Good Friday Special Programme on suffering of Christ March 29, 2013

Today is Good Friday, the day on which we Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. It is, in many respects, quite an odd event to commemorate: the agonizing death of the one whom is the Son of God. As we read the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion today, we have the benefit of knowing that it is directing us to the triumph of Easter. But to the followers of Jesus present at the scene of Crucifixion, it must have seemed that the world as they knew was falling apart. One of the challenges of reading the crucifixion story two thousand years after the event took place is that it is difficult for us to empathize with its participants. From our perspective, the Easter crowds seem insanely fickle; the disciples of Jesus seem utterly clueless; the members of the Sanhedrin contemptibly evil; Herod seeking fun and entertainment; Pilate laughably corrupt. No one except Jesus behaves well in the Good Friday story. But it is for these very people—fickle, clueless, evil and corrupt—that Jesus died for. The truth is that we have much in common with the fools and villains of Easter. The wonder is that Jesus loved them, and us, enough to submit to foolishness, injustice, and death. The miracle is that three days later, he rose from the dead to offer us salvation.
On Good Friday we enter into the Passion of Christ who endured rejection, humiliation and intense physical pain for our sins. We follow Jesus as He carries His cross to Calvary. We remain with Mary, the Mother of Sorrows and we stand at the foot of the cross to witness the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. How can we not be moved if we recognize our responsibility for the death of Christ? “It was our infirmities that He bore, our sufferings that He endured,” The Prophet Isaiah pointedly reminds us.
The church does not celebrate the Holy Eucharist on Good Friday. Hence let us meditate on the cross, sufferings and death of Jesus. Stay with us.
The Gospel according to St Matthew tells us: Matthew 20, 17 – 19 “Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside along the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him. And the third day he shall rise again.”
In this passage we have the third and final prediction of our Lord regarding His death and resurrection. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centre of biblical revelation. It is the most important Christian truth. The theme of this particular announcement, however, takes us beyond the earlier two predictions. Whereas the earlier predictions conveyed only his death and resurrection, this final one stresses the nature and details of His suffering. He explains in detail that he will be betrayed and handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and then hand him over to the pagans. They in turn will mock, scourge, and finally crucify him. After that Christ will rise from the dead. So the focus of this particular prediction by our Lord is his sufferings.
We exist in a day and time when much of Christ’s work in redemption is taken for granted and the suffering that He went through is taken too lightly. We believe it is time well spent for us to once again look face to face at the suffering he actually went through to bring you and I the deliverance we enjoy today. We spend some time going through the Gospels and living out the walk of Christ from Gethsemane to the Cross. The four Gospel writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–did not go into great detail, and there was a reason for it. In those days, scourging and crucifixion were very common. It was nothing to walk down the road toward the city and see someone suffering the punishment of crucifixion. However, each Gospel writer gave some detail that point out the terrible suffering.
As we meditate on Christ’s physical suffering, we truly experience his pain and at the same time do contemplate the agony of our saviour. What a price had to be paid for this very sin and the sinful nature of humankind. The sufferings of Jesus indicate how much God loves us, and how much Christ loves us, and continue to show that love to us. He would stand sufferings beyond that which any human body ever stood up to or ever will stand up to. We know that human beings have suffered great things, but none has had to drink of the cup that He drank of, because there was so much in the contents of that cup. We want to answer the question of what the body of Jesus endured during those hours of torture. None of the Gospels give the entire pattern in sequence, but if we can put them together and reflect on the passion we can surely follow the entire walk of Christ from Gethsemane to Calvary. Gethsemane is where his torture really began. That is where he began to pay the price for our redemption through his physical and mental sufferings.
The sufferings of Jesus Christ were no accident or miscalculation. He was able to give in exact detail all that was going to happen to him. His first recorded words in the Gospel are these: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Just before his death he said, “It is finished”, “I have accomplished the task given to me.” It is obvious that he knew what he was supposed to do and when he would complete it. The fact that Jesus knew every single detail of his sufferings indicates that he must have suffered through them a thousand times before he actually endured them. Being omniscient, he was able to conceive of all that his suffering would be. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand his sufferings. They anticipated the glories of the Kingdom and the Messiah–those prophecies they seemed to understand quite well. But they didn’t understand that the Messiah had to suffer first. We can’t be too hard on their ignorance because despite all that Jesus told them about sufferings, they expected a great kingdom of authority. The disciples were looking for a lion; they didn’t know they needed a lamb. But Jesus was perfectly aware of their weakness.
