Faith Today: The Cross – the third way
By Graham McMahon
Church of the Nazarene
With Easter now a month behind us, I still find it necessary to pause and remember the story of the cross.
The act of selfless love demonstrated by Jesus on the cross seems to constantly generate new meaning. I have been reminded of this recently as I have walked with folks who have been hurt by others. Often when someone hurts us, wrongs us, or when we have experienced an injustice at the hands of another, we react. If no one stands up for us, we take matters into our own hands. We retaliate. We try to find allies to pit against the one who has hurt us. We speak down about them. We get bitter. We get resentful.
One of Jesus’ disciples, a man named Peter, wrote a letter three decades after the resurrection to several small communities of new Christians spread throughout the Roman Empire. The Christian faith was barely 30 years old and its followers found themselves at odds with the cultures, powers, and religions around them. These Jesus followers became the targets of ridicule, discrimination, and persecution. They were suffering. Like any of us, they wanted to react, perhaps by fighting back, or perhaps by giving up and capitulating to the pressure; if they couldn’t beat their persecutors, they could join them.
Peter offered a third way: the way of Jesus on the cross. In his letter Peter uses Jesus’ reaction to the ridicule, humiliation, and physical torment he experienced on the cross as the example for these new Christians. Peter says, “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus’ reaction was not to retaliate, but to trust God. In fact, Luke’s account of Jesus on the cross portrays him praying for those who persecuted him: he asks God to “…forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In his own teaching to his disciples, Jesus instructs them to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus fully embodied this teaching on the cross.
Some might see this as being a doormat, or perhaps as whitewashing a grievous injustice. It is just the opposite. Jesus suffered a corrupt trial and an unjust death, yet he did not whitewash this. His prayer for his persecutors’ forgiveness reveals that he knew their actions were unjust. And as far as being a doormat, choosing to bless instead of curse, choosing to love instead of retaliate, choosing to forgive instead of resent, requires the utmost strength and courage.
As crazy as it seems, Jesus was dying for the very people that put him on the cross and were at that moment hurling insults at him. How could this kind of love be seen as weakness?
Imagine if this third way were the way we approached conflict with others, or those who have wronged us. We might not find an instant solution or vindication, but we would not get caught in an endless cycle of retaliation and resentment. If we choose to love and bless instead of retaliate and curse, then healing and hope become an option. This third way becomes an invitation to those who have done harm to us to find peace with us.
• Graham McMahon is a pastor at the Chilliwack Church of the Nazarene. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.