WAY OF THE CROSS 2012 through Phoenix Park Dublin Elements for reflections of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin Good Friday, 6th April 2012
On Holy Thursday evening Jesus disciples have gathered, as he had asked them, to celebrate the Passover according to the Jewish tradition. Everything is prepared according to the ritual prescribed for the occasion, just as was happening at the same time in many Jewish households in Jerusalem.
Yet everything is not quite as normal as appears. Judas has been working in his own devious and deceitful way to ensure that Jesus be entrapped on that very evening. There is ferment in the air in Jerusalem, still however quiet and concealed. This Jesus of Nazareth who had travelled for three years from village to village doing good and preaching what is Good News has become a threat to the religious and political authorities. Those who are troubled by his message now decide that they have to find a way to remove this trouble maker. How can one who has done so much good and has brought healing to so many and has lifted the burdens of those who were troubled now himself be considered a dangerous trouble maker?
Who knows if any of the other disciples suspected anything? They knew that the political and religious authorities were increasingly angry with Jesus. There had been the occasional verbal discussions challenging the message of Jesus and challenging above all how Jesus considered his own identity. But Jesus in his own quiet yet demanding way had sent his challengers away without any direct answer, but always interpreting his teaching in terms of what the scriptures had proclaimed. Strangely the anger of Jesus enemies was often strongest on occasions when Jesus did good, but on the Sabbath. His enemies felt that anyone who did not observe their rules could somehow not be truly acting in the name of God.
Indeed while the enemies of Jesus were feeling more and more provoked by what Jesus was preaching, his own disciples were also becoming impatient, but for opposite reasons. They too had not really understood who he was and they felt that the time had come for him to show his power in a political sense, to restore political domination within Israel.
Jesus goes out after the Supper as was his custom to the Mount of Olives. There could be no greater contrast between him and his disciples. Jesus prays; he is troubled. Jesus knows that he is being called by his Father to bring his mission to fulfilment through total self-giving. Humanly he fears and feels tempted to stand back. Even through he receives the assurance of his Father though an angel, he still experiences the anguish of this hour. His disciples flee from the grief they experience into the refuge of sleep. What is happening is dramatic and definitive. The power of darkness is about to strike.
Darkness and sin, good and evil are at work in our society in our world and in our hearts and many feel that the struggle is too big for them to confront and they sleep and take flight from reality into a dream world of not taking responsibility, believing that they have no responsibility. A just world will only be achieved by people who live justly, have a passion for what is just and who are prepared face the anguish that can come from acting justly. We pray for all those who suffer injustice and violence in our world that they will encounter the support of the just. We pray for those who live and impose injustice and dishonesty and corruption, believing that in that way they are powerful, that they will learn that true strength and integrity belongs to those who know how to live justly.
The Jesus who was acclaimed by the crowd at his entry into Jerusalem ends up abandoned by all. The disciples, who had left everything to follow him, now leave their teacher and master totally alone.
Peter who in his pride would not have his feet washed, because he felt that he was too strong a man, panics. He does not know what he should do. He is not a bad man. His heart tells him that he should observe even at a distance what is happening to Jesus, but once he is confronted about his own identity and what he stands for Peter denies his Lord even three times.
Jesus’ enemies, now that the kingdom of darkness seems to be taking hold, gain a new courage: that shameful false courage of those who mock integrity. They heap their insults on an innocent man. They enjoy their jokes which only days before they would not have had the courage to say in public.
The authorities who had rented false witness now become publically indignant. They are only looking for Jesus to say something that they can misrepresent and bring an innocent man to condemnation.
Jesus remains silent. Silence speaks. The integrity of the one who does not compromise or stoop to low intrigue requires no words. In the midst of such indignity and falsehood and conspiracy Jesus stands out once again alone, abandoned by his own, yet even when assailed and insulted and physically abused Jesus stands out. His integrity may not save his life from the hands of those who assail him, but saves what is most essential and to be admired in any life. In Jesus who is condemned there is no trace of falsehood. The truth triumphs,
Being a Christian in today’s society requires integrity. There are so many like Peter who, when being a Christian involves courage, slip into the anonymity of the crowd hoping that they will not be called to task, that they will no longer be recognised.
We pray for the Church and the Christian community that it will opt always to follow the path of the integrity of Jesus, unafraid of the truth; not ashamed to be insulted; placing truth and integrity as more important than being faced with the insult of the dishonest.
Lord Jesus be with your Church in changing times. Strengthen your Christian community to speak the truth, and to witness to the truth in love. Give us the courage like Peter, if even too late, to recognise and repent our weakness and lack of backbone. Let our repentance be true, not the measured and managed repentance of the spin doctors. Keep your Church uncompromised with those who mock the truth.
In the midst of the turmoil in the city, Herod and Pilate go about their role of business as usual, a form of governing where the truth is pushed back into second place and where pragmatism and compromise take the place of the true service of government. Even enmity, as that of Herod and Pilate, can be brought to an end through new-found pacts empty of friendship built only on mutual self-interest.
And yet the Gospel tells us that Herod, despite his official hostility, wanted to see Jesus. There is something about the truth which both attracts and upsets. Perhaps Herod knew something of the way Jesus changed lives for the good. Perhaps he simply wanted to see a miracle show. Whatever the case, Jesus did not leave Herod untouched.
Once this man, who was considered a distinguished public official, does not find the fun he was expecting in a miracle show, once he realises that there is no political gain for him in meeting Jesus, he falls back into the same attitude as the others, indeed even worse. When he finds that instead of the miracle worker he is confronted by human being who appears weak and abandoned, Herod invents new forms of fun and mockery. When the powerful feel that they show their power by stooping to abusing a person simply because they are weak, then all principles of justice and dignity fall by the way.
