Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel takes place just days before his crucifixion. In the context of his death on the cross, it seems to me that these words could come across as quite brazen and perhaps even delusional. I wonder if any of his hearers pondered these words as Jesus suffered and died.
“Now is the judgment of this world …” Actually, on the cross, it appears that Jesus is the one who has been judged, and the outcome could not be worse.
“Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out …” Actually, on the cross it appears that Jesus is the one being cast out of the world.
“I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself …” Actually, on the cross it appears that Jesus will soon be dead. How can a person draw others to himself, if that person no longer exists? These are indeed bold words from a man who is about to be crucified!
In his teaching, Our Lord makes direct references to “the ruler of this world”, and that when he is lifted up he will “draw all people” to himself. We can reasonably infer several important points.
First, someone else besides Our Lord must be in control, that is, the “ruler of this world.” That someone else is Satan, the fallen archangel, who invades and sabotages God’s creation from the very beginning. Second, there must have been a separation between Our Lord and the people he has created. Why else would he have need to “draw all people to himself,’ but for the fact that some — perhaps many even — have been separated from him.
These two points are related. It is in truth the “ruler of this world” who has incited discord and separation between God and humanity. And so it is that when the ruler of this world is cast out — conquered, defeated — that discord and separation can be healed and repaired. The means by which this radical rescue mission takes place, is the cross. Jesus prophecies his crucifixion saying, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth …” St. John confirms this meaning, “He said this to show by what death he would die” (John 12.33). It is on the cross that Satan’s grip on this world is destroyed, and the Way is opened once again for reconciliation and relationship with Almighty God.
St. John Chrysostom writes, “Whatever victory the devil achieved, Christ surmounted it … a Virgin, a tree, and death, these signs of abasement now made to be signs of victory. Instead of Eve, Mary; instead of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the cross; instead of the death of Adam, the death of Christ. See how that by which the devil gained a victory has now itself been conquered by that very thing? (Homily on the Cemetery and the Cross).
On the cross our Lord fulfills the ancient prophecy from Genesis, and bruises the head of the serpent once and for all. On the cross the ruler of this world is cast out, and the rightful honor and power and authority is restored to Christ Our God and King.
How does Jesus accomplish this great victory on the cross? A clue lies in those ominous opening words, “Now is the judgment of this world.” The word “judgment” comes from the Greek crisis. Now is the “crisis” of this world. It means literally “a separation or division.” What separation or division occurs on the hill at Golgatha? It is quite simply the separation of the darkness from the light; or rather the scattering of the darkness in the presence of the unfailing and eternal love of God in Christ. Sin and death simply cannot abide in the same space as love and life. On the cross, through Our Lord Jesus Christ’s passion and death, the pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, vanquishes the darkness of sin, destroys the power of death, and conquers them both once and for all.
Again St. John Chrysostom writes, “As in a house enveloped in darkness, when someone, having lit a lamp and having put it in a sconce drives the darkness away, so does Christ do for the whole universe, which is enveloped in darkness, having erected the cross as a kind of lamp, and having raised it high, he scatters all the darkness from the earth. And as a lamp contains light overhead and it extends to the upper parts, so too does the cross extend the mighty Sun of righteousness to the outer reaches of the world” (Homily on the Cemetery and the Cross).
In the crucified and risen Christ, the true light which enlightens every person has come into the world. The light of Christ exposes who we really are, reveals our true selves, the good and the bad, the broken and the beautiful, and all traits in between.
Without the light of Christ, we are lost in darkness and cannot see ourselves for who we truly are. Decisions made in darkness are fraught with uncertainty; an anxious combination of flawed reason and wishful guesswork. But when we are exposed to the True Light which enlightens the world we are able to see ourselves — our thoughts, words, and deeds — in relation to the light. The guesswork is gone — God has revealed to us the Way, and the Truth, and the Life in His Son. The weight of human reason is overshadowed by the blinding glory of the crucified and risen Christ.
When we come to an intersection in the darkness, we cannot see the signage. There may be a stop sign, a yield sign, or perhaps there is no sign at all. We make our best guess and hope for the best. But in in the crucified and risen Christ, the true light which enlightens every person has come into the world. Now, when we come to that same intersection, the signage is fully visible. We can choose to ignore it and look the other way. We can choose to disobey it and act however we want. But through the cross of Christ, the lights are on, and the game has completely changed.
The Light of Christ has come into the world so that the world might be filled with his soul-saving, life-giving, illumination. Thanks to Our Lord Jesus Christ, not only can we now see the way, but in him and by his grace we are actually empowered to go that way; the way of life and salvation.
Again St. Chrysostom writes, “ … the deed is the Master’s, but the crown is ours … This is what the cross accomplishes for us; the cross is the trophy against the demons, the weapon against sin, the sword with which Christ pierced the serpent; the cross is the will of the Father, the glory of the Only-Begotten, the joy of the Spirit, the adornment of the angels, the foundation of the Church, the praise of Paul, the stronghold of the saints, the light of the whole world. (Homily on the Cemetery and the Cross).
Just as darkness dissolves in the presence of light, so too will every evil thought and desire dissolve in the presence of the cross. The crosses that we hang in our homes, and wear around our necks, are the same cross that scatters the darkness of the world. The crosses that we sign upon our hearts, scatter the darkness from within us. This is the same cross that Mother Church has made throughout history: blessing the waters of baptism, anointing the sick with oil, consecrating the bread and wine that they may become our Lord’s body and blood. Every time it is made, and wherever it stands, it scatters the darkness of this world.
On this great feast let us renew our commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ and his life-giving cross. We only have so much time on this earth, and in this life. The darkness is still present. Let us walk in the light of the tree of life while we can, while we have the light, lest the darkness overtake us.
Adapted from the sermon.