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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Power of the Cross
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
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Last week Jesus had an encounter with a rich man who seemed to be letting his many possessions hold him back from becoming a disciple. Let’s imagine that, like Jesus’s chosen twelve, we manage to let go of all of our stuff. Have we made it to the top? Not necessarily. Because we still think making it to the top is what it’s all about.

I recently heard a compelling interpretation of the Franciscan vow of poverty as living with nothing to defend. Fr. Dan Crosby, a Capuchin Franciscan, pointed out how often people who willingly have given up material possessions will point to that sacrifice as a matter of pride. In the absence of material things, spiritual and intellectual achievements can take on too much importance for us. Anytime we become defensive about who we are or what we do, we need to ask whether we’re not still placing ourselves at the center of the universe.

Before Jesus began his public ministry, he was led into the desert to confront three temptations: turning stones to bread (material wealth), throwing himself from a cliff into the arms of God’s waiting angels (power), and bowing down before the Father of Lies in order to rule the nations (prestige).

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus leads his disciples to recognize that they, too, must fight those temptations. Those who give in to an expectation of privilege because of their positions of religious leadership rarely succeed in what really matters: leading others to recognize the presence of God in their midst.

Human society has long been structured according to hierarchical patterns. In the business world, in the political world, it’s all about winning. The notion of a servant leader would be laughed at in many boardrooms around the world. Even Jesus realizes that he’s probably not going to change that reality in a fallen world. But what he tells his disciples is this: “It must not be that way with you.”

Again and again throughout the history of Christianity, institutions have fallen prey to the temptation to power. And when that happens, prophets come along to challenge the leaders to return to the message of the Gospel. More often than not, it’s a thankless task. We don’t let go of our perks and privileges willingly for the most part. Ironically, even those with no power or prestige will defend those who have it, because secretly they hope to get there someday. We like to bask in the reflected glory of belonging to an institution that’s always right, always perfect, always powerful.

This section in Mark’s Gospel is the last preparation for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the fate that awaited him there. It’s his last chance to help the disciples understand the full implication of his identity as the Messiah and what it would mean for them as his followers. No matter how often he tells them that the Son of Man must suffer and die, they’re still filled with dreams of glory and the promise of an earthly kingdom with all its trappings.

Our world, our country, even our religious institutions, are not likely to change any time soon. But if we each do our own part to let go of having power over others and learn to use what power we have to do good for them, we may see small signs of hope even now in these difficult times. If we can stop defending the indefensible, we will discover the true power of Christ, the power of the cross.


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First Martyrs of the Church of Rome: There were Christians in Rome within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus, though they were not the converts of the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 15:20). Paul had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his great letter in 57-58 A.D.. 
<p>There was a large Jewish population in Rome. Probably as a result of controversy between Jews and Jewish Christians, the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49-50 A.D. Suetonius the historian says that the expulsion was due to disturbances in the city “caused by the certain Chrestus” [Christ]. Perhaps many came back after Claudius’s death in 54 A.D. Paul’s letter was addressed to a Church with members from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. </p><p>In July of 64 A.D., more than half of Rome was destroyed by fire. Rumor blamed the tragedy on Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace. He shifted the blame by accusing the Christians. According to the historian Tacitus, many Christians were put to death because of their “hatred of the human race.” Peter and Paul were probably among the victims. </p><p>Threatened by an army revolt and condemned to death by the senate, Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 31.</p> American Catholic Blog People are not perfect. But God does not only call upon great saints to reveal his love for the world. He also calls the broken and desperate. We are all called to act as God’s light in this darkening world.

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