Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Our Scripture readings, then, speak to us about the meaning of the Cross. Quite a few years ago, I came across a book entitled, A Theology of Christ: Sources, edited by Vincent Zamoyta. It’s an old book now, published in 1967. I lost my copy when I moved to Detroit, but was able to get another one. In the section "Modern Developments – Protestant Thought" there is an article written by John A.T. Robinson, an Anglican bishop, entitled "The Man for Others." The description of Bishop Robinson in the book is that he was a "controversial scholar," and the article is provocative, but I think the article has an interesting take on our second reading from Philippians (2:6-11), in which St. Paul is talking about Jesus emptying Himself, becoming obedient "to the point of death, even death on a cross."
The common interpretation of the passage is that Jesus emptied Himself of all use of divine power so as to sacrifice Himself for us. Robinson’s take is that rather Jesus emptied Himself of the all-too-human tendency to be self-absorbed, to grasp "equality with God," and in that emptying He gave His life for all of us. In the article, Bishop Robinson’s conclusions might be found contrary to orthodoxy about Jesus’ divinity and humanity, but the article has some insights which I find helpful.
Whatever the case may be about Jesus’ self-emptying, the fact remains that Jesus did sacrifice Himself for our sake. As we hear in our Gospel reading from John (3:13-17), "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Jesus did what He did out of obedience to the Father and love for us!
If we are to follow Jesus, we need to be willing to empty ourselves of the desire to be the center of everything, in other words, to be the "God" of our own lives. We need to empty ourselves of looking at others and at all of creation in terms of what we can get from them. In the words of Alcoholics Anonymous, we need to be relieved "of the bondage of self."
As we follow Jesus, and become more for others and less for self, we find we cannot isolate ourselves from the world, as tempting as that is today. God did not "give his only Son" so that we would turn our backs on the world that He loves so much, as soon as we believed in Jesus! The world, in such pain and distress, needs what has been given to us in Jesus Christ!
Obviously, we can’t do this on our own. I know I need grace in order to get outside of myself, and let go of being only concerned for myself. But the great thing is that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is always available! God’s grace is poured out on us continually! May God empty us of the desire to solely gratify ourselves, and give us the grace to follow Jesus and be obedient to His will for us, so that the world may know His love in Jesus Christ!
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.