The foolishness of the cross

Dear listeners, is it sensible to believe in Jesus Christ? We have to ask ourselves this question, because the world in which we live often seems to us without mercy, without hope and without a future: corruption, crime, cowardice and indifference, pretence and prevarications, poverty and violence are the daily lot of many people on our planet. Where is God, one could ask; how can one believe that salvation exists when everything that we see around us, on the contrary, seems to bear witness to the moral and social disintegration of this world. Admittedly, one day follows the next, the sun still shines and the grass continues to grow, children are born and people still write poems, or compose love songs, but do all these things really mean something? Life rather seems to resemble a recurrent circle, which will, without a doubt, end one day, but one to which we are randomly subjected and whose weight we must bear to the best of our ability until the end of our own lives. Many religions around the world have this general idea: we are caught in a relentless cycle of adversity, we can only escape it in death, let us therefore right now, kill all desires and enthusiasm, because it does not serve a purpose. Wisdom is to create a vacuum in oneself, and peace is only obtained at this cost. Other religions, called vitalist or animist, think that they will find an answer to the question of death by invoking all sorts of spirits which they believe can be discerned behind the different elements of nature (water, fire, trees etc.). The invocation of these natural forces can conjure up evil forces or even curse him or her that one wants to destroy. Admittedly, for these religions as well as the others, death is a constant horizon, but by invoking these spirits, one can spark off the rebirth of life, and surpass death by favouring fertility and procreation. All this is done through appropriate rituals. Yes, God is up there somewhere, but one can not have direct access to him, and therefore, to get help, one must invoke the chain of spirits found on the ladder which separates man from God.

But today, a new nebulous religion, the New Age, preaches something else, based on oriental religions: we must cease to see God as being transcendent, that is, totally separated from his creatures in his being, totally different and eternal. One should rather see God in ourselves and in the entire physical and material reality surrounding us; one must see him in nature, in the cosmos, and find peace living in harmony with the cosmos. All in all, the entire universe is God incarnate, the world in itself is the expression of God, and one should not look for him elsewhere. Discover yourself therefore as a fragment of God, and you would seize the sense of your destiny.

In the middle of all these beliefs, the person of Jesus Christ offers a striking contrast: here is the Son of man, as he calls himself, who declares to be the light of the world, one with the Father, born from God without fault or stain, accomplishing the works of God. One would think that such a person would present himself to the world in a stunning way, surrounded by a splendid entourage, dressed in ceremonial regalia, decorated with unusual ornaments. After all, it is well known that he is a descendent of David, the glorious king of Israel . But no! In total contrast, Jesus presents himself to the world without grandeur, without any thing on the outside that could seduce the masses. He mixes with the humble, he walks with common people, he sleeps uncomfortably, he travels on foot, eats the ordinary food of the poor and knows all the discomforts of a life without fixed lodgings. He frequents people who are said to be religious as well as those whose lives leave much to be desired on a moral level. What reason would one have to accept this Jesus as master and saviour? Why should we follow his teachings? Would it not be better to be on the side of the strong, powerful, rich or influential people? And more, did he leave books or treatises, to guide us in his doctrine? Not even that. Only what his contemporaries have written on his behalf about him, has been left for us. Unlike Mohammed, he did not conquer cities and nations with the force of arms, he did not exercise any political domination over people, and yet… And yet his teaching captivated masses,  he had followers everywhere, it was known that he had the power to cure all sorts of diseases, that is the reason why they brought whoever suffered from whichever sickness to him: the blind, lame, lepers, paralytics, possessed. He cured them without asking anything for himself, without demanding payment, but insisted only that the glory be given to God alone, and emphasised that he did not only have the power to cure physical maladies, but also to forgive sins, a power which was considered an exclusively divine prerogative by the Jews. His teachings captivated, but also disgusted the traditionalists, those who thought they could enclose the totality of the divine Revelation in their ritualistic practices, those who could not conceive that the Messiah, the long awaited One sent from God, would present himself to the people in this fashion. For this Jesus speaks of the inexpressible mercy of God, a mercy that surpasses anything that man could ever attempt to accomplish to make peace with God. And here  the proud and arrogant nature of  the religious leaders took over: one hardly needs a travelling preacher like Jesus  to be okay with God, even if he is gifted with the gift of healing, even if he is an out-of-the-ordinary orator whose teachings captivate the masses and stands out in sharp contrast to that of their own doctors of the law. More, this Jesus is a danger to the class of the religious dignitaries. If the people follow him, the whole religious hierarchy will suffer, its prestige will fade and its social position will crumble. The religious dignitaries believed that the identity of the Jewish people was at risk of disappearing with them. Therefore, the solution was clear: it would be to the advantage of the people that a single man, this Jesus, should die, rather than the whole nation would perish. Therefore a plot was hatched which rested on the treason of one of Jesus’ close friends. His arrest followed, succeeded by a truncated trial with fabricated evidence; a cruel execution, preceded by physical tortures crowned it all, so to speak. But shortly after his death his disciples, at first incredulous themselves, announced to whoever would listen that Jesus had come back to life from the dead, that he had rejoined his Father in heaven from where he was reigning henceforth, and from where he would return to exercise the final judgement over humanity, institute an eternal kingdom where  in which neither death, nor injustice nor hate would have a place.

Having arrived at this point, lets ask our initial question again: is it reasonable to believe in Jesus Christ rather than in all the other religions? Believing, that is to say not having a vague sympathy for this apparently exceptional person, but being persuaded that his words are true, that he is who he pretends to be, that is to say the Son born of the eternal Father. Believing, that is to say placing confidence in Him as the only person who can save us from death, reconcile us with God and award us eternal life. This, dear listeners, is the definition of faith. Is it reasonable to see in this victim of torture, of religious authorities of his time, of the military and political occupying forces, the son of God and the lord of Creation? Since the beginning, sceptics have simply said “no”. God would not manifest himself to humans in a human form, and far less, die crucified on a cross, which was an infamous mode of execution inflicted only on criminals. To believe that, is whether madness, or scandalous. As for Christians, they possess the unshakeable conviction that such is indeed the truth. They know that this conviction does not originate within themselves, because human nature, in fact, is not inclined to believe such an assertion. They  claim that their faith is given to them by the Spirit of God himself . But is this faith reasonable? Yes, it is definitely reasonable,  however without natural reason being able to grasp it alone, because our natural reason  is limited in its comprehension of spiritual things. The Christian faith is more than reasonable when it discovers in the Biblical Revelation that the person and the work of Jesus Christ are not accidents of history, but rather the perfect accomplishment of a divine plan of the salvation for mankind, a plan proclaimed progressively in the preceding centuries in the writings of the Old Testament, and awaited with impatience by the people to whom it had been revealed. The Christian faith marvels at the divine wisdom and mercy which presided over such a plan, that no man could ever have invented or achieved, but which has been revealed in its totality in the life and work of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith understands that the foolishness and the scandal of men is rather to be found in the belief that by themselves they are able to have access to God, without needing a Mediator who is perfect, therefore himself divine. The Christian faith marvels at what this plan has accomplished in spite of those who have opposed it, seeing that those who opposed it became, despite themselves, active, but at the same time powerless, instruments of such a fulfilment.

Let us conclude by reading together, if you please, chapter 53 of the book of the prophet Isaiah, written several hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus Christ, and which speaks to us about the faithful servant of God:

“ Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul he will see the light and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”