God Is With Us – On The Cross

It is only God’s reaching out through Jesus, divine solidarity with fallen humanity, which makes possible the wanderer’s return and the beginnings of the feast of God’s Kingdom. It is the full course of Jesus’ life which in the end justifies the title given to him at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel: Immanuel, God is with us. (Mt 1.23) The identication is complete, so complete that “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (Mt 25.40)

The arc of this great act of solidarity reaches its destination in the Last Supper and on the cross, when he gives his own body, his very self, “for many” and as “the blood of the New Covenant”. The strange words of Isaiah 53 find new meaning on Golgotha: “Yet ours were the sufferings he was carrying, while we thought of him as someone being punished by God … having exposed himself to death and … being counted as one of the rebellious, whereas he was bearing the sin of many and interceding for the rebellious.” (Isa 53.5, 12)

But this identification was so complete that, just as he was hanged with common criminals, so he carried the repentant thief into Paradise and – so Christian faith claims – carries our own humanity through death and into Life itself. The most succinct and richest expression of this ‘great reversal’ is 2 Cor 5.18-21, which happens also to be the most adequate summary of Paul’s thought and the best explanation of what ‘Justification by Faith’ amounts to, namely being put in right relationship with God:

“It is all God’s work; he reconciled us to himself through Christ and he gave us the ministry of reconciliation. I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were urging you through us, and in the name of Christ we appeal to you to be reconciled to God. For our sake he made the sinless one a victim for sin, so that in him we might become the uprightness of God.”

Christ stood where we should stand – condemned, in the wrong; so that we might take his place, acquitted, in the right; not because of anything that we have done other than receiving the gift. That mind-bending, language-mangling reaching out is divine solidarity, is the foundation of human solidarity. So we are ambassadors for Christ. We have put on Christ, received his Spirit, shared his calling in our baptism. There is no one else to undertake this task. Indeed, we have become Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ, and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me.” (Gal 2.19f).

Thus we are called to solidarity by an apostle of the first century – and a Pope who survived into the Twenty-first century. Solidarity is a thread running through Christian history from the first community in Jerusalem, whose members “sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.” (Ac 2.45), to the foundation of Cafod by a small group of women in the early 1960s and on through the practical endeavours of local communities today. If we can share with our young people a vision of their own privilege, of the call to solidarity which it entails and of the rooting of this solidarity in God’s own self, then they will themselves do great things for the Kingdom and, therefore, for the Church. On the other hand, it is no exaggeration to say that there is no hope for our world without a spirit of solidarity being developed.

I finish with these quotations from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio – ‘Development of the peoples’ (1967)

“The struggle against destitution, though urgent and necessary, is not enough. It is a question, rather, of building a world where every man, no matter what his race, religion or nationality, can live a fully human life, freed from servitude imposed on him by other men or by natural forces over which he has not sufficient control … This demands great generosity, much sacrifice and unceasing effort on the part of the rich man. Let each one examine his conscience, a conscience that conveys a new message for our times.” (paragraph 47)

“What must be brought about, therefore, is a system of co-operation freely undertaken, an effective and mutual sharing, carried out with equal dignity on either side, for the construction of a more human world.” (paragraph 54) … Let everyone be convinced of this: the very life of poor nations, civil peace in developing countries and world peace itself are at stake.” (paragraph 55)

“The world is sick. Its illness consists less in the unproductive monopolisation of resources by a small number of men than in the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples. (paragraph 66)

No one can remain indifferent to the lot of his brothers who are still buried in wretchedness, and victims of insecurity, slaves of ignorance. Like the heart of Christ, the heart of the Christian must sympathise with this misery: ‘I have compassion on the crowd’ (Mk 8.62)” (paragraph 74)