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Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Stumbling Block For Some and Folly For Others: The Holy Cross

by Lawrence Fox
We proclaim Christ – yes, Christ nailed to the cross: and though it is a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks, yet to those who have heard his call, Jews and Greek alike, he is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 23-24).

St. Paul tells the Church in Corinth that the cross of Jesus Christ is received in various ways by people depending upon theological and cultural foundations which may at times create openness or ignorance, and limit or enhance a person’s receptiveness to God’s Grace; “..If today you hear God’s voice harden not your heart..."Psalm 95.

St. Paul is identifying two such extremes of resistance to the message of the Cross: “God would not ask the just man to die” and “Justice is built from strength; Might makes right.” We still have variants of these philosophical views with us today which prevent many of us from seeing God’s Wisdom, Mercy, and Justice in the Cross of Jesus Christ. But as St. Paul writes: “God’s folly is greater than man’s wisdom.”

There is an even deeper mystery here, for the cross of Jesus Christ can be a stumbling block for all people under trial and persecution; in other words, we are all tempted by the desire for justice as was the Sanhedrin under Roman occupation. Trial and persecution can drive a wedge in a person’s heart preventing the soul from grasping the virtue of forgiveness, or hearing the message “love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”

Caiaphas the High Priest of the Sanhedrin said it best: You know nothing at all. Do you not realize that it is better for one man to die, then for a whole nation to perish (John 11:49).

But a soul receptive to God’s grace is able through trial and persecution to live the virtue of forgiveness, and hear the message “love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”

As St. James writes:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…Blessed is the man who perseveres under trail because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who live Him (James 1: 2, 12).

As for the issue of folly, what St. Paul seems to be saying is that the cross of Jesus Christ is incomprehensible for all people who live and think like the world and are under the influence of the devil; in other words, we are all tempted by status, success, efficiency, and the basis of indifference “to seek the common ground.”

“The fool has said in his heart there is no God,” so says the psalmist. Therefore humility, virtue, goodness, sacrifice, suffering, and laying down one’s life for his friends are ideas that seem foolish; and Christians whose manner of life gives Exaltation to the Cross of Jesus Christ are seen by the world as very foolish indeed.

Jesus before He died prophesied that when (He) the son of man is lifted up, He would draw all men to himself (John 12:32). Jesus Christ who said “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away,” must be drawing all men to himself and all men in some fashion are hearing his call. And yet as then and today, a remnant are standing beneath the cross with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Beloved Disciple, and the Women, while some of us are still dragging our feet, some of us are running away from the cross, and some tragically live in a culture which prevents them from knowing that Jesus actually died on the cross for their sins and on the third day rose from the dead.

Events in the Old Testament as “Types”

I want to consider three (3) events in the Old Testament which I will identity as “types” since they prefigure the Cross of Jesus Christ: 1) the sleep of Adam, 2) Moses and the Bronze Serpent, and 3) God commanding Moses to speak to the Rock. There are of course many more “types” in the Old Testament which prefigure the Cross of the Jesus Christ: 4) Isaac carrying the wood of sacrifice on his back while being led by his father Abraham up Mount Moriah, 5) the Passover in Egypt when God commanded the people of Israel to place the blood of the unblemished lamb on their door posts and the angel of death would pass-over, and 6) Elijah the Prophet stirring the bitter waters with his wooden staff and making the waters drinkable.

In the first event from Genesis we find the story of God casting a deep sleep upon Adam and drawing from his side a rib and forming Eve from the rib. In doing so, Eve became the companion (helpmate) and bride of Adam. Church Fathers identified this event as a “type” that prefigured Jesus’ very deep sleep (death) on the Cross and from his side came fourth water and blood (Baptism and Eucharist) which gives birth and life to His bride the Church. “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:33).

The expression of death and sleep were used synonymously in the Old Testament and by Jesus.

For example: And David slept with his fathers and was buried in the City of David (III Kings 1:52).

When the word came to Jesus that his friend Lazarus was dead, Jesus told his disciples that “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” The disciples took Jesus literally and said that if he was asleep let him sleep. Jesus explained to them plainly: “He is dead.”

In the Office of the Reading for September 14th, there is the writing by St. Andrew of Crete which states: If he had not been nailed, the streams of everlasting life would not have welled from his side, that is both blood and water, for the cleansing of the world; and the record of our sins would not have been canceled.

