Have mercy on us – the cross

This week we begin a new six-week series we are calling, have mercy on us. In a reading of the gospel in a few weeks we see this pleading before Jesus by ten lepers who are looking for something from Jesus that will make their lives better. The series will look at the way Jesus challenges us to be disciples and how perhaps without realizing it we depend on the mercy of God.

We are a people who demand justice. As young children we learn what is fair and what is not fair almost from the moment we can speak. If our little brother gets something better than us, we immediately point out to our parents, that “it is not fair.” Justice is being fair. If we drive too fast and are pulled over by law enforcement, justice demands we receive a ticket. However, many of us in that situation seek some sort of mercy. Let the infraction be overlooked and let us go on our way as if nothing ever happened.

In this series we will look at the ways we need mercy, receive mercy and depend on mercy in the context of the Sunday readings. We will look at the teachings from the readings and then apply what we are called to live against the mercy of God. We want God to be just for sure, but we discover it is God’s mercy we truly desire.

In this series we will look at the ways we need mercy, receive mercy and depend on mercy in the context of the Sunday readings. Click To Tweet

This Week

The readings this week point us toward the cross. In Jesus exhortation about what it takes to be a disciple he puts the cross front and center. To be a disciple we must carry our cross and come after Jesus. In the Wisdom of Solomon we get the image of Wisdom becoming human and taking up the cross and demonstrating mercy and love for all humanity. Paul writing to Philemon gives an example of love and mercy when he freely returns a slave in the hope that Philemon will know how much the salve is needed by Paul and will not hold him to slavery but free him to work with Paul. Paul gives an example of sacrificing, to demonstrate love and mercy for Philemon and his slave. We look at the mercy of God, and see a big image through the cross.

The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time; Wisdom 9:13-18b; Psalms 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33. The readings bring the symbol of the cross to the center, it is an extreme and grandest image of God’s message of mercy.

In the first reading from the Wisdom of King Solomon we read about the need for God’s Wisdom. We see sometimes Wisdom is referred to as feminine, others times Wisdom is the Holy Spirit and we read that Wisdom is the Word become flesh. There is no doubt Wisdom is from God, Wisdom was with God at the creation of everything. Wisdom is not something we obtain through education or experience, Wisdom comes through grace. These verses we read speak of humans being worthless without Wisdom and we cannot know God’s thoughts or God’s will. We can’t obtain wisdom through reasoning powers, besides we are too easily distracted, we are more concerned with the cares of life than Wisdom and we are very limited in what we do know. In writing this way Solomon is not saying we cannot discover truth; all he means is that God’s purposes, the Wisdom of God, cannot be discovered by us on our own. However, the Word of God has become human, so we can manage to know the mystery of God. God no longer wants to be an image, a sign of Wisdom to be found in created things, as happened in former times. It is God’s will that Wisdom itself would become flesh, would suffer death on the cross, and be resurrected so that in the days following, everyone who believed in him, would be saved through their faith in the cross. Wisdom has become flesh so that God can be revealed and the mystery of life made available to all of us. Overcoming death Wisdom’s message is available to all of humanity, so that the Father can be known, death and the cross will be seen differently and the God himself is revealed. We know the path to life is through the cross. We will also see that the cross is a means of mercy.

We know the path to life is through the cross. We will also see that the cross is a means of mercy. Click To Tweet

The second reading from a letter Paul writes to his brother in Christ Philemon about a slave from his household Onesimus. Onesimus can be viewed as a runaway slave, but the fact that he ran to Paul to intervene in his life might also indicate Onesimus and Philemon had a falling out. Paul is writing to inform Philemon that Onesimus has been baptized and is more than a slave, now he is brother to both men. Paul also writes that Onesimus could be a good partner to Paul in his work spreading the gospel but he is sending him back to Philemon because it is the right thing to do. Paul certainly hopes Philemon will hear his words and freely let Onesimus return to Paul. However if Philemon keeps Onesimus Paul hopes he will become a partner to Philemon in leading people to the message of Jesus. It is out of respect for Philemon that Paul gives up Onesimus his helper, although he believes he could just order Philemon to let Onesimus stay and help. Paul reveals several ideas in this letter; first he is pointing out that Onesimus should no longer be considered a slave, but free as a baptized member of the community. Paul is also hoping Onesimus will be returned to help through Philemon’s own freedom of decision. Paul also shares how Onesimus has become a son to him and someone he fully loves. In this exchange we see Paul imitating Jesus, who went to the cross freely so that everyone Jesus loves will no longer be slaves. Jesus brings freedom to all who follow him to the cross. Jesus desires we all come back to him and work for the gospel message and he wants us all to know we are sons and daughters of the Father who are fully loved. As Paul has shown mercy to Onesimus, we too see the message of mercy from Jesus through the cross. Paul desires mercy through freedom for Onesimus. At the same time Paul wants Onesimus to work for the gospel as Jesus desires from us.

