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The Wisdom of the Cross
The ways of the Lord are beyond man's understanding. Nowhere is this illustrated better than on the cross. Since the time of Christ and because of Him, the cross has taken on a new meaning. But in the Lord's own day, to be crucified meant not only to be punished and disgraced but to be as one cursed by God, In ordaining such a fate for the Messiah, divine wisdom seems to contradict every noble instinct of man. Yet the fact remains that, instead of trying to assuage the misgivings of His contemporaries and adapt Himself to their ideas of what holiness should be, Jesus deliberately opted for the will of His heavenly Father, knowing well what that will had ordained. As the bearer of a new creation, He was thus introducing a new wisdom among men. For long ages, men had expected that the Messiah would bring them a new revelation of God, but human wisdom could never have dreamt that this was the way it would come, or that, in this way, God would bring light out of the darkness.
At least three times before His death, Jesus took His disciplesaside in order to let them into the secret of the cross. Each time they failed to understand. Again, immediately after His resurrection, He explained to them the passages which referred to himself in every part of the scriptures and concluded: "Was the Messiah not bound to suffer thus before entering upon his glory?". The situation seems clear to us now. Yet, even after the event, we are slow to perceive the obvious. We have to admit that the wisdom of the cross is not lighting up the problems of our own time. It would be unfashionable theology now to say openly that the Christian, like Christ before him. is bound to suffer and thus enter upon his glory, though it is the accepted eaching of the Church that 'every apostle has gloried in the cross, by it every martyr has been crowned and every saint made holy' (St. Theodore).
The cross will always have a disturbing effect on people's lives, just as it had on Jew and Greek alike in the early days of Christianity. To many, at that time, the language of the cross just did not make sense, but to those on the way to salvation it became God's power to save. This is the wisdom that cleansed early Christian preaching of both glamour and cleverness. It broke down a mere human logic only to reveal the power of God. Saint Paul made no apology for it. He had not come with the cleverness of the clever, but was giving a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. He knew quite well what his audience wanted, and he was just as certain what to give them. "And so, while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks demand wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1)
The wisdom of the cross is the wisdom that comes from God. When, in the fullness of time, it was given to men. it cut across all their cherished dreams. The figures that went before in the Old Testament and which we think of as leading naturally to Christ would have remained unintelligible if the cross had not shed its light upon them. For the cross throws its light backward into the Old Testament as well as forward into the New. It is equally necessary for interpreting our Christian life today. So many new insights confront us at the present time that we like to think we are confused, and that now there is no clear Christian way of evaluating the world, We forget that, as Christians, we are a new creation of God, born into the light of Christ by our Baptism, and brought up under the wisdom of His cross. As Cardinal Newman said, the cross of Christ is our great lesson how to think and speak of this world, how to use it, what to expect from it. "His cross has put its value upon everything which we see, upon all fortunes, all advantages, all ranks, all dignities, all pleasures, It has set a price upon the excitements, the rivalries, the hopes, the fears, the desires, the efforts, the triumphs, of moral man....Thus, in the cross, and in Him who hung upon it, atl things meet, all things subserve it, all things need it. It is their centre and interpreter. For He was lifted upon it that he might draw all men to Himself.
Many find the language of the cross depressive and prefer, what they would call, a post-Conciliar resurrection spirituality more in keeping with our optimistic age. Yet if we examine the Gospel closely we shall see what resurrection spirituality did for the disciples. For them, Easter was not a season of empty joy that would abolish the cross forever. Instead, it enabled the light of the cross to shine in their minds and hearts where it could not have penetrated before. A permanent change was wrought deep within them so that afterwards they were able to rejoice heartily that they were found worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. Thus God's wisdom is proved right by its results (Matt. 11-19).