The Gospel of Jesus Crucified

Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gospel of Jesus Crucified

When one walks into this chapel, one cannot help but notice the very large, some would say huge, crucifix that adorns the wall. As one looks at the crucifix, it invokes different feelings for different people. The sisters know the history of this crucifix and how it came to adorn this chapel. At the same time, the first time visitor might be simply impressed with its size. For those of us who have worshiped in this space for a number of years, it simply stands as a reminder that whenever we gather around the table of the Lord, we remember that Jesus was crucified and died for us and that he rose from the dead three days later.

At the same time, it is important that we remember that for the people who lived with Jesus and followed him during the time of his public ministry, his crucifixion was nothing less than a scandal. They would no more think of hanging a crucifix in their homes than you would decorate the walls of your homes with a swastika. For the people of Jesus’ time, his death at the hands of the Jewish elders and Roman occupation was the ultimate shame.

Yet just a few years later, St. Paul wrote a letter to the Christian community of Corinth in which he boldly proclaims that he was resolved to know nothing other than Christ crucified. St. Paul’s commitment to the crucified Jesus was not merely an example of pious devotion. On the contrary, he took a tremendous risk in this regard. The proclamation of Christ crucified was a scandalous message for Jew and Greek alike, yet it was the heart of St. Paul’s teaching, a theme that was always in the forefront of his message. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah who would be victorious, not one who would be convicted of a felonious act and subsequently executed. The Greeks would be repelled by an unlettered peasant, especially one who appears to have been a failure. Indeed, the crucifix is the paradox of the Gospel: what appears to be failure is really victory; what seems foolish is consummate wisdom.

Though his message was bold, St. Paul maintains that his preaching and his ministry were humble and unassuming. He deliberately moved into these Gentile communities in a manner that would not draw attention to himself; rather he wanted others to be convinced that the power and dynamism of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the power and dynamism of God, the power of the Holy Spirit who had been sent to live among them. He wanted the faith of the community to be grounded in God, not in the cleverness of some preacher.

The crucifix is a powerful symbol of the way God works. Extraordinary things are accomplished through ordinary people. God sent Jesus as the son of a carpenter; some of the apostles were fishermen; Paul was a tentmaker; we are store clerks and teachers, bus drivers and doctors, bank tellers and engineers, accountants and construction workers. Like St. Paul we come to the notion of being “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” in weakness and fear and much trembling. So many of us think that we are unworthy to preach the Gospel. However, if we remember that it has always been preached by ordinary folk, it becomes easier to understand that we are simply the tools that God uses to accomplish God’s work. St. Paul understood this so well. It isn’t about us or our abilities; it is about God and God’s power to raise victory out of shame and disgrace.

This is still an attractive and dynamic story. In 1958, 20th Century Fox produced “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness,” a movie about the life of Gladys Aylward, a young British woman who wanted to be a missionary. The missionary society of her Church rejected her as unfit for the job because of her lack of education. Feeling sorry for her, the executive secured her a position as a servant in the home of a veteran explorer. She saved her salary and eventually bought herself a ticket to China via the Transcontinental Railway, a dangerous and extremely long trip. As her story in China unfolds, she becomes the woman who is able to save 100 orphans from the Japanese Army. As she leads the column of children into the city after a three week trek, she greets the man who had rejected her as a missionary so many years before. She has proven through her life that being the salt of the earth and the light of the world has nothing to do with education; rather it is about being convinced of the victory of Christ crucified.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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