In the gospel reading from Luke we read Jesus telling us the commitment required to be a disciple. First, Jesus demands a commitment greater than the commitment we have for our family. Although he uses the word hate, Jesus’ meaning is we should love him more than we love our families. Jesus also indicates we must carry our own cross, our commitment requires we be willing to give our life for Jesus sake. We must love Jesus more than we love our own lives. Jesus goes on to tell two parables about discipleship, the first, building a tower which speaks of planning, disciples should first sit down and determine the cost of being a disciple. The second parable is about a King about to go to war. If the king determines he cannot defeat his opposition he should find a way to make peace. If he cannot determine the exact cost then he should be willing to surrender, perhaps becoming a slave in defeat. We may not be able to be a disciple for Jesus but we can decide to be a follower no matter what it means for the kind of life we will live. These are all conditions of becoming a disciple and if we can’t meet these conditions then we should step back as a follower who will remain a sign for others to see Christ in us.

Jesus indicates we must carry our own cross, our commitment requires we be willing to give our life for Jesus sake. Click To Tweet

We are all going to carry a cross in our life. We know that life does not come with complete safety and no suffering. Jesus has used the cross to be redemptive. It is through death that we discover new life. So becoming a disciple of Jesus we must always be aware that like Jesus the cross sits waiting for us in our future. Giving our life as a disciple and accepting the cross will lead to new life, and the mercy of God. It is not that we can earn mercy or new life, but these are promises we obtain from God through Jesus carrying his cross and receiving mercy from his Father. The cross and mercy go together, they are two milestones on the same journey. The cross is sacrifice, giving of ourselves for others. After the cross we are resurrected and receive the mercy of God. God has mercy for us, even when we think we are going through the most horrific suffering of our lives. Trust God and let God’s mercy permeate who you are.

The cross and mercy go together, they are two milestones on the same journey. The cross is sacrifice, giving of ourselves for others. Click To Tweet

These readings have the powerful symbol of the cross at their center. The cross was more than death for Jesus, it was suffering, mocking, humiliation, and even laughter. Being disciples of Jesus we will be subject to the same challenges. The cross is a symbol for all disciples. We also know that Jesus is ready with mercy no matter what we have done or how we may fail in our discipleship. As Thomas Merton once said, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” We are held with love when we try to be a disciple. In our success we will meet the cross, in our resurrection we will receive God’s mercy.

The cross was more than death for Jesus, it was suffering, mocking, humiliation, and even laughter. Being disciples of Jesus we will be subject to the same challenges. Click To Tweet

Have mercy on us – the cross

Crucifixion is a most extreme form of punishment. Some have called it the most wretched of deaths. Jesus foretold death and Matthew specifies it will be crucifixion (Matthew 20:19) and that some of Jesus’ followers would suffer the same fate. (Matthew 23:34) Jesus’ crucifixion is retold in all four gospels and referenced in other scriptural writings.

The crucifixion took place outside the walls of the city in a place called Golgotha (Place of the Skull.) It seems Jesus was nailed to the cross by his hands and feet. Two robbers were crucified on either side of Jesus, whose cross carried the sign, “the King of the Jews” indicating the crime for which he was being executed. Jesus was taunted and humiliated by passersby, he cried out using the words of Psalm 22My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He dies around three in the afternoon, his death being hastened by the severe scourging he previously received. With permission from Pontus Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ corpse from the cross and gave it an honorable burial.

Romans frequently employed sadistically cruel and utterly shameful death by crucifixion to uphold civil authority and to preserve law and order against troublesome slaves and rebels. . In Palestine crucifixion was a public reminder of Jewish servitude to a foreign power.

