Pentecost 16B, 2012
Mark 8:27-36

A Liturgy is also available


The cross is a primary symbol of traditional Christian faith.
It represents the suffering of the Holy in the midst of humanity.
Multiple meanings are given to it.
Multiple effects come from those meanings.

The cross is also the nerve centre of today’s gospel story by Mark.
So let me spend some time reflecting on this symbol.


The cross.  The symbol of traditional Christianity ‘par excellence’
especially since the time of Constantine’s reign in the 4th century.

And the rest, they say, is history.
“...the cross became the emblem of Christian triumphalism, forged in the fires of the late Roman empire, in the process of a military victory” (Funk 2002:141).

Prime among those ‘fires’ in days past, were
the Crusades in and following 1096,
the Inquisition in 1232 onwards,
and Auschwitz in the 1940s.

Prime among those ‘fires’ in the past 10 years or so,
are Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, and the ‘religious right’, of several persuasions.

Under the banner of the cross and Constantine’s motto: ‘in this sign conquer’,
the ground was laid for murder and mayhem,
the hymn ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ was shaped,
and a creedal Christianity developed which left
a human Jesus completely out of the picture!

So let me be very clear.  Cruelty and a terrifying death,
are not the so-called plan or purpose of 'God',
but the doings of human beings.

And sometimes, totally depraved human beings at that.

So my concerns are:
• can the symbol of the cross be freed from
its triumphalist associations and evil overtones?

• can the symbol of the cross be freed from 
the thinking that says the ‘cross’ means ‘blood’
and Jesus dying for our sins?


After all that, let me see if I can make just a small beginning
at weaving another possible way of looking at the symbol of the cross.

But let me first start with a negative...
When the cross is portrayed as the preordained means
by which humankind is redeemed, God in implicated in the death of Jesus
not as fellow sufferer but as executioner (Shea 1975:199).

Sharp words!  Perhaps.

True, Jesus’ death mattered to his friends.  But only because his life mattered more.
So they began to speak of his death in ways that affirmed his life.
And they came to see he stood for something so important
he was willing to give his life for it (Patterson 2004:127).

For me that’s a very important difference.
Because there is a certain human-ness and integrity about it,
which is absent from so much of the other ways of thinking.

So my (not so original) first three threads in the weaving are...
• The cross is about Jesus’ integrity;
• God’s ‘love’ is not about supernatural payment or rescue from sin,
but divine sharing in human suffering;
• Jesus did not invite the cross, but accepted it rather than abandon his vision or glimpse of what the world is really like
when you look at it with God’s ‘eyes’.

Three threads as I begin again to weave my particular faith response cloth.

And one more thing.  Jesus attempted to pass his glimpse along,
as he told about it in sayings and aphorisms and parables.

The unconventional wisdom of a sage we now call it.

About this Jesus...  Well, as we all know it is not possible to discover
one uniformed view of Jesus, but New Testament scholar Dom Crossan offers what I reckon is a helpful re-imagined response:
“He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants...  They know all about rule and power, about kingdom and empire, but they know it in terms of tax and debt, malnutrition and sickness, agrarian oppression and demonic possession.  What, they really want to know, can this (realm) of God do for a lame child, a blind parent, a demented soul screaming its tortured isolation among the graves that mark the edges of the village?” (Crossan 1991:xi).

This human Jesus did not write a definitive essay or publish a book.
And the classic creeds from ages past seldom help,
because they are preoccupied
“with the status of Jesus rather than with God’s domain” (Funk 2002:144).

By contrast, I reckon Jesus’ efforts were more like that of a painter
who uses broad strokes in both the political
and the social spheres of Galilean village life.

And those strokes offer a picture which
enlarge God to include humankind, and
enlarge the self to include the neighbour.

Especially the neighbour who is, or is potentially, an enemy!


Jesus’ death mattered to his friends.  But only because his life mattered more.
Absolute, uncompromising integrity is the true meaning of the cross (Funk 2002).

That’s what I reckon is the result
of Mark’s, or his community’s, theological reflection.

And we will be able to hear this meaning only when,
in an act of generosity, we keep our eyes open and our hearts hurting,
and walk with those who, for what ever reason, carry unbearable crosses.

Crossan, J. D. 1991.  The historical Jesus. The life of a mediterranean jewish peasant. VIC: North Blackburn. CollinsDove.
Funk, R. W. 2002.  A credible Jesus. Fragments of a vision. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Patterson, S. J. 2004.  Beyond the passion. Rethinking the death and life of Jesus. MN: Minneapolis. Fortress Press.
Shea, J. 1975.  The challenge of Jesus. IL: Chicago. Thomas More Press.