In the passion narrative we see the Fidelity of Jesus to his Father. The Gospel according to Matthew says, “Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside along the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem.” There’s a resolution and conviction in his words. The Gospel of Luke says, “He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus was resolute in his commitment. He had almost come to the end of his public ministry. It was from this point he would begin his long ascent to Jerusalem. It was now only a matter of days until he would face his death and resurrection. While on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus again felt a need to communicate to his disciples about what was going to happen. It may have sounded shocking and strange to the disciples, but that was exactly where they were going. Mark says that Jesus walked ahead of his disciples. He was like a commander leading his troops into battle, putting Himself in the most dangerous and vulnerable position. Jesus steadfastly moved toward His death on behalf of His disciples. Their anticipation of the Kingdom mingled with their fear of death.
Jesus predicted in great detail the sufferings that would take place before his crucifixion. But how did he know all that? There’s only one who could know, and that is God. Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. He was no ordinary man. He told his disciples to get the foal of a donkey and told them what would be said when they asked the owner for the animal. He also told them that he would be betrayed. The Greek verb for “betrayed” means “to be handed over.” But it is obvious that it implies betrayal. Judas turned him over to the Jewish leaders, thus betraying his own master. The chief priests and scribes made up the executive body of the Temple priesthood that ultimately condemned Jesus to death because he had become a threat to the security of their system. The religion they preached was challenged by Jesus. The priests and the religious community rejected Christ. They were in a position to pull off a mock trial and condemn him to death. That was no surprise to anyone regarding their cowardly act.
The Jewish leaders could not kill Him because the Romans had removed their right to execute people. So they had to hand him over to the Gentiles, which they did after they brought some false charges against him. Ultimately the charge was that he spoke against Caesar as recorded in the Gospel of John and thus called himself a king. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, couldn’t find anything wrong with Jesus, but he finally succumbed to the pressure of Jewish leaders to crucifying him. They told Pilate that they would report to Caesar if he did not execute him.. Pilate already had many attacks against him in connection with his relations with the Jews. If one more had occurred, the emperor probably would have removed him from his position, and perhaps even would have executed him. He was afraid of the people and wanted to retain his authority.
Once Jesus was condemned to death the following things took place: First, he was mocked. They mocked about his being a Messiah, his divinity, his miracles and healing, his teaching and his kingship. Roman soldiers put a reed in his hand, spat all over him, and jeered at him. Secondly, he was scourged. They lacerated his back with leather thongs, in which were bits of bone and metal at the end. Then they laughed at him in scorn. Thirdly they placed on his head a crown of thorns which they had taken from the thorny branches, weaved them into a crown and placed on his head to mock him as a king. After this the soldiers placed a purple robe on him to signify his kingship. Then he was taken in a procession through public streets and market places to be laughed at, mocked and insulted. Finally, he was taken to Golgotha and there they crucified him. It was a brutal act. They nailed his hands and legs and raised him high to hang between heaven and earth. He was allowed to suffer in agony, with thirst, fever and the fear of death. He was helpless and had no one close to him. They allowed him to die alone on the cross. He suffered silently, without any complaint, making the entire act a moment of offering to his Father.
The Gospels present a detailed account of the passion of Jesus from his arrest up to his death on the cross. The proportion of his suffering is beyond anything a human person can ever consider or imagine. Many of us limit our perception of Christ’s suffering to the nails driven through his hands, the spear thrust through his side, scourging at the pillar or the crown of thorns jammed on his head. It involved a great deal of pain and physical hurt. First century Jewish historian Josephus records the crucifixion of three men on Calvary, Jesus and two other robbers. Generally the crucified men were left until such a time when they should have been dead on the cross itself. But two of them did not die immediately. Hence they broke their legs so that all support for them coming for the leg was removed. Then the body sagged and the person died. Jesus had already died and hence they did not break his legs.
