I thought that Brian had a truncated vision of the Easter mystery, one that needed a good dose of the Resurrection in order to emphasize Christ as Victor over death. Did too much bad religious education leave Brian stuck believing in an atonement that relied too heavily on an angry God who killed Jesus in order that we might be freed from sin?
But over the years I have begun to question the way I perceived Brian’s insistence on the primacy of Jesus’ death on the Cross.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23, 24)
Maybe Brian knows more about the Cross than I believe. I cannot help but wonder if a reason Brian gravitates to this work of Christ is because he can intimately identify with a suffering Messiah.
Perhaps seeing Christ on the Cross affirms for Brian that God is “with” him, even to the point of becoming the excluded, marginalized and abandoned one. For Brian’s suffering lies less in his particular impairment than in society’s categorizing him as a non-person outside the bounds of “normal”. By choosing to become the scapegoat of humanity’s violence, Jesus radically identifies with the suffering “other” or “despised” non-person, and passes that radical solidarity on as a task of the church. Roman Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz articulates this as the “dangerous memory” of the Cross which serves to remind the church of her vocation to pay attention to the marginalized among us.
But how often does the Cross draw us to the innocent victims of history and in our own day? Have we over-personalized Jesus death, to the point that we can only see it as an analgesic to our own individual pain? Or do we wish to completely avoid any thought of suffering in Jesus’ work by trying to skip his death and move straight to the Resurrection? Theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes about how our contemporary fear of suffering makes it nearly impossible to remain present to the “suffering other” among us. Thus we try desperately to “fix” the suffering, and, if this is not possible, we then attempt to eliminate the one who reminds us of our own limitations and creatureliness.
While we might wish to avoid suffering and weakness at all costs, Jesus’ death boldly states that this is impossible. Paul echoes this: the message of the cross “is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Cor 1:27, 28).
And this kind of “wisdom” remains profoundly counter-cultural. In my relationship with Brian, I found many in the church who saw him as a “stumbling block” to their conceptions of being made in the image and likeness of God as a rational and powerful actor. In our culture, where human flourishing cannot be seen apart from autonomy and self-determination, the Cross of Christ certainly must appear “foolish” and “weak”.
Yet this is the way that Christ chose to redeem us and reconcile us with God. On the cross Jesus proclaims to us that the poor and marginalized cannot be forgotten. Through his solidarity with Brian and all those we refuse to see, Jesus forces us to bring them to the center of our ultimate concern. And by his Resurrection, Christ puts an end to finding any more scapegoats whom we can “sacrifice” in order to uphold the “norms” which we believe maintain order and security. In his sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus then mandates the church to identify itself not with those in power or with its own strength but with those at the margins in full trust of God.
“Jesus died on the Cross.” This is the “wisdom of God.” Brian gets it. Do we have the courage to let him transform our vision about salvation and the mission of the church?
Jason Greig wrote this article while he was a Student Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network