New Testament and Suffering – Part II

7. The Cross of Christ:

a) St. Paul: Paul brings out the significance of the Cross of Christ which is a scandal, a folly, the weakness of God and the foolishness of God, yet is stronger and wiser than men (1 Cor 1: 17 – 2: 16). Further, in the Philippians hymn (Phil 2: 6-11) the obedience of the Cross is the reason for Christians to follow the same (Phil 2: 1-5). For Paul, Christ’s Cross and resurrection provide the norm for Christian existence by creating a new existence.

b) Mark: The Cross is the culmination of Jesus’ whole life and revelation. The structure of the Gospel is as follows: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gives us two titles. We then have the healings, exorcisms, conquest and challenges, confrontations. Then we come to the core of the Gospel, which is the Confession of Peter (Mk 8: 29) immediately followed by the Passion announcements and the failure of the disciples to understand the suffering predicted. This is followed by the passion, which as account of His suffering, which includes rejection by the people, betrayed, forsaken by all, calumniated, maltreated, and died alone (Mk 15: 34 “My God, my God…”). The key moment is the acclamation of the centurion, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” This is a final acknowledgement and decision on the Cross.
Therefore, the revelation of God in historical humanity marked the point of decision. The Cross for those called to abandon their own attempts at self-justification and self-preservation in order to follow Christ.

c) Luke: The stress is on a meek and merciful condescension of God in Christ who has come to heal, forgive and bring peace. Therefore, the Cross is not a rupture but the ultimate confirmation of Jesus’ love for all and for the Father. In the midst of His own suffering Jesus showed constant CONCERN for others: avoiding violence (Lk 22: 51); forgiving Peter (Lk 22: 11); consoling the women of Jerusalem (Lk 23: 28-31); praying for pardon (Lk 22: 34); the promise of paradise to the thief (Lk 23: 43); joining relations between Herod and Pilate (Lk 23: 12). His end, was a union with the Father, a perfect prayer (Lk 23: 46). Christ commissioned this disciples to ‘preach repentance and forgiveness in His name to all (Lk 24: 47).
There are certain common aspects in Mark and Luke: The tension between weakness and omnipresence, between humility and judgement. There are also differences: In Mark, there is the opposition – decision – abandonment of Jesus and suffering. In Luke, the picture is more of a gentle Jesus.

d) Matthew: For Matthew, the Cross is the historical point of judgment dividing the old from the new Israel. The Son of God went his way to the Cross with full awareness and authority but he did this in complete agreement with his Father’s Will, so that the Scriptures may be fulfilled (Mt 26: 39, 42, 54, 56). The Son of God predicts his future rejection (Mt 21: 33-44); he is more than the son of David (Mt 22: 41-45); and the rejection of the Son of God is self-rejection for the Jews (Mt 21: 41-44). He is the King of the Jews. These are the two titles that occur in his passion (Mt 26: 63, 68; 27: 11, 17, 22, 29, 37, 42). The Jews call innocent blood on themselves (Mt 26: 21-25; 27: 3-10). The silence of Jesus before the high priest regarding him being the Christ and the Son of God (Mt 26: 63ff) is in comparison of Psalm 22. At his death the old order is shaken; the temple veil, the earthquake, the tombs of the dead, all these anticipate the general resurrection, which is the new order.
The Cross is not the final catastrophe, but only a necessary way-station willed by God in Jesus’ authoritative progress through time. The rejection of the Jews is contrasted with the acceptance of the new People of God, the Church (Mt 21: 41-43; 8: 11ff). Peter is the rock (Mt 16: 17-19; 21: 42) is the symbol of the new authority, not the temple any more. The return of the Son of Man (Mt 16: 13-16) is to punish or reward, the rejection or the acceptance of Christ and his Church (Mt 10: 32ff; 18: 15-17; 24: 29-31; 25: 3-46).

e) John: The Cross is God’s eternal love for the world. It is the moment of judgment and for Christians it is the event of redemption.
One notes a complex theology: There is the hatred of the Jews because of his healings on the Sabbath, blasphemy of calling God Father (Jn 18: 29; 19: 12-16). In great freedom Jesus confronts his death: He predicts his betrayal, and almost urges Judas to go (Jn 13: 21-27). In the garden he confronts the soldiers (Jn 18: 3-11). He is the ‘I Am’. Behind his self-assurance stood his Father (Jn 18: 11), his unity of love ad obedience (Jn 3: 34; 5: 18; 6: 38; 8: 28; 14: 10), an ontological unity with the Father (Jn 10: 17).
As the grain dies in order to bear fruit (Jn 12: 24-27), the crucifixion is the hour of Christ’s glorification.
The lifting up and elevation of the Son of Man, which is the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and enthronement all take place in the one moment, on the Cross (Jn 14: 13; 15: 8; 17: 1-4, 24). The church founding too takes place at the same moment in the accomplishment on the Cross …“I thirst… it is consummated” (Jn 19: 25-30).
The same love of God that motivated the sending of the Son even to the Cross, that event which manifested the greatness of love (Jn 3: 16ff; 13: 1ff; 15: 13) continues in the believers who have become God’s children by faith in Christ (Jn 1: 12ff; 13: 34ff; 15: 12, 17).
The supreme manifestation of love also functions as judgement. Even as Jesus went willingly to the Cross, hatred and sin drove him to it. Therefore, through Jesus’ acceptance of the ignominy of the Cross, the ruler of this world and all his followers were condemned for preferring darkness to light (Jn 3: 18ff; 19: 39ff; 12: 31; 16: 8-11).

