Meditations on the Cross, 6
The Apostle Paul said, " ... Jews ask for signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach a Messiah who was hanged on a cross - to Jews a scandal and to Gentiles something stupid." - 1 Corinthians 1:22, 23 (my translation).
In my home as in many, we have crosses hanging on the wall. Silver crosses, wooden crosses, wrought iron crosses. Some simple, some ornate. We have crosses that hang from chains around our necks. I have a small smooth wooden cross that I carry in my pocket. Most of these crosses are pretty, some even beautiful.
We're Protestants; all our crosses are empty. We are embarrassed by the crosses of our Roman Catholic friends; their crosses have a nearly naked man on them. But their crosses are pretty too.
But the cross on which Jesus hung was not pretty; it was ugly. Any instrument of death is! We would be repulsed by someone who wore an image of an electric chair around his neck - or a gas chamber gurney, or a gallows. Even if this image were gold-plated.
Under the Law of Moses, a particularly despicable criminal was hung on a pole or tree so that all could see his disgrace. "He who is hanged is accursed of God." Deuteronomy 21:22, 23. The Romans who ruled the world in Jesus' day had found it to be not simply an instrument for executing condemned criminals, but a merciless torture device and the ultimate humiliation for the condemned.
The word "Christ" is not a surname or family name. It is a title. Christos is the Greek translation of the Hebrew "Meshiach" or "Messiah" - literally "Anointed One." The Jews had been looking for that anointed descendant of David, the coming King who would deliver them from their oppressors and set up an eternal kingdom.
And so to the Jews of Jesus' day, of Paul's day, the idea of the most important figure in their history and their hope for the future hanging from the ugliest instrument of death was a skandalon, a trap-stick that caused them to stumble.
To the Greeks, the philosophers, the seekers of wisdom, the whole concept was moria stupidity. We might even think of it as an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.
To "the Greeks" - the brilliant thinkers of our day and those who imagine themselves to be such, the whole idea of the cross is still that. The idea of the need for One to suffer for all defies their reasoning.
And "the Jews" - not only the descendants of Abraham, but nice religious people of any ethnicity or persuasion, the need for a Crucified Messiah is still something to trip them up. To some religionists morality is the issue; moral pronouncements are what they struggle over - the "culture wars." To others religion is all about the self - self improvement, happy homes, prosperity. To still others it is about acceptance of those who differ, not only ethnically but religiously and sexually. And the Crucified Messiah is merely a means to an end - at times a rather uncomfortable one.
But Paul didn't stop with the words quoted above; he continues, "But to those who are the called ones, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [that Crucified Messiah], the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Those who embrace this Crucified One can see the power and wisdom - and also the beauty, of the cross. Which of these three persons are you?