by the Father but orchestrated by the religious and political leaders of his time. Jesus’ death was not planned from all eternity by the Father, but the consequence of his fidelity to his mission and convictions.

Christian spirituality. Understanding Jesus’ death as the consequence of his fidelity to his mission from the Father has important repercussions on Christian spirituality. Interpreting his death as intended by the Father can lead us to think that our share of misery and suffering is willed by God. We console ourselves by adding that God is merely testing our faith or that God would not allow us to suffer beyond our capacity.

These are dangerous spiritual sayings because they instil in us an image of a God who at times designs and desires our suffering. They may also condition us to passively embrace our suffering – especially those caused by human oppression or injustice – as part of God’s will or plans for us.

On the other hand, understanding Jesus’ death as the consequence of his fidelity to his mission and steadfastness in the face of opposition and persecution can spur us to strive, through the aid of grace definitely, to be more faithful to our vocation and mission in life and to oppose suffering that is due to moral evil.

Suffering per se is not a good that we aspire for; however, suffering due to love and fidelity is virtuous, conforms and unites us to Christ on the cross. Suffering is not a virtue in itself, but why we suffer and how we suffer can be virtuous.

As we commemorate Holy Week let us ponder over God’s infinite love for us expressed in Jesus’ willingness to die for his cause and for us. At the same time let us be more critical and distinguish between suffering that is due to sin and evil and suffering that is the outcome of love and faithfulness. Finally let us beg for the grace to be faithful to God and our mission in life notwithstanding the consequences, as Jesus remained faithful to his mission till the end.

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