Homilie – April 1, 2012
BEGINNING PASSION WEEK
April 1, 2012
The image of the crucified Christ dominates this church. The cross
surmounts every Catholic Church, and the cross identifies all Christian
assemblies. Today we enter Holy Week, for with Palm Sunday we recall
the sufferings of Jesus Christ, and these sufferings culminate on Calvary
with the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior.
Theologians have offered ways in which we can explain and understand
how it occurred that the Second Person of the Trinity became human,
lived among us, and finally died for us in the most awful agony of the
cross. I offer one of these ways in which to explain the crucifixion of
Jesus Christ winning eternal life for us. Some theologians sum up this by
using the expression, “The Law of the Cross.”
By our sin, we humans have brought death on ourselves. Saint Paul
recognizes that all of us are subject to sin: “All of us once lived among
them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the
impulses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest [of
humans]” (Ephesians 2:3). “Therefore, just as through one person sin
entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all,
inasmuch as all sinned….” (Romans 5:12).
As Christians, we learn that in some way, Christ has overcome sin. But
we are not always clear in our own mind how it happens that by His
death Christ conquers sin. What might be a manner of explaining this
“law of the cross”?
Contrary to what we might imagine or expect, Christ in His suffering did
not destroy evil by an exercise of divine power. In fact, we recall that in
Gethsemane, in the Garden of Olives, Christ prayed that His suffering
might pass away, might simply be put aside: “Father, if you are willing,
take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke
22:42). Doesn’t that prayer sound so much like our own? However, that
prayer did not succeed, did not obviate the suffering that would in an
hour come upon Christ.
Even when Christ was on the cross, “rulers, meanwhile, sneered at
[Jesus] and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the
chosen one, the Messiah of God…. [The soldiers] called out, ‘If you are
King of the Jews, save yourself.’” “Now one of the criminals hanging
there reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and
us’” (Luke 23:35-37, 39).
Why not? Why did the God-Man not do away with the cup of suffering?
Why did Jesus on the cross not end His terrible pain, not mock those
who mocked Him by suddenly, in an exercise of divine power, releasing
Himself from the nails that fastened Him to the gibbet? Why not? What
says the law of the cross?
The Son of God became man, suffered, died, and rose from the dead
because the divine wisdom and divine goodness ordained and willed to
change—to convert—evil into good. God chose not to do away with
evil. God chose to change evil into good. This is the law of the cross.
At the wedding feast in Cana, “Jesus told [the servers], ‘Fill the jars with
water.’ So [the servers] filled them to the brim. Then he told them,
‘Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.’ So they took it.”
And the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. Jesus did this
as the beginning of His signs (John 2:1-11). In this incident, we realize a
dramatic change, a true converting of water into a substance quite
different, quite other.
At the Last Supper, at Mass today, the Lord changes the bread into the
body of Christ. Our human ability is limited to refining as we refine oil
into gasoline for our autos. Also, we can change water into steam or into
ice. And we can move voice into text.
In our Lord’s sufferings, a real change occurs. Our Lord Jesus Christ
changes evil into good. Christ does not remove—do away with—evil by
His mighty power, but in undergoing the evil, Christ transforms the evil
into good. When Jesus receives a slap (Matthew 26:67-68) or a stinging
scourge (Mark 15:15), Jesus does not count it against the perpetrator,
does not lay it up against the perpetrator as we count up charges against
a criminal (“Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”) (Luke
23:34). Jesus receives the evil blow and changes the evil intent to
acceptance in accord to God’s will.
Furthermore, the God-Man does not deserve such a blow; He has done
no evil. St. Paul emphasizes the difference between Adam and Jesus:
“For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life”
(I Cor. 15:22). Resurrection and grace in Christ follow sin and death in
Adam. This succession of events, however, is not simply a leap into a
different realm. Because Jesus dies, He therefore rises. Because Jesus
lays down His life, He therefore takes it up (John 10:17). Because of
Jesus being obedient unto death, God exalts Him and gives Him a name
above every name (Phil. 2:9 ff.).
Though Jesus did not have any actual or original guilt, though Jesus did
not take our guilt on Himself, Jesus did suffer punishment for our sins,
and thereby did transform the evil punishment of sin into a good, into
the total sacrifice to God. Jesus the guiltless offers Himself a total
oblation to God. In God’s wisdom and goodness, the law of the cross
achieves perfection for Christ. Christ is the perfect human, a human
oblation to the Father.
You and I share in that perfection. Amen.