The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . The Truth
“Men, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” ACTS 16:30–31
So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” So they sought to arrest him; but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. JOHN 7:28–30
A man went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, and encountered a woman who brought a stone to him for inspection. “What do you see?” she asked him. At first he didn’t see anything, he told me later. But he figured that the woman would not have brought the rock to him if there weren’t anything of note about it. So he studied it from every angle. Finally, he thought he saw something, “I see Jesus, right here,” he said, pointing to several indentations in the stone. The woman grabbed the stone from his grasp. “It’s the Blessed Virgin Mary, you idiot!” And she walked away to show her miraculous stone to another pilgrim.
One of the greatest obstacles to faith is perception, both what we see and what we refuse to see. In the Gospels, those who couldn’t believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be usually cited that they “knew” where he came from—they knew his mother and father. Yet Jesus claimed to come from God.
Pick up a news magazine around Christmas or Easter, and you will likely encounter a story about the historical Jesus. These fictional accounts of the life of Jesus are based on the works of scholars who disbelieve anything that purports to be miraculous or prophetic. If Jesus foretells future events, the writers of the socalled historical Jesus claim, that is proof enough that Jesus didn’t say it all; the Gospel writer must have composed it after the fact. Yet disbelief in Jesus’ power is nothing new.
Jesus asks the crowd in the Gospel of John, “You know me, and you know where I come from?” (John 7:28). It is clear that they do not know, but before we become too smug, we should remember that the question of Jesus is directed as much at us as it was at those in the Temple. We shouldn’t assume to know Jesus very well, either.
When people come to me for spiritual direction, I often pose to them a simple question: “When you pray to God, do you direct the prayer to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit?” Most people answer, “The Son.” A few reply, “The Holy Spirit.” Not one person has ever said, “The Father.” When I pry a little as to why they don’t pray to the Father, I usually hear something that reflects their views on authority figures and sometimes their relationship with their earthly fathers.
When the Apostle Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus pointed out to Philip that anyone who had seen him, Jesus, had seen the Father. So right away, we come up against a view of Jesus that probably doesn’t match our notions. The Triune God is not three gods but one. Jesus is the human face of God, God presented to us in a way that we humans can approach.
Knowledge and Relationship
The Christian Church has always been full of people who thought they knew Jesus. In reality, their image of the Lord reflected more about their own lives than about him. In modern times, we simply discount anything that is revealed about Jesus in the Scriptures that we don’t like, and fashion a Jesus in our own image—one who hardly ever has the power to save anyone from anything. So how are we to come to know the real Christ? As Jesus pointed out, knowledge comes from relationship. Jesus claimed to know the Father because it was the Father who sent him. Communion with God is essential to understanding both God and his purpose for us in this life. Yet what does it mean to “commune” with God, or to come to an understanding of someone we have never seen with our eyes?
We may gain a limited intellectual understanding of who Jesus is and what he did for us on earth by studying the Scriptures, God’s revelation to us. A prayerful relationship with Our Lord is also essential. To build a lasting relationship with someone, however, it is not enough to read about that person; it is also important to talk with him and those closest to him—holy men and women throughout the history of the Church who devoted their lives to serving him and telling others about him.
Communion with God is abandonment; this is where the cross illumines true knowledge for us. We must cast aside preconceptions of who Jesus should be and encounter the living Lord as he is. We see this abandonment to God in practice when the Gospels tell us that Jesus was not arrested because “his hour” had not yet come. The “hour of Jesus,” (e.g., his passion and death) would not happen until God allowed it to happen. The Scriptures recount different attempts by his enemies to arrest or kill Jesus; yet until the appointed time, they did not succeed. Jesus’ whole life was lived in obedience to this understanding. Similarly, those of us who seek to “know” Jesus must seek him out where he may be found. We need to read the Scriptures, the early Church Fathers, and seek to understand how the Church that he founded continues to manifest his presence in the world today, all the while letting go of who we think Jesus should be so that we might receive the true Christ.
The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.