From the Book of Revelation, St. John sees the Lamb of God slain on the altar and under the altar the souls of those beheaded for the Word of God and the testimony which they maintained (Revelation 5: 9). As part of the temple sacrifice, the blood of the lambs and goats would pour forth and collect beneath the altar. The imagery here in the Book of Revelation is that the Blood of Christ (The Lamb of God) which poured forth from his side became the strength and life of the martyrs. In turn, the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the Church which is the Bride of Christ.

St. John captures this event in the Gospel with something of an exuberance (it is true it is true!!) so it reads to me. The soldiers therefore came and broke the leg of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus and those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

St. John is quoting twice from the Old Testament: Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10.
Church Fathers see in John’s advocacy 1) that Jesus truly died on the cross 2) that blood and water truly poured from his side 3) and that Jesus’ manner of death fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. (When the Gospel of John was written there was a false movement that attempted to latch on to Judaism and Christianity and that movement was Gnosticism. Various strains within Gnosticism denied the death of Jesus Christ.)

Run to Jesus on the Cross and in the Blessed Sacrament and let Him be the spouse of your Soul!

In the second event from Exodus we read the story of how the children of Israel grumbled against Moses about their wandering in the desert and their disgust with the food they received (manna in the morning and quail in the evening). God sends upon the children of Israel serpents which bite them and many of them become ill and die (Numbers 21:4-10). The children of Israel cry out to Moses and ask Moses to intercede for them. Moses intercedes and God commands Moses to fashion a brass serpent on a staff. God tells Moses that those who are bitten by a serpent and look up at the fashioned brass serpent will be healed; “and it came to pass then whenever a serpent bit a man, and he looked on the brazen serpent, he lived.”

It seems that this was not a onetime deal. Just as God fed the people of Israel with manna for 40 years in the desert, the brazen serpent staff served as a medical station for the people of Israel.

What an obscure event to say the least and apart from the Cross of Jesus Christ it would remain obscure. God seemingly commands Moses to violate the Second Commandment to fashion an image of a creature so that the people may look upon it and in doing so be healed. With a little bit of imagination, we can consider a person about to die from such an illness and being told to gaze at the fashioned serpent. That person would not simply look at the brass serpent but probably make a good act of contrition and a good act of faith and hope. In other words, God maintained his people throughout the journey with bread from heaven (manna) a “type” of the Eucharist, and the fashion serpent on the staff a “type” of the Exaltation of the Cross. But what else does the fashioned serpent represent: 1) the scandal of sin 2) God is able to bring life from death.

For the apostle states: “He who knew no sin was made to be sin for the life of the world.”

Look at Jesus on the Cross and in the Blessed Sacrament and be healed!

The third event is a little more tedious and rooted in both Jewish written and oral tradition. The people wandered in the desert and were in need of water. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take thy rod and call the assembly, you and your brother Aaron and speak to the rock before them and it shall bring forth it waters and you shall bring forth for them the water to drink out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and the cattle. And Moses took his rod that was before the Lord, as the Lord commanded. And Moses said to them “Hear me you disobedient ones: must we bring you water out of the rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice and much water came forth, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed me to sanctify me before the children of Israel, you shall not bring this congregation in the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:6-13).

St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians writes that this spiritual rock accompanied the people of Israel in the desert and that this rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10: 1-5). St. Paul in essence identifies this rock which was struck by Moses (two times) with the Person of Jesus Christ. Note: Throughout the Old Testament God is identified as Rock.

God remember, asked Moses to speak to the Rock so that water would come forth for the people. Moses in anger strikes the Rock (two times). St. Paul by identifying Jesus as the rock captures a new “type” in as much as the Rock is struck by Moses (who represents the Law); then again by the Sanhedrin representing the Law of Moses when Jesus -- the Rock -- was condemned to death. Remember it was the Sanhedrin that stated to Pilate: “We have a law, and according to that law he (Jesus) must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God” (John 19:7).

In the Book of Numbers, when the Rock is struck out of disbelief and strife, water flows forth to give life to the people of Israel. And again in the case of the cross, Jesus is struck out of disbelief and strife. And blood and water come forth redeeming the world; which we read from the Gospel of St. John.

