“When I Look at the Cross” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, March 3, 2024

Earlier in Lent, I said that the Spirit of God brings us into the desert of Lent to answer one question, which is actually two questions in one, namely:  Is God with us totally or not, and are we with God totally or not? Now, today, we are shown that there is a second question that we are brought into Lent to answer: who is in charge of our life, who’s in control: God or ourselves, or something or someone else? This, like the first question, is crucial for the future destiny of our lives. Our second reading makes a clear distinction between “those who are perishing” and “those who are being saved”. That’s it: a clear choice. You are either on the way to heaven, or on the way to hell. There is no neutral destination. And the choice comes down to either receiving the message about the Cross, or not. 

And what is the message of the Cross? 

It is simply this, and St Paul puts it succinctly in our second reading today. “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness of stronger than human strength”. Are we relying on our own wisdom and strength for our salvation, or on God’s? There is a beautiful song by Geoffrey Birtill, called “When I look at the blood”.  The lyrics of the song are so powerful and so true:

When I look at the blood

All I see is love, love, love

When I stop at the cross

I can see the love of God

But I can’t see competition

I can’t see hierarchy

I can’t see pride or prejudice

Or the abuse of authority,

I can’t see lust for power

I can’t see manipulation

I can’t see rage or anger 

Or selfish ambition

I can’t see unforgiveness

I can’t see hate or envy

I can’t see stupid fighting

Or bitterness or jealousy

I can’t see empire building

I can’t see self-importance

I can’t see back stabbing

Or vanity or arrogance

But instead I see surrender, sacrifice, 

Salvation, humility,

Righteousness, faithfulness

Grace, forgiveness

Love, love, love, love, love, love.

When I stop at the cross

I can see the love of God

A friend of mine, who used to work on a building site, and is a fervent Catholic, related to me once what a work colleague said to him. The Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ” had just been released at the time, and my friend’s colleague told him that he had gone to see it, and didn’t get it, because it just seemed to be about some guy being beaten up and killed. He had no faith background, or knowledge of the Bible, and completely missed the import of the words from the prophet Isaiah which introduces the movie: “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53: 5). As Christians, we believe that this is a prophecy about the death Jesus experienced, and the meaning of that death. The cross of Christ, the blood of Jesus, which to the eye of the unbeliever, seems to be a useless and pathetic waste, is for us as believers charged with significance.

The cross shows up, in its surrender, sacrifice, humility, grace and forgiveness, and in the heart of love which motivated such surrender and sacrifice, it shows up all that is corrupt and ruinous about the sinful heart of man- all our pride, prejudice, abuse, lust for power, manipulation, rage, anger, selfish ambition, unforgiveness, hate, envy, stupid fighting, bitterness or jealousy, self-importance, back stabbing, vanity and arrogance. All these things, Jesus says in the gospels, comes from within the human heart and defile a person (cf Mark 7: 20-23). Jesus, at the cross, shows us another way to go, a way that seems foolish and weak and pathetic to a person imbued with the spirit of the world, but to us, who are called to imitate Christ, it shows us, in the words of our second reading, “the power of God and the wisdom of God”.

So, we face a choice, brothers and sisters, to live according to the world, the flesh and the devil, or to live according to the word, the will and the Spirit of God. And Lent is the time and occasion when we live out that choice, moment by moment, day by day, as we make our spiritual journey through this season. Every moment, every day, presents us with a choice to act out of selfishness, envy, pride, lust, unforgiveness, rage, hatred, selfish ambition, or to act out of surrender, sacrifice, humility, righteousness, faithfulness, grace, forgiveness, which are all summed up in the single word “LOVE”. To live according to the former, is to declare that WE are in charge of the direction of our lives, we are the ones in control. To live according to the latter is to declare that GOD is the one in charge of our lives, because only through the grace of God’s grace in Christ, demonstrated on the cross for all time, can we live such a life. The irony is that, if we choose to live as if we are the ones in control of our lives, we are fooling ourselves. In reality, we are living under the control of the devil, who works through the world and the flesh, and who does not share power.

So which way will you choose, brothers and sisters: the way of the cross, which seems folly and weakness to those who are perishing, but is really the way to heaven, for those who believe in its power and wisdom. Or the way of self, which seems strength and wisdom to those who are caught up in the values of the world, but is really the way to hell? Which will you choose, brothers and sisters, this Lent, which way will I?