Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Crux of the Crucifixion I

The vividness and vitality of story-telling comes forth in the Crucifixion narratives in a way quite different from other parts of the gospels. The infancy narratives, ministry narratives certainly tell a story, but the telling of the Crucifixion contains closer attention to detail, setting, physical and emotional, and a starkness of power unutilized outside the death of Jesus. All four evangelists want this climactic event to radiate and thereby illuminate  what has come before, and what will shortly happen. The Crucifixion is the lens through which the evangelists write and through which we read their gospels.

All the gospels begin with the Cross. For Catholicism, it is not too much of a stretch to say that the bible begins with the Cross. Catholics read the entire library it has preserved with a hermeneutic of the Cross. It is a hermeneutic of urgency that lays open the sacred texts, a hermeneutic that rises from the narrative of the Crucifixion itself. The Logos itself is reading, writing, interpreting, for it is a Logos made flesh, suffering in the flesh, witnessing to the human. The alpha and omega, the creation of the world and the death of God, hang on the Cross, bleeding, humiliated, dying and abandoned.

Though the life, death and Resurrection of Christ cannot be tweezed apart, disentangled into discrete quanta of meaning, we can still begin with the evangelists, in the Cross, where the gospel story has its genesis. On the Cross is a human being, known by other human beings, who lived a human life. The crucifixion is witnessed by the victim's friends and enemies, in short, by those who knew him.

Christ brings with him to the place of the skull all his human experience, a religious life lived of and for God. All the scriptures he knew were with him. What does the Logos say from the Cross? Luke and John each record several utterances, none of which overlap, while Mark and Matthew records the same single utterance. The postmodern turn is enthralled by Mark and Matthew, and in the new theology of the Cross, abandonment infatuates the imagination. While it would be a poor theology of the Cross indeed to discard Luke and John, the stark power of abandonment would very likely be what overpowered those at the foot of the Cross. For the purpose of this current meditation, I will focus on this central theme. This will not be bad theology if we bear in mind this arbitrary focus and that Christian tradition itself locates 'abandonment' at the center of the "Seven Words."

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

[Mk. 15;34; Matt. 27:46]

We are confronted immediately by an authentic saying of Jesus (based on the criterion of embarrassment) and by his reference to the 22nd Psalm. Jesus really felt it, and preached it, from the anguish of the Cross. In this moment, Christ is living and dying the words of institution: this is my body...this is my blood, forsaken. We are reminded here of Jesus question to his disciples after his 'hard teaching' of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (John 6): 'do you want to abandon me?' (6:67).

What does it mean for Christ, the epicenter of Catholicism, to feel and preach abandonment by God?

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