Mark captures in his Gospel that when the Roman soldiers (out of disbelief and strife) were mocking Jesus, “again and again and struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him” Mark 15: 19. While “again and again” normatively means many, the (two times) use of the expression reflects Moses striking the Rock (two times) with his rod. Again we find God demonstrating his power to bring good from something evil. God asked Moses and Aaron to speak to the Rock. Mark shows the Romans mocking him and at the cross the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him amongst themselves (Mark 15:31).

Speak kindly to Jesus on the Cross and in the Blessed Sacrament and comfort Him!

The fourth event comes from the crucifixion itself. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother there and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby he said to his mother: “Woman here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time forward on, this disciple took her into his home (John 19:25).

Note: The four women standing beneath the cross represent an admissible and valid testimony in a juridical proceeding at that time. In other words, we do not only have St. John’s testimony to the events, we have the testimony of the four women.
St. John – the brother of St. James and son of Zebedee - already had a mother. Jesus as such is not conferring a task of care but confirming a relationship within the body of Christ between his mother and the beloved disciple, one that the disciple can have confidence in.

Origen writes: “A disciple cannot comprehend the mysteries of the Gospels unless they like St. John first lay their head at the breast of Jesus (reference to last supper) and take Mary into their home” (reference to the events at the cross) – (Quasten Volume II page 81).

St. John Chrysostom writes: “Have you seen the wonderful victory? Have you seen the splendid deeds of the cross? Shall I tell you something still more marvelous? Learn in what way the victory was gained and you will be even more astonished. For by the very means by which the devil had conquered by these Christ conquered him, he defeated him. Listen how it was done. A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve she had not yet known man, the tree was the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the death was Adams’ penalty. But behold again here was have a virgin and a tree and a death those symbols of defeat which become symbols of victory. For in the place of Eve there is Mary, in the place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there is the tree of the cross (the tree of life); in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ (Liturgy Volume III page 529).

In a number of references in the New Testament, you find Jesus speaking of His Mother in a way which seems abrupt or harsh to the modern listener. For example: “Who is my mother and my brother?” “Why were you searching for me everywhere?” "What is this matter to you and to me, my hour has not yet come?”, “Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”

Some mistakenly latch on these sayings in order to argue, that Jesus purposely intended to mitigate any solidarity between his disciples and Mary his Mother. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

God the Father revealed to Mary through the devout Simeon that her Child was destined to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel and would be a sign spoken against and that a sword would pierce her heart (soul) so that the hidden thoughts of many would be exposed (Luke 2:34). When God asked Mary to be the Mother of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (through the power of the Holy Spirit), God was asking Mary to share in Jesus’ whole Life, Death, and Resurrection. Jesus spent 30 years hidden in the house of Mary and Joseph and then 40 days in the desert as a means of preparing for the hour of His death.

Jesus was also preparing Mary for the hour of His death. This preparation we identify in the spiritual life as the Precautions.

God the Father revealed to Mary that a sword would pierce her heart so that the hidden thoughts of many would be exposed. I often wondered what the dynamics of that statement were: "hidden thoughts exposed." It was not until I came across the following three writings that I think I now understand.

The first is from the Book of Leviticus which describes in detail the various forms of sacrifice which are meant to atone for the various forms of sins: public, private, ignorance, deliberate, serious, and not so serious. In Leviticus 4:27-5:1 we read that an unblemished female lamb or goat be sacrificed for sins which were performed unwillingly and seemingly privately (not known). If the sacrifice of the male unblemished lamb or goat was a “type” of Christ, what was the “type” of the female unblemished lamb or goat?

The second is from the writings of Bishop Melito of Sardis (second century) about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is he who was flesh in a virgin, whose (bones) were not broken upon the tree, who in burial was not resolved into the earth, who rose from the dead and raised man from the grave below to the heights of the heavens. This is the lamb that was slain, this is the lamb that was silent, and this is he that was born of Mary the fair ewe (Quasten Volume 1 page 244). So the Bishop of Sardis sees Mary that fair ewe as a type in the Old Testament.

The third is from the writings of St. Paul to the Church in Corinth. Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all Comfort, who comforts us in all out troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort flows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort (2 Corinthians 1: 3-7).

While meditating on these three writings I came to understand that Mary was predestined and called by God the Father, preserved and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit, and prepared by God the Son to be the mother and source of comfort for the Mystical Members of His Body. When Mary stood beneath the cross of Jesus and the sword pierced into the heart of Jesus, her heart was pierced as well. And the great gift of Redemption which flowed from the Heart of Jesus entered her heart so that she too could share this gift with others who are not afraid to take Mary into their homes (hearts). Mary’s suffering and prayers, opens the hidden hearts of men so they see and Exalt in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Listen kindly to Jesus on the Cross and in the Blessed Sacrament as He calls you the Beloved Disciple to Take Mary as your Mother!