Herod and Pilate mock Jesus even though they admit that they have found no fault in him. They even publicly say that Jesus has done nothing which deserves death. But the crowds continue to cry for Jesus’ death. Those with power decide to compromise. They will flog him, even though innocent, hoping that this gesture would be enough to get the crowds off their backs.
But such compromise with the truth never works. The appetite of the crowd once it smells blood only grows stronger; their hunger for vengeance gets ever greater.
None of us should ever be under the illusion that we can safely play with evil; evil is never confronted by compromise or half-measures. Evil has a power to expand and to corrupt us in our deepest being, to eat away at our conscience and our courage and to weaken our ability to see where the truth lies or even that truth exists.
Lord there are many who would like to see a Church which is more open to compromise with the fashions and the trends of the times. It is said that the Church must adapt if it is to survive. Yet what society needs is a renewed spirit of courageously and uncompromisingly seeking what is right and true, no matter what the cost. But truth is not ideology or polemics. The truth of Jesus is always truth in love. Those called to witness to his truth must also be the ones who witness to his love, whatever the cost.
Simon must have been the most surprised man in Jerusalem that day. He was there among the crowd. We know nothing of who he was at that moment, even though the scriptures note later that he and his family became the followers of Jesus. The soldiers choose him at random. They drag him out from the crowd into the public gaze. He is made carry the cross with Jesus. Simon represents those of us who experience an encounter with Jesus as a surprise, perhaps even an encounter that we would prefer not to have. Leave us alone. Why put us in the limelight. I can be good and honest without Jesus coming into my life. I have no need to be a follower of Jesus or his Church.
These may have been the sentiments of Simon as he is forced into the limelight to carry the cross of one who is made appear a criminal. We do not know what it was in that encounter which led him later to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus touches hearts in ways that are unexpected. There is no recorded dialogue between Jesus and Simon. There are no words. There is something in the heart of each one of us, however, which enables us intuitively to recognise innocence and goodness and integrity.
What a privilege to be able to serve Jesus at his most weak moment. How can we fathom the significance of being called to serve the son of God when to human eyes he is both in disgrace and his life seems to be moving towards an ignominious end?
We are called as Christians to recognise Jesus in the suffering of others, especially those who are not held high in public eyes. The Gospel notes that there were those who knowingly or unknowingly weep and wailed for Jesus. Jesus tells them to weep not for him but for themselves and for their children. He tells them to weep for the future. When injustice is done to one innocent individual today, no one is safe from injustice in the future.
Two others are led away with Jesus. These were convicted criminals. But they are called to be the first witnesses to what is the most significant moment in human history. Two criminals are those closest to Jesus at the moment he dies. What a consolation for us all. In all our unworthiness the Lord offers even those who are guilty of evil the possibility to witness and to be a part of the saving events of our history. One of them allows his soul to ponder what is happening and to realise how his own life had been a failure. In that admission he is redeemed and becomes in some way one of the first citizens of the new heavens.
Lord Jesus look on each of us in our inadequacy. You know our innermost weakness and sin. Despite our outward security, you know what each of us is ashamed of in the depth of our hearts. Heal us and bring us freedom. Free our world and our society from the sinfulness of self interest, as we weep for those who are the victims of evil men and women.
The mockery continues. It becomes almost a ritual. They divide his clothing. They scoff at him and call on him to save himself. They offer him sour wine to provoke him. They even use, unknowingly to themselves, the truth to mock him: they place an inscription on the Cross which reads “This is the King of the Jews”.
The innocent, just, sensitive Jesus is exposed to mockery as the business of putting him to death goes on in its sordid normality. Soon the spectacle will be over, the job will be done, the killing-squad will return to the city, to home and family. It all has to be done quickly because the Passover is near and respectable people do not like distasteful spectacles to spoil their religious feasts.
But it ends in a different way. The sordid routine turns dark. Darkness descends on the scene. For those charged with killing Jesus this must have been just another inconvenience. But think of the faithful ones: Mary his Mother, the distraught disciples who watch at a distance, the Nicodemuses and Josephs of Arimathea who had come to him by night and begun to have hope in him. Is this darkness the end of hope?
Think of Jesus. His words are few. He is exhausted and in pain. Two words however remain: a word of mercy to the criminal who repents; a word of fidelity, handing himself to his Father, his mission completed.
Lord we live in a world filled with words. Perhaps never in history have there been so many words: spoken, printed, electronically stored or moving invisibly. Help us to realise that few words are necessary. Empty words foster empty hearts. There are realities which do not need words. Give us Lord the words to ask for forgiveness, the words which touch those things in our hearts we would not want anyone to hear, but things that keep us entrapped in sinfulness and isolation. Give us words to forgive, to be generous and loving.Open our heart in mercy to those who long for freedom. Keep us faithful like Jesus to what we are called to, to what is most noble and good in our lives.
In a world where everything has a shelf-life and what we dislike can be quickly discarded, help us to learn that singular characteristic of God: being faithful. The events of Good Friday realise something that has been spoken of throughout the history of God’s encounter with his people. God remains faithful to his people, even when his people generation after generation fail him and fail him and betray him and betray him,
True goodness is not a passing emotion. It is not about feeling good. It is about being faithful to goodness when it is easy, when it is challenging, and even when it leads to our annihilation in the eyes of those who seek their only own interest.
Jesus dies. He breathes his last and that last is the same as the first words recorded about Jesus: “I must be about my Father’s business”; “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.
Jesus humbles himself, he empties himself, and his love is so great that he empties himself even unto death, death on the Cross. But the Cross triumphs. His self-giving love is so complete that it brings new life, true live.
Lord help us to reject everything that is trivial and superficial. Give us the love that Jesus showed on the Cross: love that endures and that saves.