RELIGION AT THE SERVICE OF PEACE Ela Gandhi (granddaughter of the Mahatma) and Albertina Luthuli (daughter of Nobel laureate Chief Albert Luthuli) will address the topic “Religion at the Service...
The Psalms are
SCRIPTURE, and so intend to instruct us. Yes, they are also prayers but prayer is intended, among other things, to instruct and challenge us.
Today we are instructed to remember and learn some fundamental lessons. The
RESPONSE to OUR PSALM [78 or 77] tells us to “never forget the deeds of the Lord!” This is affirmed by the very first stanza:
“Give ear, my people, to my teaching;
incline your ear to the words of my mouth.
i will open my mouth in a parable
and utter hidden lessons of the past.”
This Sunday’s celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross instructs and challenges us never to forget this great deed of the Lord. However, much more is to be learnt and understood by our remembrance. We know that Jesus used parables to teach. The Cross itself is a parable because, like all others, we have to unravel the hidden lesson and apply it to our own life and living. We also recall that the Lord spoke 7-times on Calvary but the Cross itself was a word from his mouth and an integral part of his teaching.
It was a teaching that the disciples found difficult to unravel, understand and accept. A few weeks back we heard Peter trying to dissuade Jesus from his death – and heard the Lord’s rebuke which told Peter he was thinking as men do, not as God does. The Cross was part of God’s plan that was hidden in the past and slowly developed all through the Old Testament. Jesus on the Cross gave it full meaning. However, we have to unravel and understand it.
Now, if we look at
OUR OLD TESTAMENT READING [NUMBERS 21: 4b – 9] we should not miss a few points. The people had forgotten the great deeds the Lord had worked for them. It was not the first time. At the recurring troubles, difficulties and hardships came upon them, they forgot …. and they “became impatient ….(and) spoke against God.” They complained and bemoaned their condition. How often in the past have I forgotten the deeds of the Lord, become impatient and, bemoaning my fate, asked “why have you brought (me) up to this wilderness.”
We know well that Jesus invited us to take up the cross and follow. Why do we find it so difficult to unravel and understand this lesson? I firmly believe the reason is thatwe see our own cross without the
PERSON ON IT! What is the Cross without Jesus? I do not believe in a set of propositions, a list of ‘things’. I BELIEVE IN A PERSON – and it is only the person of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, which gives meaning and value to everything else. I must never take HIM off his Cross. Why? …. because as TODAY’S GOSPEL [JOHN 3: 13 – 17] tells us “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish.” We do not believe in the Cross, we believe in HIM! It is the Lord who gives meaning the Cross!
If we now go back to the Book of Numbers we will notice that the Lord told Moses to “make a fiery serpent, and set up as a sign ….” Yes, if people, if bitten by a serpent, looked at the sign they would live. Here we are faced with a hidden sign of the past – a lesson that each one of us has to unravel and understand for our own life and living.
However, for us there is a difference – the difference of faith.
Our Gospel reading (four short verses) explains all this. “As Moses lifted up the serpent …. so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” A little later the Gospel tells us that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Twice, we are challenged by faith in a particular PERSON. We do not look at a sign.
However, the Christian is not expected to be a masochist. The Cross, with faith and belief in Jesus Christ, empowers is to unravel the mystery of suffering. Life and living entails a real element of pain, suffering, disappointment, difficulty and stress. The Cross comes to us in forms of mental, emotional, and physical challenges. We are not expected to carry these crosses alone – we carry them with the Lord. He gives meaning to it all – not the cross itself. However, in some strange way we have to redeem our own darkness. We have, like Jesus himself, to empty ourselves (no thinking of poor little me!) and become obedient to life. If we grasp on to the idea that there we do not deserve our crosses then we are in for an even rougher ride. [see the
NEW TESTAMENT READING: PHILIPPIANS 2: 6 – 11]
The contemporary spiritual author,
DANIEL J O’LEARY in a powerful book entitled Passion for the Possible, tells us that “every cross is a potential bridge; every failure a potential success.” He goes on to suggest that “like a river that forever meanders into perennial mistakes and cul-de-sacs on its way home, so too, do I move in fits and starts on my personal journey God-wards. Sometimes it is all uphill. Tomorrow I might simply go with the flow. But half-way up the hill I know that I see something (someone) more clearly.”