Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Offense of the Cross

It is too easy to miss the offense of the Jesus story. Especially if it is familiar. In the weekday Eucharist last week we read from Gen 22:1-14, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, and Matt 9:1-8, Jesus healing a man by forgiving his sins. The first reading is offensive. Even though God doesn't let Abraham kill Isaac, Abraham is praised for being willing to do so. Human sacrifice in the Bible is a pagan idolatrous practice. Be offended.

The second reading highlights for us the closeness of Jesus with God. The whole gospel does this right up to the death of Jesus. The cross is the great shock, the offense of the gospel. (1Cor 1:18-25) How could this Jesus, so close to God, given such authority, die the ignoble death of the cross? Sinner? Or perhaps there is no God?

If we know the story we are then tempted to pull the resurrection in. The cross was only temporary and has been reversed by the resurrection. Our faith in God has been restored. (That is, a pre-crucifixion conception of God.) But notice the language of the New Testament in regards the crucifixion of Jesus. It lifts directly the offensive language of Isaac's near sacrifice. Jesus was given up. With the resurrection the first Christians did not wipe away an inexplicable cross as an aberration corrected in resurrection, but embraced it and its odious character, and proclaimed that in this cross salvation was won. And the beginning of a specifically Christian experience and conception of God.

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