For Saint Paul, Jesus Christ cannot be understood without reference to His Cross. He writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The Cross is such an important part of Jesus’ life and mission that when we look upon Jesus, we instantly recognize Him as the “Crucified One.” To attempt to understand Jesus without His Cross is to lose Him entirely. Saint Paul recognized this truth and wasn’t afraid to stress the importance of Jesus’ own cross, as well as encouraging people to join themselves to that cross.
In the midst of the Hellenistic world that Saint Paul inhabited, this emphasis on the Cross seemed foolish. Why would anyone glorify in someone who died a criminal’s death on an instrument of torture? Saint Paul recognized this paradox, but did not back away from it, he wrote, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians1:18). As the prophet Isaiah once said, ‘God’s ways are not our ways.’ The Cross seems to be a sign of defeat and death, but in God’s wisdom it is not so – it is the sign and vehicle for victory and eternal life.
Saint Paul saw the Cross as something to glorify in, to revel in. He wrote to the people of Galatia, “may I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Saint Paul would glory in the Cross because of what was accomplished upon it. It is because of the Cross that the broken relationship between God and humanity was restored, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This reconciliation has brought peace between us and God, a peace which comes “through the blood of his cross” (Colossians1:20).
As this Lenten season enters its final phase, may we too spend time prayerfully considering the Cross, its power, and its glory. Jesus embraced His Cross, Saint Paul gloried in it – may we not be afraid to embrace it and join Christ in carrying it up the steep slopes of Calvary.