POWER OF THE CROSS 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Mk 8:27-35)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, philosopher and political prisoner. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. In his autobiographical book “Gulag Archipelago” where he spent eight years in incarceration, he described that one day he felt physically weak and totally discourage. The hard labor, the terrible condition insider this Siberian prison, lack of food and sleep made him give up. He just wanted to die.
With no reason to keep on living, he stopped working and put his shovel down. He sat down on a crude bench waiting for the guard to beat him to death as he had seen so many times to tired prisoners. Intense suffering reduced him to despair.
As he waited, head down, he felt the presence of an old prisoner who sat down with him. He said nothing. Using a stick, he traced down on the dirt the sign of the cross. Then he got up and returned to his work.
Alexander revealed that when he stared at the cross on the dirt, his perspective changed. He felt the power of the cross. He knew there was something greater than the evil he saw in the prison camp; greater than the Soviet Union. He knew that hope was represented by that simple cross. Through the power of the cross, anything was possible.
Slowly he rose to his feet. He picked up his shovel and went back to work. Outwardly, nothing has changed. Inside, he had received hope; the strength never to give up.
Today’s gospel (Mk 8:27-35) is an invitation to look up and feel the presence of the cross and experience its power. Those who experience despair and discouragement will always find in the cross the strength to rise. In Mark’s gospel, this is a turning point in the mystery of Jesus. It reveals him as the Messiah; not a political or powerful figure but a suffering servant. He will undergo his paschal mystery – he will suffer; he will be rejected; he will be put to death; but he will rise again.
There are three moments I would like to emphasize from the gospel: 3 C’s
Confrontation – the moment of confrontation the first seven chapters of Mark contains a mystery. The looming question is: who is Jesus? Why does he teach with authority? Where does his power of healing come from? How can he walk on water? Even the evil spirits know him but Jesus tells them to be quiet. Jesus is reluctant to reveal his secret. Now he confronts his disciples about his identity.
Confession – the moment of revelation. Peter acknowledges him as Messiah or the Christ. Jesus accepts this title which is not a personal opinion but his real mission. This is the true purpose of his life and the very reason why he was born. God has sent his son into the world to restore humanity to its original state as it was in the beginning.
Cost of Discipleship. Being Messiah is not easy. The prophecies have already declared it. It has an expensive price. Yet only in union with Christ can there be life and glory. Jesus teaches us a simple but difficult formula for discipleship:
S + C = R or Sacrifice + Cross = Resurrection
Sacrifice means something to give up – your will; your obedience; desire; pride; self-love; ego; addictions. Things you offer and surrender to the Lord.
Cross means bearing our pain with faith and love; then with Christ we shall rise and find life. This is the paradox of Christian life. We gain by losing; we receive by giving and we live by dying. That is the power of the cross; the secret of the paschal mystery. Somebody said: only in the cross will we receive power when we are powerless; we will find strength when we are weak; we will experience hope when our situation is hopeless. Only in the cross is there peace for troubled hearts.
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