The Scandal of the Cross

The Scandal of the Cross

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By Fr. Justine J. Dyikuk

Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9; Ps 114:1-6,8-9; James 2:14-18; Gospel – Mark 8:27-35.

The first reading paints the picture of the Suffering Servant who willingly accepts pain. In the second reading, St. James maintains that salvation is tied to faith and good works. He makes a case for practical Christianity which takes into cognizance the needs of our brothers and sisters. The Gospel reveals Jesus’ teaching about the cost of discipleship. Therein, Jesus rebuked Peter for remonstrating with him. Instead of being contended with the 5 Solas which preach a Crossless Christianity, we are charged to take up our crosses daily in imitation of Christ.

Introduction

Tuesday 31st October 2021 would mark the 504th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation led by an ex-Augustinian Priest, Rev. Fr. Martin Luther who pinned his popular 95 theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany to not only break away from the Catholic Church in what is called schism in theology but also denounce the papacy. Since then, Christendom has not remained the same. One schism led to another culminating in the proliferation of churches. One painful takeaway from the reformation which has remained with us is Sola Fide (faith alone). Today, St. James brings to the fore one of the hottest debates between Catholics and Protestants.

Background & Summary of the Readings

The first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9) paints the picture of the Suffering Servant who willingly accepts pain, humiliation, insults and condemnation without complain. He willingly makes no resistance neither does he turn away. He offers his back to those who stroke him, his cheeks to those who tore his beard; he does not cover his face against insult and spittle but relies on God.

In the second reading (James 2:14-18), St. James, whom I refer to as the Apostle of Faith and Works maintains that salvation is tied to faith and good works. James does not denounce faith but argues that faith is expressed through good works. He makes a case for practical Christianity which takes into cognizance the needs of our brothers and sisters.

The Gospel (Mark 8:27-35) reveals Jesus’ teaching about the cost of discipleship. The Jews looked forward to a military cum political messiah who would crush their enemies. Jesus had to ask the disciples about his identity which theologians call, the messianic secret. Peter, the head of the Apostles answered: “You are the Christ.” He then goes ahead to tell them about his impending passion. Jesus rebuked Peter for remonstrating with him and surmised: “Anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

The 5 Solas and Crossless Christianity

  1. Sola Fide (Faith alone): While Catholics insist that we are justified through faith and works, Protestants hold the view that our good works amount to nothing.
  2. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone): While Protestants argue that the scripture is the only bastion of truth, the Catholic Church teaches that whatever we need to know about God must be interpreted in the light of Sacred Tradition or the Church’s Magisterium.
  3. Sola Gratia (Grace alone): Based on Ephesians 2:8, Protestants are of the opinion that we are saved by grace alone. However, the Catholic Church teaches that good works are part of the complete package.
  4. Solus Christus (Christ alone): Based on Colossians 1:15 and John 3:16 Protestants cliam that we know God through his self-revelation in Christ but Catholics insist that we can access God through divine revelation and recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God alone): Protestants teach that all glory belongs to God alone (1 Corinthians 10:31) and that he is the means and the end. Catholics argue that God gives us allowance to improve our lives for the sanctification of mankind.

The 5 Solas point to the cross as an instrument of shame since it provides the lee way for a Crossless Christianity as evident in Protestant/Pentecostal spirituality.

Pastoral Lessons

  1. Look Up to the Heavens: Our liturgy assures all those who are in every kind of suffering, humiliation, excruciating pain and near death experience to look up to the heavens from whence shall come their help.
  2. Resist a Crossless Christianity: It also calls Christians to shun any modern tendency which removes the cross from the Christian faith because the sculpture says, narrow is the gate the that leads to the kingdom while the way that leads to perdition is wide.
  3. Appreciate the Sign of the Cross: Our liturgy helps us to reflect on why we mark the sign of the of the Cross – i. e, because in the Via Dolorosa Jesus receives his Cross in the second station, he was nailed to the cross in the 11th station, he died on the cross for our sake in the 12th station, there are three persons in one God and it is an act of faith to bless and wish ourselves good luck.
  4. Match Faith with Action: Since our liturgy illustrates the importance of faith at work, we are challenged to ensure that our faith is matched with concrete action bearing in mind that prayer goes hand in hand with good works.
  5. Respect the Living Tradition: As Catholics, we are reminded that the five Solas are connected to divine revelation, the teachings of the Magisterium and the Sacred Tradition handed over to the Church through unbroken Apostolic succession.

Summary Lines

  1. The first reading paints the picture of the Suffering Servant who willing accepts pain.
  2. In the second reading, St. James… maintains that salvation is tied to faith and good works.
  3. He makes a case for practical Christianity which takes into cognizance the needs of our brothers and sisters.
  4. The Gospel reading reveals Jesus’ teaching about the cost of discipleship.
  5. Jesus rebuked Peter for remonstrating with him.

Conclusion

Beloved in Christ, we are living in a materialistic society which increasingly points to a crossless Christianity. Painfully, prosperity gospel incensed by televangelists now identifies the Cross as a symbol of shame rather than victory over sin and death. Jesus reminds us to take up our crosses daily, if we want to make heaven. The implication is, there is no shortcut to heaven. If the mother of the sons of Zebedee did not get automatic ticket for her sons, we won’t either. Since there will be no VIP seats in heaven, we are cautioned to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Have a blessed week ahead!

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