This is one in a series of Lenten reflections.
By Fr. Steve Gavit
Special to The Catholic Weekly
French anthropologist René Girard has done the most extensive work on the cross from an anthropological standpoint and he says it is the most important moral event in history.
Everything we do centers around the cross. It is something we are still absorbing through the centuries. We don’t quite have the full meaning of it yet, but we are slowly getting it. For example: It took 1,800 years to finally see slavery was wrong. It took 2,000 years before the equality of the sexes happened with respect to voting. It took 2,000 years before any pope (John Paul II) finally spoke out and said capital punishment is wrong.
The cross is not something we get in the head; we just know it in the gut. When Mel Gibson’s movie came out a few years ago, “The Passion of the Christ,” there was a lot of focus on the historical event of Jesus’ death. The question was raised in a Time magazine article at that time; “Why did Jesus die?” Time asked a lot of people that question, but the one person who got it in the gut the best was an African American teenage girl from Detroit who witnessed her mother die violently. She said, “Jesus gave dignity to my mom’s death.” Now that is someone who understands the cross in her gut.
On Palm Sunday we will be reading through Mark’s account of the passion. I love Mark and he is the best when it comes to the cross. He talks about those who are on the inside and those who are on the outside. To you is given the secret of the kingdom of God and to those on the outside is given a riddle.
In Mark, there is no exotic secret about the cross. If you get it, everything makes sense. The mystery of love makes sense. The mystery of suffering makes sense.
When Mark gets to the part where Peter betrays Jesus and the cock crows, Peter immediately goes outside. He was inside, now he is outside. When we sin, we step outside and nothing makes sense. When we stand inside, everything makes sense, even the cross. Peter experienced the grip of sin and he went outside. He doesn’t stay outside. That is what is great about the experience of the cross. It brings us back inside where things make sense again.
I want us to understand something very significant here. At the very moment the cock crows, Jesus looks at Peter. Is it a look of disappointment? No. It is a look of love. Even when we step outside and enter the world of sin, Jesus always looks upon us with love.
Look as well at the story of the woman caught in adultery. Everyone is looking at her, but Jesus. Jesus is looking at the ground. When everyone leaves the scene having dropped their stone, Jesus stands and looks at her. Why? Because all the eyes that stared at the woman were looks of hate and revenge. Jesus only sees us with eyes of love. He saw Peter with eyes of love and He sees us with eyes of love as well.
The most powerful liturgical event we will experience in the course of the liturgical year is when we read the Passion Gospel on Palm Sunday. We get to the part where
Jesus dies and we kneel together as a community. At that moment in history, the curtain of the sanctuary is torn in two from top to bottom. It was that curtain in the temple that separated us from seeing God. The very heart of the sanctuary was seen as the place where God dwelt. With the death of Jesus on the cross, we get a look into the heart of God and we like what we see. God cannot not be love and God cannot not love us. That is what we see. We see the love of God in radiant splendor.
The cross has the power to change our lives if we get it in the gut. There are three words for power in the New Testament. Two of those words have an English equivalent and one does not. One means energy or the power of the muscle.
Another means dynamic or the power that might come from a rock star. The third one is exousia. There is no English equivalent, but what it means is this: Power that comes from being vulnerable, like a baby. If you put the following three people together, Arnold Schwarzenegger (muscle power), Lady Gaga (rock star power) or a baby, who has the most power? The baby, because the baby has the power to change lives.
God always comes into the world, not to overpower us, but to underwhelm us. Why doesn’t God come to us as the terminator who is morally superior with His violence? If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross now. If Hollywood wrote the script for that scene, God would most certainly come down and terminate the Roman army. God truly underwhelms us when it comes to the cross. That is why it is something we have to know in our gut.
Fr. Steve Gavit is pastor of St. Mary Church in Hemlock, chaplain of Nouvel Catholic Central High School and chaplain of Saginaw Valley State University.