Jesus said to Nicodemus: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.( John 3:13-17)
John 3:16 is arguably one of the best known and most often quoted verses in all of the Bible. This verse is so beloved because it is the core of our faith: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life.” When we meditate on this and repeat it to ourselves, we come to a deeper understanding of God’s very personal and intimate love for each one of us.
As one great mystic said, each of Jesus’s five wounds are like a pair of lips saying, “I love you this much!” God’s love was so great that he was willing to bear such torture and death for each of us.
The Cross is also the great sign of God’s humility. Real love is willing to do anything for the beloved, and God was willing not just to come down from heaven and take on our human nature, but to allow those he created, those he was about to redeem, to torture, abuse and kill him in order to save them and us. Jesus was willing out of love to undergo everything we might undergo as human beings, even worse. Whatever pain we might suffer, Christ suffered more. Whatever injustice we might bear, Christ bore it before us. Whatever loneliness we experience, Jesus felt it, too.
The Cross of Jesus reminds us of the negative strength of evil, and the gentle omnipotence of the mercy of God. The Cross seems to declare the failure of Jesus, but in reality, it marks his victory. On Calvary, those who mocked him would say to him: ‘If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross’ (cf. Mt. 27,40). But the opposite was true: precisely because he was the Son of God, Jesus was there, on the cross, faithful to the end to the loving plan of the Father. It is precisely this reason why God ‘exalted’ Jesus (Phil. 2,9), conferring on Him a universal kingship.
When we truly confront the reality of the Cross, we cannot remain a detached bystander. But to honor that cross and his life given for us, we need to embrace it as a way of life. That’s what Jesus clearly wants us to do and calls us to do. He never said to us, “I’m taking up the Cross so that you don’t have to.” Rather he said, “If you wish to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, pick up your Cross every day, and follow me” and “whoever does not pick up the Cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” We’re here because we want to be the disciples of the Lord. We want to follow him all the way to heaven. But to do this, we need to follow him to Calvary; we need to walk the Way of the Cross. We do that because there is no other ladder to heaven but the ladder of the Cross. To be a disciple means to embrace the Cross.
The second thing that embracing the Cross means is that it commits us to the path of self-sacrificial love. Many Catholics when they hear Jesus’ command to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross and follow Jesus think that it means “offering up” their hardships, their difficulties, their pain, and bearing with peaceful resignation the contradictions of the day. That is part of it, but, actually, a small part of it. To embrace the Cross means to kiss Christ’s love and to imitate it. Jesus said, in the greatest of all commandments, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Picking up our Cross and following the Lord means following him down the path of selfless self-giving love. Jesus, in fact, gives us the Cross so that we, like him, might die on it, die to ourselves for others, so that he might live fully in us and love others through us.
This is exactly what St. Paul pointed to when he wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” We want Christ to live in us and Christ himself wants to live in us, but the only way that happens is to be crucified with him through the gift of the Cross. The most beautiful reality is that when we do this, we not only abide in Christ and he in us — and share in the fullness of salvation — but we become co-redeemers with Christ.
The cross which was a symbol of death has become for us a symbol of life. The cross which was an instrument of torture has become for us a proclamation of good news. The cross tells us that our suffering does not mean that we are punished, because one who was innocent, suffered as well. The cross tell us that our deepest pain cannot separate us from God’s love and promise of life. So today let us re-claim the cross for what it is: our sign of hope, our message of good news. No matter how deep our pain is, no matter how deep our loss is, the love of God is deeper still.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus Christ, your death brought life for us. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may walk in freedom and joy as a child of God and as an heir with Christ of an eternal inheritance.”
God is always present to us even in our darkest hours. That makes the cross of Christ a sign of hope. Our heaviest burdens, our deepest pain, our most significant loss will not separate us from God’s love. Think of the heaviest burden you carry, the deepest evil you have to face, the hardest pain you need to bear. None of these indicate that God has stopped loving you. None of these evils separate you from God. If we can claim God’s love even in our deepest pain, then there is always reason for hope and always the possibility of life.