8. Suffering and the Mystery of God’s Presence:

Love motivates us to a concrete decision (Jn 3: 18). God sends his son, in love. The presence of Emmanuel in history is proof of this love (Mt 12: 1-6). Christ’s presence is public, for all to see and hear it is the mystery of God breaking through the crucified humanity of Christ.
Job experienced God as the mysterious, creative power dominating good and evil. Yet, the extend of God’s mastery over suffering and evil remained beyond Job. In taking flesh, Christ hid the effulgence of the Father’s glory that HE is (Mk 9: 1-8; Heb 1: 3).
Mark 15: 33-37 – The total abandonment on the cross shows God’s horror of sin which Jesus carried, he who was utterly sinless and spent his whole life doing good in full obedience to the Father’s will (Heb 4: 15; Acts 2: 22; 10: 38), experienced in his innocence an abandonment more heart rending than Job’s and more than that of the inspired author of the suffering servant songs in Deutro-Isaiah.
In a starting paradox, out of solidarity with sinful humanity, Jesus took upon himself the utmost consequence of sin, total alienation and abandonment, in order that by his unjust condemnation to death others might receive the justice of God, his very life, the life of the one who is justice (1 Cor 1: 30), and so become partakers of the divine nature (Rom 3: 22; Jn 3: 15ff). At the same time Christ reconciled the world to God, he brought peace and reconciliation to us by destroying the walls of division that the sin of Adam and Eve had originally created (Eph 2: 11-22; Gal 3: 28).
Ultimately, the divine mystery consists in love’s overflowing plenitude rendered on the cross o touch the hearts of all in order that when “Christ dwells in your hearts through faith …” (Eph 3: 17-21).
It is not a mystery of unlimited force that conquered sin and death and before which the Christian is to be humbled and silenced (as Job and Quoleth were). Rather, the mystery of self-giving love that reveals the open heart of God forces man to surrender the posture of sapiential observer and judge (1 Cor 1: 18 – 2: 16).
By loving Christ, the believer has entered the very heart of love and there in silent words before the mystery of mysteries – he understands its dimensions as those of infinite love – for God’s love – and his silence melts into grateful praise and joyful ardour of the God too vast for the human head and heart – who became man.

9. The ultimate meaning of Christian Suffering:

Through the cross of Christ, for the believer, suffering becomes an invitation to share in Christ’s redemptive love, the very life of God himself, and by offering themselves in sacrifice for God and their fellow Christians, to grow in love and contribute to the growth of the whole body of Christ.
Luke 9: 23 – This is an everyday task (Eph 2: 22ff; 4: 16; Col 2: 19).
Christians find comfort from Christ in their affliction (2 Cor 1: 3-7).
Christians rejoice after punishment for having being found worthy to suffer dishonour (Acts 5: 41).
Christians desire to share Christ’s suffering, a grace to suffer for Christ (Phil 1: 29; 3: 8-10).
Christians rejoice in the midst of tribulations (Rom 5: 3; 2 Cor 6: 8-10; Jam 1: 2-4).
This is madness in the eyes of the world. Yet, Matthew 5: 3-12, the beatitudes are being realised. The final day, sorrow will be comforted (Rev 7: 16f). In the meantime, in the joy of suffering Christians, a valid testimony to the eschatology character of Christ’s message is given and the Kingdom of God is realised anticipated already upon earth. Therefore, suffering, both Christ’s and the Christian’s have become the means of ‘manifesting God’s work’ and ‘glorifying the Son and the Father’ (Jn 9: 3; 11: 4; 12: 27b).

In conclusion, in the New Testament, suffering reflects God’s punishment only as long as we remain under his wrath by rejecting his profound mercy in Christ (Rom 1: 18 – 2: 11; Col 3: 5-17; Eph 1: 1-10). His mercy is admittedly free, for it is the burning of a love that forces us to abandon self-justification, to confess our sins and to accept salvation as a pure gift, letting him become all in us and we receive all in him.
The sufferings that come our way are revealed as invitations to love.

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