Sunday, 18 November 2007

V. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross

St. Alphonsus Ligouri reflects that Simon of Cyrene did not want to carry the cross, he could not accept it. This is a view point with which I have much sympathy. Who would want to go to Golgotha? Who would want Jesus to do that on their behalf? For many, such a sacrifice is unimaginable.

Crucifixion reveals every bad side of human nature, useless abuse, power games, torture, politics designed to damage, self interest, naivety, pride, betrayal, cowardice and rejection. If all this was for the sake of Good Friday only, then it is truly a depressing sight. To join in could only be masochistically pleasurable in a passion of self loathing. It makes no sense.

Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ portrays one of the most challenging and disturbing accounts of the crucifixion in modern times, one which re evaluates the sheer brutality of an event which the first Christians would have recognized instantly. In his account he chooses not to show any great detail about the Resurrection, leaving the viewer with a sense of wonder about the point of all the violence they have just seen. In the context of modern living this seems to make some kind of sense. We are constantly hearing the media bewail the rise of senseless violence in film, video games and entertainment. This is a film which leaves senseless violence to be wondered about; and it only hints at the Resurrection which gives the Crucifixion a sense and purpose.

For me, part of the journey of conversion has been accepting the cross. I could recognise that Jesus had lived, taught excellent things and eventually been killed on the cross. Learning from his teaching in the Gospels occupied my time during my first degree. What was very puzzling though was what people expected me to make of Jesus' death. Why on earth would I want, even if it were possible, to transfer my guilt - my problem, if you like - to someone else.

The most tempting rejection of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, for a modern Christian, is to reject his punishment for my sin. We do not want to accept that the crucifixion is personal. In a society that is forever reflecting on culpability (the buck stops here), people are beginning to accept responsibility for their actions all the time. Up to and including their sinful actions before God. If I am to be responsible for all my moral actions and decisions, then I will take the reward when I am right, and the punishment when I am wrong. Why would I let Jesus take the rap? This pervasive sense of individualism takes personal possession to destructive level. It traps people into self condemnation, and does not allow them to find forgiveness.

Peter, of course, had the same problem. He couldn't accept Jesus' idea of Messiahship either. At Ceasarea Phillipi he wanted to stop Christ, to explain to him that he wouldn't have to die. Jesus' response contains the harshest words he ever expresses to one of his disciples: 'Get behind me, Satan. Your thoughts do not come from God, but from human nature' (Mark 8:33). It is only through the resurrection and we are able to face the horrors of Good Friday. In the same way, it is only through our faith in forgiveness given by the Crucified and Risen Christ that we are able to face and overcome sin, in our own lives and in the world. No wonder Simon was so perplexed and reluctant, for him the resurrection was not yet apparent.

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