While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave a series of lectures that were later placed in manuscript form by one of his students and eventually published. The result was the little book Spiritual Care – a study of Christian caregiving. In the following excerpt, Bonhoeffer reflects on how the cross makes it possible for people to speak the truth about their lives; it also makes it possible to hear that truth with grace.
At the cross of Christ we learn to see ourselves and others as sinners. What sin can be greater than the godlessness which took Christ to the cross? We show an impoverished understanding of the cross of Christ if we are “shocked” by a great sin which we learn about, for example, in confession. At the cross of Christ we learn to look such things in the eye and in the process become aware of our nearness to others. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care, 38).
Somehow people of faith are portrayed as frequently shocked and offended. They are always scandalized by something: by dancing or lewd behavior or short skirts or salty language. Shocked and offended – that’s standard posture of people who take Jesus seriously. But that’s a misrepresentation. It’s a caricature, and it’s wrong.
Bonhoeffer grasped that people who truly understand the cross will not be “shocked” by the things they learn about other people, especially their secrets, their failures, their sin. This means that the cross is what makes genuine Christian community possible. The cross puts an end to our impression management, our need to appear all put together. Christians are people who can hear someone else’s secret and not be scandalized. What’s more, Christians are able to admit the truth about their own lives. The cross tells us that we all have secrets. The cross also takes our shame.
Someone around you may need to confide in another person today. Perhaps that person will be you. As you listen with grace, the work of the cross becomes real. Maybe you need to confide in someone today. To whom are you able to speak the truth about your life?
We give you thanks, O God, that you did not send Jesus to die for righteous people or for good, but for sinners. Help us to acknowledge this truth: that we are all sinners, people with secrets that keep us distant from you and from one another. By your spirit help us to be people who can extend your grace to others. Help us also to receive it, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.