|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
The Calvary event is the ultimate self-revelation of God. Looking at the Cross, humanity understands the true nature of God. Man has always been in search of the reality of the Divine. Whatever he found around him which baffled his understanding, he called God. The astounding phenomena of nature were given divine status by the primitive cultures. As man progressed in his intelligent reasoning, he came to more subtle concepts of God. Whatever he could not control but felt controlled by, he designated as God. Limitations of time and place and power were set aside for this Superior Force in his attempt to formulate the nature of God. In this process, man tried to distance this Higher Being from his own limited existence thus establishing God as the ultimate reality.
“WE PROCLAIM CHRIST CRUCIFIED” (1 CORINTHIANS 1:23)
At the foot of the Cross stands the Centurion who, witnessing the miserable death of Christ exclaims, This is truly the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54) This was the Roman military official who had the charge to oversee the process of crucifixion and ensure death. It appears very strange that he, of all people, should find anything divine in the Crucified Jesus who is divested of every shred of human dignity. For a high official in the Roman empire that deified physical might and power, God should have definitely been identified with unequalled glory, honour, pomp and power. The Roman Caesar had been looked upon and worshipped as God. What the Centurion however now looked at on the Cross was everything contradicting a usual perception of God. Indeed what could be more contrasting to the ultimate Divine Power that God was understood to be than this helpless, wounded and submissive creature punished and hanging on the Cross? Abandoned and despised by everyone, including his own, condemned by religious and civil authorities as a dangerous criminal to be urgently
<!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->eliminated, Jesus hung on the Cross in a horrific form even by human standards. Yet the Centurion hails the Crucified as “the Son of God.”
The Centurion definitely had perceived something beyond the natural and human in the person of Christ on the Cross. Even in the midst of unjust atrocities and inhuman cruelties meted out to Him, Jesus kept the Fire of Goodness and Love burning in His Heart. When He was condemned, falsely at that too, he refused to condemn anyone. He was ruthlessly thrashed, yet no word of hatred came from His mouth. Even when the thief sneered at Him, challenging Him to save Himself and them, there was but compassion in His gaze. When His human dignity was violated, He made no effort to affirm or defend Himself. Finally when Jesus did speak, the words that came out of His mouth was a cry that startled the heavens - a cry to the Heavenly Father pleading for mercy for those who plotted together to destroy Him. The Centurion at the foot of the Cross, witness to all this was shocked at what he saw and heard. At that moment of self forgetfulness, he received a ray of light revealing the Face of God!
He would have been totally disillusioned by the powers of this earth. He knew clearly that what he was executing was but the most unjust and cruel verdict on innocence and goodness. He was a part of that ruthless system yet he would have known in his heart that there was nothing justifiable in this great execution. Still the response of Jesus was way beyond his imagination and sensibilities. He realized that here was a power beyond all human comprehension - a Power of Love that defeated all the unjust and corrupt human manipulations and might. This supreme Power of Love the Centurion discovered was God. He stands on Mount Calvary, captivated by the vision of the mangled and now dead Body of the Christ to declare to the world - “Here is God! Here is love! Here is life!”
Mindless violence, unfair situations is what we are familiar with in our world today. The rational reaction is desperation and the impulse is to put down violence with violence. Capital punishment for the transgressor is what we see as reasonable. Our blood cries for revenge. When the unfortunate and unjust happens in our life, we become desperate and even begin to question the meaning and beauty of existence. To struggle alone in the vicissitudes and uncertainties of life is not God’s Will. Apparently at such dark hours the Face of God remains hidden and the Voice of God fades into silence and we begin to question the very Presence of God. We wonder how God remains distanced and unmoved by our circumstances and pain, as we are overpowered by disturbing thoughts and negative emotions. However it is here that God is waiting to reveal the Power of His Loving Presence.
“OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD” (ROMANS 12:21)
Frank, a young college student shared with me his God experience. He had come to make his retreat here at the Divine Centre and all through the sessions, he could hear a voice whispering to his heart - “Overcome evil with good.” He prayed over this word and he knew this was a special message for him though he did not understand its relevance. Many moments from his college life came to his mind where evil seemed to have had the final word. Goodness always seemed to be easily crushed and forgotten. However he treasured this word in his heart as God’s special message for him. He went home after the retreat and continued his studies in the college. He was soon immersed in the day to day responsibilities of life and forgot all about the message he received at the retreat.
A couple of months later, a big showdown happened in his college. The Principal had suspended a student in a case of grave indiscipline. It became the subject of much discussion and debate among the students. There was a polarization in the student body. Many students sympathized with the suspended youth, accusing the Principal for taking a step they called unwarranted and prejudiced. Political parties crept into the conflict magnifying it to new dimensions. The situation became highly charged. Some students playing into the hands of the politicians took an extremist stand against the Principal who refused to go back on his decision. They gathered support by claiming that they were insecure and attributed motives to the Principal. They decided to take revenge on the Principal by harming him that he may not return to his responsibilities in the college. They worked out an ugly plan which reached the ears of Frank. He was shocked but at that very instant, the special message of God he received at the retreat “to overcome evil with good”, flashed into his memory. He realized this was the mission the Lord had been preparing him for – a mission in his own college!