The Cross and Unbelief

When the disciples were with Jesus on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus said to them: “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (Mark 10:32-34).

I mentioned before that there was a false movement that attempted to latch on to Judaism and Christianity and that movement was Gnosticism. Various strains within Gnosticism denied the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is because Gnosticism rejected faith and the idea the eternal creator could have anything to do with the material creation. The material creation was the result of demiurges and one of the demiurges came to redeem mankind but not by flesh and blood and sacrifice, but by conveying a secret knowledge (gnosis). Gnostics generally believe that the “god” of the Old Testament was a demiurge and not a benevolent one. As such Gnosticism is anti-Jewish as well as anti-Christian. From the very beginning, the Christian Scriptures was the Old Testament; the difference being that the Old Testament was now interpreted based upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. With the writing of the epistles and then gospels, the Canon of Catholic Christian Scripture included both the Old and the New but never the Gnostic revelations.

Ignatius of Antioch third Bishop of Antioch (died 107 AD) wrote in his letter that the docetic (Gnostic) sect denied the death of the Lord Jesus. Their denial was based upon the belief that Jesus did not really have a mortal substance. Ignatius while being taken to Rome to suffer martyrdom for his faith in Jesus Christ writes the following to the Church at Philadelphia:

And suffer He did, verily and indeed; just as He did verily and indeed raise Himself again. His passion was no unreal illusion, as some skeptics aver who are all unreality themselves. For my own part, I know and believe that he was in the actual human flesh, even after his resurrection. When he appeared to Peter and his companions, he said to them, Take Hold and me, touch me, and see that I am no bodiless phantom. And they touched him then and there and believed for they had contact with the flesh and blood of reality with him
(Staniforth page 101).

Basilides (120 – 145 AD), a prominent Gnostic, writes that Jesus was not crucified but made Simon of Cyrene take His place: "Wherefore he himself did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man from Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him (Jesus) that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified through ignorance and error while Jesus himself received the form of Simon and standing by laughed at them" (Quasten page 258).

Such a tale promotes the concept that sorcery and deception are compatible with the nature and will of God.

St. Mark in his Gospel identifies this Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. The reference to a father in relation to sons, strongly suggests that the readers are aware of Alexander and Rufus (they are Christians). This is a possible case since we find St. Paul, when writing to Rome, mentions Rufus.

Gnostic influence is still with us in a very prominent manner through the faith of Islam.This Gnostic teaching that Jesus did not die on the cross made its way into the Qur’an: Qur’an 4:155-159: They denied the truth and uttered a monstrous falsehood against Mary. They declared: “we have put to death the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah. They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought that did. Those that disagreed about him were in doubt concerning his death, for they knew about it was sheer conjecture; they were not sure they had slain him. Allah lifted him up to his presence; He is mighty and wise. There is none among the people of the Book but will believe in him before his death; and on the day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them.

This is understandable since within Mohammad"s extended family there were Gnostics. His uncle was a Nestorian (Gnostic Christian). A number of Gnostic followers were force out of the Byzantine Empire as a result of secular leaders becoming enforcers over religious disputation. As such, a number of Gnostic followers headed further east into Arabia. As a result of this Gnostic teaching the cross of Jesus Christ is a scandal in Islam and an impediment to understanding the Gospels.

Look at Jesus on the Cross and His Mother beneath the Cross and ask them to convert the hearts of all men and especially the people of Islam so that one day all men may Exalt the Cross of Jesus Christ.

• New Testament: Zondervan Parallel New Testament & New International Version (NIV)
• Old Testament: Septuagint Sir Lancelot Brenton
• Maxwell Staniforth, Andrew Louth Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers
• Joahnnes Quasten: PATROLOGY Volume: 1 and Volume 2
• N. J. Dawood: Koran
• Hugh J. Schonfield

1 comment:

  1. Lawrence, I enjoyed your article. Very informative, especially the information about Gnosticism and Islam. We need to shed the light of day more and more on Islam so that people will realize that it is a cult that stole bits of this and that from Judaism, Christianity, and other religions of the day. Phoebe