Nothing in history has transformed its nature in a moment like the cross. In the past it was an instrument for carrying out the most cruel form of punishment. But a single act rewrote the history of those two pieces of wood. Since then the cross has been a sign of contradiction just like the man whose death on it changed its fate forever. He was ‘to be a sign that will be opposed’ (Lk 2:34).Those who could not accept Jesus Christ, could not accept his cross as well.
‘For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Cor 1:18). Jesus has left us only one message and it is the message of the cross. As human beings we cannot be indifferent to the message of the cross. We should take an unambiguous stand. Either accept it or reject it. Those who accepted it became Christians and those who rejected it became their persecutors.
For those who accepted the truth of the cross, it was the ultimate reality; the ladder leading them to eternal glory! They proclaimed this truth to everybody. ‘When Jews demanded signs and Greeks desired wisdom’ (1Cor 1:22), they opted for a different path. They ‘proclaimed Christ crucified’ (1 Cor 1:23) fully knowing that it was going to be ‘a stumbling block to their own people and foolishness to the gentiles’ (1 Cor 1:23).
In fact they stopped their search for wisdom at the foot of the cross. When they were privy to the ultimate truth that was revealed in the cross, they voluntarily withdrew their minds from the outer world so as to avoid anything else that would distract their thoughts from the truth they realized. Paul joyfully writes; ‘For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). To a person who identified himself with Christ (I have been crucified with Christ- Gal 2:19) it was the natural response to the arguments raised by the enemies of gospel message. Paul had many things to his credit to be proud of. But he chose only one thing, the cross of Lord Jesus Christ. It has been his earnest prayer that he should never be tempted to take pride in anything else. ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Gal 6:14).
Here we get the answer to all questions about the message of the cross. Previously it was an instrument of torture for a single person. Now the cross has transcended into an instrument capable of holding not one, but two at a time; On the cross, man stands crucified against the world and the world stands crucified against man! When Simeon told Joseph and Mary at the temple that Jesus was going to be a sign that will be opposed, he envisioned a world that would stand against the cross, and those men and women who would, under the protection of the cross, dare to challenge the world. Those few who dared to challenge the world were called ’the people who have been turning the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6).
Yes, there is only one thing that is strong enough to turn our planet upside down and it is the cross of Jesus Christ. Why should we be ashamed of proclaiming our affection and love towards it?
Yet we see many around us who live as enemies of the cross. It has been a perennial issue, indeed. ‘For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things’ (Phil. 3:18-19). But for those whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), it is a different story. They imitate their Master who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).
While giving a discourse about his second coming Jesus told his disciples that his sign will appear in heaven as a prelude to his glorious return. He added that at the sight of this sign, people will mourn! ‘Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (Mt 24:30). Theologians agree that the sign of the Son of Man mentioned here is the sign of the cross.
Why should the tribes mourn at the sight of a cross? Because they hated it till that moment. We do not belong to any of those tribes that are destined to mourn on that eventful day. Because we know the cross and love it. We know the person who sacrificed his life on the cross as a burnt offering for our sins. We are redeemed by his precious blood. His sacrifice being for the whole humankind, it is our duty as well to pray for those who deride the cross now, so that one day they may see the light emanating from the cross and embrace the crucified Lord. Our Father in heaven does not want even a single soul to be lost. Our prayers should be for the whole world to unite in front of the cross before it is too late for them.
To be near the cross of Jesus was a special privilege accorded to a selected few. Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, and of course the Apostle who witnessed Jesus commending his spirit into the hands of the Father (Jn 19:25).
But the call to take up the cross is universal. Nobody who wants to follow Jesus is exempted from carrying it. ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mt 16:24). It is precisely here that the cross throws a challenge at us. To take it up or to denounce it. There is no middle path and our answer decides our destiny.
Let us pray for the grace to accept our crosses without complaining.