There was much more to the suffering of Christ than his physical suffering on the cross. Generally human bodies have an amazing ability to cope with shock and trauma. Psychologically a person bears his suffering which can be more painful. Prophet Isaiah tells us about the suffering servant, who had neither form nor comeliness, and when we see him there is no beauty left in him. He suffered from being ugly and being rejected; he was despised. Jesus suffered the sorrow of grief and the lack of esteem and respect. He suffered the internal pain of being despised and rejected. Remember who this is: Jesus, God in human flesh, was never worthy of that kind of suffering! He suffered for others: he suffered for us. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and with his wounds we are healed. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. He didn’t even defend Himself. He was cut off from the land of the living; He made his grave with the wicked. He suffered from being counted as a common criminal in His burial. He suffered even though he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. It is overwhelming to conceive of the proportion of the sufferings of our Lord.
The entire Passion was very painful for Jesus. There were seven processions, after the Cenacle where he had the Last Supper. After his meal with the disciples he went to Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives. After his arrest there were the processions to Annas, to Caiaphas, to Pilate, to Herod, back to Pilate, to Calvary, and finally to the Grave. The worst of the processions was from Pilate’s palace to Calvary. He was taken through the public places and market squares. He had taught in those places, walked freely as a preacher, healed the sick, made the lame walk and gave sight to the blind. Now he is taken as a criminal carrying his cross. The same people, who followed him, listened to him and healed by him, now laugh at him and shout “crucify him.” Jesus suffers deeply at every step he takes during his procession.
Jesus suffered the pain of disloyalty knowing fully well that he would soon be betrayed by his own disciple. Much of this suffering came in anticipation of the event since he knew already that it was going to happen and it hurt him. Jesus loved Judas; He walked and talked with him for three years and affirmed his love for him and gave him responsibilities. Yet Judas betrayed him with a kiss, the gesture of close bond of friendship. Christ suffered the betrayal of one who violated the intimacy of friendship. Peter his close friend and a person who promised loyalty to him unto death denied that he knew him in front of the maid, soldiers and other Jewish people. All the other disciples ran away when he needed them most.
Jesus was rejected by his own people. Jesus was turned over to the chief priests and scribes, and they condemned him to death. St John says: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not”. The leaders rejected him. Peter in his letter says that he was the cornerstone the builders rejected. The people of his own nation–those he healed and taught–rejected him. Such infidelity alone would be sufficient to kill a person. At this moment it looked as if Jesus was rejected not only by men, but also by God. As he prayed at Gethsemane, the Father did not respond to his prayer. Jesus accepted it with dignity. In his desperate moment of loneliness on the cross Jesus says: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He was rejected by the people, by the disciples, and by God. The Jews were always tribe conscious and were loyal to the group in which they lived. Now his own tribe rejected him and that would have pained him a great deal.
Jesus bore all Humiliation throughout his passion. The Passion Narratives tell us that they mocked Him and humiliated him. They beat him, spat on him, crammed a crown of thorns on his head, stuck a reed in his hand, put a purple robe on him, and mocked by calling him a king. They insulted him in every possible way and dragged him to Calvary. Then they nailed Him to a cross naked before the whole world. He was nailed between two thieves, an innocent person among the criminals. The glorious, sinless Son of God was humiliated when he should have been exalted. Yet he never retaliated. As human beings we cannot imagine what it would have been like for him to suffer such humiliation.
There was Injustice in the entire trial and condemnation. The Romans scourged and crucified him because he had been condemned and that was their duty. He was held responsible for something for which he was not guilty. If any of us were accused of something we were not guilty of, and it demanded a severe penalty, we would scream and shout at the top of our voice. But in silence Christ was obliged to accept the responsibility for the sins he never committed. All the guilt of all the people who ever lived was placed on him. An innocent person is put to death for a crime he had not committed. Those four things alone–the pain of betrayal, rejection, humiliation, and injustice–would be enough to kill any human person. The suffering of his soul over those things almost killed Him, prompting His body, as Luke says that his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.
