“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” So says Saint Paul to the Christians of Corinth (1 Cor 1:18). The message of the cross is the power of God because God acts powerfully through the cross of Jesus Christ. The power of God in the cross of Jesus can be understood in many ways. It is a saving power, a reconciling power, a re-creating power, a transforming power. It is also, as Pope Francis has told us, a healing power.
The Pope, during a 2014 visit to South Korea, declared, “The cross of Christ reveals the power of God to bridge every division, to heal every wound, and to reestablish the original bonds of brotherly love.” The power of the cross to “heal every wound” is also highlighted in the scriptural readings that are proclaimed during the Catholic Mass on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The first reading from The Book of Numbers tells of how God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole so that the that the people who had been bitten by serpents could look upon it and recover (Nm 21:6-9). In the gospel, Jesus refers back to that event, saying to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The cross on which Jesus was lifted has a power to heal just like the bronze serpent of Moses. But the power of the cross is greater. It does not only restore temporal life; it bestows eternal life.
Just as everyone who looked upon the bronze serpent of Moses was healed and restored to life, so everyone who looks upon the cross with eyes of faith is given the healing grace that bestows eternal life. On the cross, Jesus takes upon himself the venom of our sin, restoring us to spiritual health. Saint Peter says as much in this First Letter: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24). By the wounds of Jesus on the cross, our souls are healed from the debilitating effects of sin. But the healing power of the cross is not only for our souls; it is also for our bodies. And Jesus’ victory on the cross is not only a victory over sin; it is also a victory over death. “Since death came through a human being,” Saint Paul says, “the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life” (1 Cor 15:21-22). On the cross, Jesus dies the death that came through Adam, so that the children of Adam might share in Jesus’ resurrection. Through the cross, therefore, Jesus heals our souls from sin and heals our bodies from the effect of Adam’s sin: the corruption of death.
The healing power of the cross restores soul and body. The eternal life that Jesus bestows on everyone who believes in him embraces the entirety of our humanity. Now, to be sure, the resurrection of the body – through which we participate fully, body and soul, in the victory of Jesus on the cross – is something we await on the last day. As Saint Paul says, it will come “in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible” (1 Cor 15:52). Nevertheless, though the ultimate healing of our bodies must await that final day, the power of the cross to bring about bodily healing is anticipated even now.
The power of the cross to bring about bodily healing is anticipated in the healing ministry of Jesus himself. Jesus’ mission is to restore health and wholeness to a broken world, to undo the tragic effects of sin in the world God created. Jesus accomplished that purpose definitively in his cross and resurrection, but he anticipates that accomplishment in the miraculous healings of his public ministry. Jesus ultimate victory over suffering and death continues to be anticipated in his Church. From the healing miracles worked by the apostles and the saints that came after them, to the miracles of healing that continue to take place through their intercession, the healing power of the cross of Christ is alive in our world even as we await its final manifestation in the resurrection on the last day.
The healing power of the cross of Christ can be effective in our lives and in the lives of those for whom we care. The power of the cross can restore life to our souls, giving us a share in the eternal life of God himself. The power of Christ’s cross can also restore life to our bodies, anticipating its total victory over sin and death that will be fully manifest in the resurrection on the last day. So let us gaze upon the cross on which Jesus is lifted up, beholding our salvation with the eyes of faith. Let us allow the cross to be powerful in our lives, healing our souls from sin, leading us to life and resurrection, and anticipating the ultimate restoration of our bodies even now.