Hence Jesus’ cross is a sign of extreme shame. Paul wrote, “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” (1 Corinthians 1:23) Nothing from the Hebrew Scriptures suggests the Messiah would suffer such a fate. In fact, a crucified person so far from being chosen, anointed and sent by God, was considered to be cursed by God. For non-believers it seems to be sheer folly to proclaim the crucified Jesus, as God’s Son, the Universal Lord, the Judge and Light of the world. It is utterly offensive to claim the divine status of a crucified man. The disgrace of crucifixion caused many to reject the redemptive role of Jesus.

For non-believers it seems to be sheer folly to proclaim the crucified Jesus, as God’s Son, the Universal Lord, the Judge and Light of the world. It is utterly offensive to claim the divine status of a crucified man. Click To Tweet

Yet, Paul sees the crucifixion as obedience and love. It shows God’s power and wisdom. It brings deliverance from sin, and effects reconciliation and peace. It means the Law has no more claim on those who have died with Christ. They renounce sin and leave behind a godless world. Paul preaches the cross of Christ and meets constant persecution for it. So preach the cross is to preach shame, humiliation, suffering and abandonment of God, according to the standards of the world. Shame is important to remember as we think of Christ crucified with a cloth covering his more private body parts, in fact the crucified is a naked man.

Paul preaches the cross of Christ and meets constant persecution for it. So preach the cross is to preach shame, humiliation, suffering and abandonment of God, according to the standards of the world. Click To Tweet

Jesus was painfully aware what was ahead for him as we hear his prayer the night before in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Jesus even in hoping it wasn’t necessary showed his free and committed obedience to God, and his willingness to do whatever it takes for the Father.

Following Paul’s teaching and the teaching of the church for a thousand years the cross is viewed as a means for atonement or redemption. The idea being God required some debt to be paid to be able to perfectly love humanity. After all God is perfect love and by nature humanity is sinful. So in order to reconcile these opposite ideas Christ, the perfect human comes to pay the debt for human salvation and “erase” human sin.

In order to reconcile these opposite ideas Christ, the perfect human comes to pay the debt for human salvation and “erase” human sin. Click To Tweet

But there is another view that I like which says God the perfect lover does not need any debt to be paid for humanity to be perfectly loved by God. Rather the cross is an image used by God to change the mind of humanity. God did not need a death to forgive, but we are given the gift of the cross so we will know of God’s perfect love for us. God will do anything, even a shameful, humiliating extreme death on a cross to demonstrate God’s perfect love. The cross was not necessary but rather a perfect gift from God so we will know God’s perfect, out-flowing love in a very dramatic way.

The cross was not necessary but rather a perfect gift from God so we will know God’s perfect, out-flowing love in a very dramatic way. Click To Tweet

This support the calling of the cross a sign of mercy. For God mercy is a demonstration of love. God has the power to give us justice, so when we sin or don’t act out of love we can receive justified punishment. But God chooses mercy. In all things God is love, perfect love. To be love makes it difficult to not see the best in others or at least overlook their faults. God knows us and loves, therefore when we deserve justice, God instead is merciful.

To be love makes it difficult to not see the best in others or at least overlook their faults. God knows us and loves, therefore when we deserve justice, God instead is merciful. Click To Tweet

Jesus became incarnate to complete the creation of the world. Jesus is the perfect human, the only human who acts the way God wants all humans to act. Jesus came to complete creation in us and lead us to know the love of a perfect Father. God is constantly chasing us because we are his creation, made in God’s image. The story of Christ is a story of mercy and love. God wants us to know that God will do anything for us to desire God’s perfect love. God slowly allows Scripture to project God in such a way that we could understand him, slowly bringing us toward God who is perfect love, non-violent, and non-vengeful. God has always been mercy and we have the story of creation through Christ to discover this God of perfect love.

God has always been mercy and we have the story of creation through Christ to discover this God of perfect love. Click To Tweet

Mercy

It is impossible to discuss mercy without discussing love. We know mercy if we are parents because we are merciful to our children all the time, out of our love for them. We would never think to severely punish or beat our children even for the most grievous of sins that they may commit against us or others. We offer mercy unceasingly for those we love.

We offer mercy unceasingly for those we love. Click To Tweet

The cross is a sign of God’s mercy. We are told we will also have our cross. It is our sign to show mercy and love to others. Jesus suffered the cross to demonstrate God will do anything for love. We too are called to accept our cross to show love for others.

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