“IF GOD IS FOR US, WHO CAN BE AGAINST US?” (ROMANS 8:31)
He approached the agitating students and advised them to refrain from pursuing the evil plan. They however jeered him, calling him a coward and a traitor. Some of the students actively involved in this plot were his own friends. Hence he was very disturbed about his stand. It would be easier to join them and be part of the sinful strategy, in which case he would be giving in to evil. The other clear option was to hold on to his conviction and do something concrete to avert the evil. This would mean that he would be isolated by his friends and maybe even suspected by the management. He prayed very hard over the decision he must take. The one prompting that was resounding in his heart sharp and clear was the same message, “Overcome evil with good.” To stand up for the good would surely entail that he had to stand alone. He would be ridiculed and may have to pay a price for that. Yet he knew God would stand by him. For a moment he had even wondered whether he as a lone individual could ever hold out against the powerful mob. What then flashed before his eye was the Crucified Lord, alone on the dark horizon and crying out to His Father. He realized he had to follow his Lord and Saviour if he had to overcome evil.
The Will of God was clear. He continued to pray for the Power of God to fulfill his mission. He approached his friends again. He told them that the evil they were planning could never be a solution. When they refused to accept his reasons, he boldly declared that he could never be a part of it and would do all he could to avert the evil even if it required him to speak to the management. When the political leaders came to hear of this, they instructed the student body to prevent him at all costs from disrupting their well-worked out plan. At first the political leader himself called Frank, requesting him to support their cause at least by maintaining silence and that in return they would ensure that he would become the leader of the prestigious student body and secure him other privileges. When his response was indifferent they sent some students among whom were his own friends. They tried every way to intimidate him. When he held on to his stance, they began attacking him physically. He was saved by the chance arrival of some fair-minded people, who after enquiring into the whole matter, intervened to settle the problems of the college.
I happened to visit the college some weeks later. The unrest in the college had made big news and when I enquired, the Principal told me it was because of Frank that his life was saved and the situation was sorted. He continued to tell me that he could never imagine Frank to be that bold as to stand up against the strong powers of evil that were converging in the college. Even the students were bowled over by the heroic stand and courage of their friend. They also realized that in a moment of emotional stress, they had played into the selfish schemes of the politicians. Frank himself confided in me that once the Word of God became clear to him, he felt impelled by a Divine Power to go forward without a trace of fear. It seemed at times that he stood to lose everything he treasured - his friends and his life itself. Yet at every unsure moment, he could see Christ on the Cross and he felt reminded that Jesus holding on to goodness could triumph over the most evil and antagonistic circumstances, simply trusting in the faithful Love of the Father. This vision gave him the confidence that goodness will overcome evil.
“WE CONQUER OVERWHELMINGLY THROUGH HIM WHO LOVED US” (ROMANS 8:37)
When the situations of our life seem impossible, God is waiting to reveal His Presence and release His Power. Jesus promises us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house... I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne.” (Revelations 3:20-21) If we open our hearts to the Lord, every such situation will become a venue for God’s self revelation and the celebration of goodness.
The world charges forward to grab and grapple for more power. People are ready to stoop to low and cruel manipulations to satiate their thirst for self-glorification. It is easy to lose one’s orientations and rush with the current of mediocrity. It is only the Power of God that can enable us to rise above and witness to the Glory of God. The rich and the famous grabbed thrones and titles to establish themselves. In contrast “the Son of Man had nowhere to rest his head.” (Matthew 8:20) All He received was the Cross. He, in fact, did not require a throne or a crown to render Him glorious. Instead the Cross received it’s unfading Glory from Him and remains through every generation highly exalted as the Sign of Blessing and Life.
Distress and struggle have always been a part of our broken existence. Yet the brokenness is destined to become the venue of Glory. As Scripture reminds us - “This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we persevere we shall also reign with Him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12) The godly answer is to echo the response of the Crucified Lord. If we dare to do so then shall we be spokespersons of God’s self-revelation.
Let us Pray
O Lord our God, we stand in awe of You. You walked this earth seeking not to be honored and acknowledged. You came to serve and give Your Life. You held on to Love and Graciousness till the very end. Evil could never taint Your commitment to love and bless. Truly You are the Son of God!
Jesus Lord, as we look at You our Crucified King, we too wanted to be moulded into children of God. Our lives would have no consequence on this earth if we cannot offer it as You did. Speak to our hearts the word of strength - that we might rise to live for Your Glory. May not the false and easy offers of this world deceive us into evil. We offer our relationships and communities, our works and words, our motivations and strength at the Foot of Your Cross. In the dark hour of trial and in the Calvary of our lives, may we witness to You by holding firm to what is right and gracious.
We bless and adore You, Christ our Lord.