5th Lent [B] 2000

Fr. Charles Irvin

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

When you encounter paradox, you’re close to the heart of the Gospel, a message in which we are presented with two statements that seemingly contradict each other.

So here, today, we find Jesus speaking about His cross, His path to glory through humiliation, life through death, good through evil. Nothing in human history is so totally paradoxical as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. About to be displayed in degradation, He speaks of His glory being revealed.

In Roman times a crucifixion was supposed to be a public spectacle. Yet it is at the same time a personal matter for you and for me. Your salvation and mine are found in it. Yes, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Calvary was a spectacular event. The characters were momentous. Rome was there in her imperial power. One of the world’s great religions was there in an hour of critical decision. Yet it is also true that this historical and monumental spectacle of nearly two thousand years ago personally includes you and me. Sins of the flesh, sins of pride, sins of omission, sins such as yours and such as mine nailed Christ to His Cross. And they still do. All of those sins were there then as they are now. We were and are now personally involved, much as we’d like to deny it.

The Cross reveals the worst that’s within us; it reveals what evil we’re capable of doing to each other – battering, abusing, using, hurting, and killing human life in its beginning, in the living of it, and at its end… in a Holocaust that seems never to cease.

The Cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ likewise illumines and reveals the best that’s within us. It’s message is that our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, your Father and mine, thinks we are worth, individually worth, what happened on that Cross. Our finite humanity, yours individually as well as mine, has been because of Christ’s Cross invested with infinite value, worth and dignity. The worst in our humanity in all of its stupidity and cruelty succeeded in crucifying the best that God could possibly give us, the most beautiful human being that ever existed. And in that monumental act of cruelty and evil, God brought out the best that’s within us – for which we are here to aspire in prayer and petition to God in Christ.

For the stupendous truth is that in dying for you, Christ died for something of infinite value within you – your immortal soul that now can never die.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a crushing defeat for righteousness and out of it came the greatest victory that righteousness has ever won. “Except”, said Jesus, “a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.” And the same is true for your life joined into His.

Each Sunday when we celebrate Mass here together we jointly and sacramentally enter into the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, celebrating a colossal failure that gives us infinite victory. Next week we celebrate Palm Sunday, that moment when Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem amidst shouted blessings and hosannas of the crowd, the same crowd which a few short days later would shout: Crucify him! Crucify him!… and then did so.

And He died a failure. One of His most trusted apostles, Judas, sold Him out for money. His prime apostle, Peter, sold Him out in three moments of swearing. The others had all fled. No one was there except a pagan military officer and his troops, Mary, His mother – along with Mary Magdalene, and a young teenage boy by the name of John. His own people, fearing God’s wrath for breaking rules of religious ritual conspired with a weak Roman governor who thereupon buckled under fear of not being liked, wanting to please the crowd as well as wanting to please Caesar. As evening fell, all of Christ’s enemies felt that they had finished Him off and that they were rid of Him forever.

Little did they then realize that those hands they had nailed to the Cross were lifting the whole world up before the eyes of His Father. Little did they realize that the heart they had pierced and emptied of blood was filled with a precious love that would save each and every human being given His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

There is perhaps much in your life and mine that is failure, loss and pain. And no doubt there will be more. Life is not fair; it never has been, and it never will be. Furthermore, the fickle human heart will believe any lie and follow any fable. Without faith in Jesus Christ we will believe anything and do anything.

But with belief in Jesus Christ and in Him crucified, all in life that is upside down can be turned right side up. All that is inside out can be pulled out into the open for all to see and share. The glory of the divinity that is the Living God present within us can now, in the broken Body of Jesus Christ and in the crushed grapes of His humanity, be shared by all of us in a Holy Communion in which God comes to us in the fullness of His Presence, His Power, and His Love.

The great paradox of your life along with the great paradox of mine finds meaning, purpose and fulfillment in the momentous paradox of Christ’s suffering, passion and death. For with it now, God our Father, in your life and in mine, brings good out of evil, meaning out of absurdity, order out of chaos, glory out of humiliation, holiness out of sin, and life out of death.

And because of what we as a Church are about to share in common celebration over these few weeks, all of it is yours, O Christian.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”