24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Is 50:5-9; Mk 8:27-35) “The Image of The Crucified” PDF Version
Homily for 24thSunday of OT, Year B (2018): Is 50:5-9; Mk 8:27-35
If time machines existed, and we were able to bring a group of Romans from the 1stcentury AD to our present time, I would venture to guess they would be perplexed and horrified to enter into a Catholic Church and see an image of a crucified man adorning the back wall of a church.
The ancient Romans did not invent crucifixion. We know that the ancient Persians, Egyptians and other civilizations who predated the Roman Empire used some form of crucifixion as the death penalty. We do know that the Roman had perfected the art of crucifixion. Whether they tied or nailed a man or woman to a free standing cross, to the walls of a city or upon some crude combination of wood in various shapes and heights, the Roman legionaries in charge of crucifying slaves and enemies of Rome knew how to make it a long, painful and highly visible means of public executions.
Roman citizens could not be crucified as long as they retained their Roman Citizenship, such was the debasement surrounding it that only the most outcast of the Empire could endure this torment.
Men and women could spend days upon a cross and it was not uncommon to find row after row of the crucified along the highways that connected the vast Roman Empire.
This meant that if you lived in an occupied nation, now under the imperial might of Rome, your highways would be littered with the bodies of crucified freedom fighters, criminals and opponents of the rulers of the known world, some of them being your friends, family and strangers whom you would pity for dying such a cruel and shameful death.
We can then imagine the horrific shock our Lord’s words must have had upon those who had chosen to follow Him as they heard Him declare that to tred the path walked by the Son of God was to take up your cross and follow Him! The disciples knew that the Romans frequently made those who were to be crucified carry their own cross on their shoulders to the their place of execution.
It is possible that Jesus made this shocking statement in the presence of His crucified kinsmen, giving His disciples a graphic vista to ponder as they heard the Rabbi from Nazareth declare that this would be the fate of those who followed the Messiah of God’s people.
We can further imagine then Jesus turning to console those who hung upon their crosses, offering them some comfort in their agony, perhaps revealing to them that He had come to save them and that He would offer them forgiveness for their sins when He too would mount the Wood of the Cross and hang upon it to become the salvation of the world.
In one sentence, Jesus revealed that it does cost someone everything to be His disciple, but as He would say elsewhere in the Gospel, those who lose their lives for His sake and the sake of the Gospel will gain it a hundredfold in the Kingdom which is to come.
So back to our imagined time travelling Romans. How could we as Christians explain to them the presence of this crucified man in our church and the countless works of art that adorn homes, museums, court houses, schools, prisons, mansions, shanty towns and upon the bodies of men, women and children the world over? Why the crucifix? Why do we continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified?
Each of us could provide a noble and meaningful answer to these questions but one would hope they would all centre around the revelation that the Crucified Christ is the sublime icon of Divine Love.
There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. In the crucified Christ we see the depth of love, the totally outpouring of the life of the Son of God for the salvation of the world. We see in a crucifix the pain and abandonment that Isaiah saw in with his prophetic gaze of a man whose back was struck, whose cheeks felt the sting of one’s beard being ripped out, of a countenance covered in spit, blood and bruises, but of a face with such serenity and mercy that it accepts all the injury cast upon it and trusts that God will sustain Him in the throws of His Passion.
If the Crucifix is not looked upon with love, if one does not believe that it radiates with love, if what appears to be an image of horror can not be looked through to see the very heart of God, then it should not hang upon the walls of a church! But because it is Love, then the Crucifix, we pray, will always be in our churches, schools, homes and elsewhere throughout the world.
Our imagined time travelling Romans, and many others in the world today, may remain perplexed by our declaration that the Crucifix is the icon of Divine Love and that Christians are willing to take up their own crosses in imitation of the One who is Love, and so we as Catholic Christians must be generous in explaining to all who ask why we love the image of Christ Crucified.
I would invite each of us to consider to what extend is the crucifix present in our homes, places of work, schools, and other facets of our lives. They are not meant to be mere ornamentation in our homes, though many are splendid works of art. Does a crucifix have some prominent place in our homes, such as above our beds, in our living rooms or some quiet corner where it hangs silently upon the wall and invites us to spend a passing moment before it to pray?
Are we accustomed to find some moment in the day to pray before the image of the One who was pierced for the sins of the world, most especially our own?
Do we perhaps carry a small crucifix in our pocket or purse, reaching in from time to time to press the crucifix into our palm, asking for strength when we feel weak or to unite ourselves once again to the crosses that our Lord is asking us to bear?
Does a small crucifix have a place in your vehicle, helping you to remain calm and in God’s presence in traffic jams or the frustrations of reckless and poor drivers? In short, do we make sure that the Crucifix is a daily presence in our Christians lives?
Countless Christian men and women have found the Crucifix to be a great source of contrition, consolation and comfort when it is always present in their lives. Let us be accustomed then to pray in its presence and if we are at a loss for what words to pray, let us consider using the following prayer that was attributed to the Apostle Andrew as he saw his own cross awaiting him as the fulfillment of his call to take up his cross and follow Christ:
“O good Cross, made beautiful by the body of the Lord: long have I desired you, ardently have I loved you, unceasingly have I sought you out; and now you are ready for my eager soul. Receive me from among men and restore me to my Master, so that He-who, by means of you, in dying redeemed me-may receive me. Amen.”