Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the March 21, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)
Surfing the television channels one evening recently for a brain-break I ran across an evangelist who was brazenly announcing to his followers that God would “take him home” if they did not come up with several million dollars by a specific time. Quite a dare, I would say, on someone’s part – either God’s or the evangelist’s.
The drama was interestingly tense for a few days; I made time to follow the saga each evening. What if the funds had not been collected by the divinely determined date?! Would God have struck down his right-hand man? What if…? If only they would come up with the bucks….
Those who had hoped for a display of heavenly fireworks were disappointed. The money miraculously arrived by the end of the week, evidently donated by individuals from every walk and class of society. We will never know what would have happened if it had not.
It stuns our spiritual sensitivity to have someone play with God’s will in such a manipulative fashion. The TV evangelist, however, is not the only player in this game. In terms of the Christian tradition, he stands in line with any and all those who have taunted God, or flaunted their freedom before the Divine Face.
This upcoming Passiontide makes us think back to those proponents of faith who stood beneath the Cross of Jesus and dared their crucified victim with their taunts to pull himself free and come down. If only he would do so, then they would believe that he was the Messiah. Playing games with God. Brave stuff.
It is worth pursuing the “if only…” conjecture found in this Gospel narrative: What if Jesus, right then and there, had come down from the cross? I would surmise that the world would have heard the loudest proclamation of “faith” in all the eons of history!
In all honesty, nevertheless, such a proclamation would not have been faith at all; it would have been a scream of terror, disguised as faith. The climbing down from the cross would have frightened those taunters into faith – as well as all those who would have heard the story down through the centuries. Before such a God who could not be killed, men and women would have to believe. And such a God would continue to demand the proverbial pound of flesh – his few millions – any time it struck the Divine Fancy.
Thanks be to God (literally), we need not engage in conjecture about what would have happened if Jesus had remained on the cross, his lips sealed in loving silence. Obviously, he did not take the dare. The lesson of total self-sacrifice and non-violence is the genuine lesson of faith. Even to the point of feeling abandoned by his Father (to say nothing of his disciples and the arrogant taunters), Jesus trusts. He remains obedient to the end, even to death on the Cross.
With his death Jesus invites the weak and the broken to faith. There is no threat or force here – only a loving invitation to life. God speaks through Jesus’ suffering and death a message of hope and reconciliation. Though equal with God, Jesus does not allow his humanity to become compromised through anger, vindication and self-righteousness.
The message of the Cross is not a call to pain and suffering. There is no sadistic invitation here. The message of the cross is one of faithfulness – God’s faithfulness in the face of our unfaithfulness and flaunted freedom. God’s faithfulness is expressed even in death – the outstretched, loving arms of the Savior of the world.
The death of Jesus opens for us all the doors to salvation. It calls us to genuine faith, the radical openness of our lives and hearts to the life God always seeks to give us. The taunters at the foot of the cross briefly savored their shallow and short-lived victory; but they did not perceive what God had done for them.
Oddly, it is the Roman centurion, the agent of crucifixion, who painfully recognized the role he had played in the death of Jesus; he is the one who first learned the lesson of the cross. We hear it in his confession after Jesus dies: “Truly, this is the Savior of the world.” He, the sinner, hears the gentle, loving invitation to faith. It comes not out of fear but out of freedom. It is not based in some self-serving challenge, drawing a line in the sand.… If only….
(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa, and serves the diocese as Moderator of the Curia.)
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