At the same time there were the Physical Sufferings of Jesus. There was the physical injury. Scourging was a horrible thing. Forty lashes were given by both the Jews and the Romans. The Jews always stopped one short of forty because they didn’t want to break the law considering the person may have made counting error. The Romans gave thirteen lashes across the chest, and then thirteen on each shoulder. It usually took two men to do it because one wasn’t strong enough to continue the whipping at the desired pace. The victim’s hands were tied to a post so the body slumped. When the scourging was complete the organs would be exposed. The bleeding was often so profuse that many would die. Jesus suffered a tremendous amount of physical pain before he even reached the cross. That is why they had to force Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for him.
Jesus died on the Cross. The Gospels tell us that Jesus hung on the cross for three hours and died. How did Jesus die? We do not assume that he died from the nails in his hands; nor did the crown of thorns kill Him; nor did he die because of possible suffocation. But he died from cumulative grief, anxiety, pain, and suffering. However, the greatest suffering is not physical; it is the suffering of the soul. Isaiah, in his hymn of the Servant gives us the understanding of the degree of Christ’s suffering. That’s what Christ tried to tell the disciples, but they didn’t come close to understanding because the next thing we read is about James and John’s attempt to reserve seats in the Kingdom next to Christ. They were completely insensitive. Here among other thing that Jesus suffered was the pain of unsympathetic friends. He experienced the suffering that comes when a person needs support, but finds they’re unresponsive to the needs because they are so involved in seeking their own glory.
There was Power and authority in the Suffering of Jesus. He goes to his suffering courageously. He was aware of his suffering and knew that suffering was not the end of everything. He knew he would rise again. So he says let us go and meet them. He goes to his suffering being perfectly aware of what is awaiting him and the events that would come. He was aware that his disciples would run away. He knew that one would betray him and his close disciple and friend would deny him. He knew that he would be alone. Yet he knew he was not alone. His Father was with him and he being faithful to him would raise him up on the third day. That is the power he had over his sufferings. He said he would conquer death and come out victorious.
As human beings, we do not like to suffer and we don’t want to die. Sometimes, even to hear the word “suffering” makes us shiver. However, everyone who follows Christ will suffer, though we really don’t want to. Peter deeply understood this problem. Once when Jesus told them in advance his own suffering and death, Peter said that it should not happen to his master. Then Jesus rebuked Peter in a way that he did not forget the need of sufferings. He explained that we must accept suffering with a right attitude. That means we must arm ourselves with the attitude of Christ, and we must die to sin and obey the will of God.
In the midst of the sufferings of Jesus, Mary is seen as a tower of strength. She had the ability to endure the suffering and death of her son. In the Passion narratives we understand how Mary witnessed the terrible ordeals of her own son being humiliated by the elders and religious leaders, dragged before Pilate for judgment, scourged nearly to death, and finally nailed to a cross to die. We now realize the fullness of Mary’s humanity when we see the intensity of her shock, disbelief and sorrow as she remained with her son at the cross. She was aware of the innocence of her son, yet she offered him as a sacrifice for the salvation of humanity. She was aware that he was the king of the universe as the angel had told her at the annunciation. Now she knows that through his death on the cross he would redeem the world. She had courageously sent her only son into the public ministry. She helped and consoled all those who followed her to Calvary. As a mother she stayed beside him near his cross and gave him all the support. When they mocked him and asked him to come down from the cross, she wanted him to stay there for the sake of humanity. Let us look at the intensity of Mary’s suffering and her love for her son. She saw him weakened by scourging, carrying the crown of thorns, bending under the weight of the cross and falling on the rocky street. She knew her son was divine. But she remained a human mother watching her child suffer. Today Mary invites us to imitate her in our own lives, by reaching out in love and compassion to assist and comfort those who are suffering. This task is never easy particularly when we witness unjust suffering. Here Mary teaches us the lesson that through our love for others, rooted in our love for God, we have the strength and courage to bring healing in the suffering in the world.
Dear friends, Good Friday is a quiet day when we are called upon to contemplate on the sufferings and death of our Lord. Let us remain with our Blessed Mother and accompany Jesus as he moves to Calvary to give up his life for us. Let us stay with him and express our gratitude to God for the gift of his Son to humanity.
Fr Eugene lobo S.J. Mangalore India

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