This figure of speech has behind it the imagery of the bronze serpent being lifted up by Moses on a pole so that it would become a means of life for all who were bitten by snakes in the wilderness and looked up to the bronze serpent (Num.21:9). A snake, a thing looked down upon, was to become a channel of blessing. Similarly the cross, which was a symbol of disgrace, was to become a sign of salvation for all creation. The Roman form of crucifixion was not employed in the Old Testament by the Jewish people, as they saw crucifixion as one of the most horrible, cursed forms of death: “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree . . . for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut.21: 22-23). In New Testament Bible times, the Romans used this tortuous method of execution as a means of exerting authority and control over the population. Yes, this cross, the symbol of shame was to become the pro-active sign of salvation, and therefore of God’s glory.
Today’s world tends to define glory in terms of success, achievements, accomplishments, wealth, possessions, fame, etc.
Any expression of public humiliation cannot be considered glorious. Yet for Jesus, the cross was to be his hour of glory. It is in absorbing the sinfulness of humankind on the cross and releasing the blessings of forgiveness and reconciliation with God and consequently of new life in God that the shame of the cross was to become the hour of glory. The world demands signs and scientific/philosophical expressions of greatness(I Cor.1:22), but God chooses the way of identification with the struggles of creation, of suffering the victimization of human sinfulness, of experiencing the consequences of separation from God (death as the wages of sin), and through it all brings new life for all as the articulation of glory.
Today the world imposes different kinds of shame: of being a woman and being raped; of being a poor child and being trafficked; of being a dalit and being excluded; of being a tribal and being exploited; of being HIV infected or affected, of being LGBTIQ, and being stigmatized; of belonging to a minority and being victimized; of failure in attaining grades for selection, and being declared disqualified; of being looked down upon as sinner, and being judged as going to hell – it is through such world designated shames that one is inspired, challenged and empowered by Jesus to be renewed, to become a blessing to the world, to heal it, to reform it and to transform it.
The sign of Easter is the assurance that God gives to all who suffer shame: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God has also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.” (Phil.2:5-9)