Friday, November 19, 2010

Is the Cross the victory of love over justice?

I'm sure that most Christians would answer "Yes" to the question. I wonder, however, whether we always grasp what it means.

Somewhere I came across the description of the Crucifixion as a "family matter" within the Trinity. Not having found the original reference, in Moltmann I think, I have spent years coming back to the image: father and son at odds with Sophia mediating - a family like our own so often. On the cross, Jesus continues to be human, to represent the powerless child confronted by the all-powerful father, asserting his freedom. It is the freedom to forgive, against all the dictates of 'natural' justice.

Legend tells us that when Clovis, the king of the Franks, heard for the first time, from Saint Eloi, about the arrest of Jesus in the garden, he drew his sword and call his house knights to ride with him to Jesus' rescue. When we heard this story at school, we knew, even then, that Clovis had got more wrong than simple confusion that the event was long over We may not have articulated it then but the arrest is necessary to the story, to the evolutionary event of the Passion. As Vanstone  outlines in The Stature of Waiting (Darton Longman & Todd. London. 1982. ISBN 0-232-51573-5), Jesus choses to become the object of action rather than the actor - he "hands himself over", joins the victims, the prisoners, the bed-ridden.

The processes that the evangelists describe suggest to me that, purely in legal terms, Pilate was obliged to find Jesus guilty, thus he experiences hearing a verdict which is deserved - if only under the secular law. He is again handed over, to be flogged and to the people's verdict. He was, indeed, rejected and despised.

In the justice of his father, he can claim redress. He does not. He goes against all logic and demands that the Righteous Judge forgive. Traditional sermons present Jesus' "Forgive them" as a challenge to us to forgive but the text is clear: he is challenging the Father. He is going against the judicial view, not simply the legalistic. He even challenges the ethical.

What then do I make of his final 'handing over', his consigning himself to the Father? This, for me, is the most touching moment and the one which truly marks the victory. The 'beloved Son' trusts, unreservedly, the Father's love and, thereby, becomes a channel for that love into all of Creation as its representative.

There is no question of 'substitution', nor of 'paying the price of our indebtedness'. It is love, pure and simple, transformative and, thereby, salvific.

If we, then, are to try share in this transformation for ourselves, which is, surely, the promise of the Resurrection, we have to let go of justice in favour of love. When Saint Paul instructs us not to resort to the courts to settle our disputes, the meaning goes far beyond breaches of contract or, even, retribution for law-breaking. I hear a challenge to forgive and forgive and forgive. After all, seventy times seven may not even be enough times.

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