We sanitize it and make it an accessory. We trivialize it and limit its application and scope. We accept it as a necessity on the way to the glory that we want to embrace as the new norm now and eternally. But we seldom recognize its utter scandal.
The Apostle Paul grants that the message of the cross is nonsense to gentiles and offensive to Jews. In fact, rightly understood, the cross truly scandalizes everyone.
Yes, the event of crucifixion is scandalous and shameful, and to think that something good could come of it likewise seems absurd. But such is only the beginnings of the surreal nature of the cross and its message.
Yes, that God should be so treated is scandalous, or the other way around, that one so treated should be called God—either blasphemous or delusional.
Yes, that the utter humiliation and depth of suffering is actually transmuted into glory and hope—outrageous and psychotic.
Yes, that somehow the demands or essential criteria for addressing the mess we are and we make for ourselves, our children and our world are identified and met in the tortured and torn body hung on a cross—beyond reason.
Yes, that the cross could be prelude to anything other than death and damnable darkness—unthinkable.
In all of these ways the cross stretches the scandalous to the snapping point. But the scandal deepens still more.
In Johns’ gospel Jesus makes this scandalous claim: if I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself. John quickly notes that it was a way of signifying the means of his death. Jesus was really saying, I will die by crucifixion” (see John 12:32-33).
A reductionist view of salvation understands this “evangelistically” to mean that the cross will make possible the “salvation” of all people. And through the message of the cross (lifting Jesus up in another way) people will be drawn to Jesus as Savior.
I refer to this view as reductionist. That is, it is much less than what Jesus claims and therefore the scandal is made less than it is.
Jesus’ statement must be understood in the context of what the Gospel of John claims about Jesus, and what it means to be drawn to Jesus. In Jesus was and is life and light, upon which most everything else depends (see John 1:4, 5, 9). And in the person of Jesus, life and light come to all people and through Jesus all things—the whole of reality—come to be and have continuing reality (John 1:3, 10). Throughout the story John tells, Jesus’ life and light come to all sorts of people as that which satisfies their thirst and hunger, their crying and dying. The life and light of Jesus guarantees that death is undone, that those who are already dead may yet be called from their graves into an eternal kind of life.
In short, through Jesus’ cross, that is, his life that leads to the cross and the movement of those who follow him to the cross, God works to make right what is wrong in God’s world.
The scandal is that a death could mean so much to everyone and everything. The scandal is that this dying that brings living—and the way it brings it—continues to be the way God works to make right what is wrong in God’s world.
The scandal is that a cruciform life—responsive to Jesus’ call to deny self-centered living, take up the cross and follow—not only makes us right with God, but also makes us partners with God who right-wises the world around us.
The scandal is that the good news of this cross, and the dying of this one on the cross, becomes the hope of the world through those who embrace the cross as the pattern for their lives.
This suggests that war, famine, political corruption, violence and vengeance, evil systems that corrupt the poor and vulnerable and mutes the protests of those who really know better, the enslaving, threatening and deadly powers that condition things everywhere—are all to be undone by—only by—self-sacrificing love!
This in itself is scandalous in varied and deep ways. Perhaps even more scandalous is that Christ-followers are the ones who must lead in the self-sacrificing love—“foolishly” and faithfully, even at great risk, to demonstrate that the wisdom of God’s way is wiser and the weakness of God’s way will prove stronger than any alternative.