Reflection of Archbishop Martin Way of the Cross
Reflection of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin Way of the Cross
Good Friday 29 March 2013
For most of his public life Jesus was a public figure. He moved openly form village to village preaching the word of God and healing and doing good. He freed those who were imprisoned in distress and anguish. He healed sinners and called to conversion. He debated robustly with the religious authorities.
He encountered large crowds and many others had heard of him and what he had done Even Herod was pleased to meet Jesus when he was arrested and brought before Herod, who even hoped to see one of Jesus’ miracles.
Now the scene has changed. We encounter not just the squalid weakness of Judas. We see how the man who was looked on as constantly doing good now being arrested and treated and despised as a common criminal. His own disciples react through an inane violent act, feeling that that is the way to defend Jesus who never harmed anyone, but only healed and restored and reconciled. The scene is turned head over heels. Enemies and friends both get it wrong.
Despite secularisation and despite signs of indifference and hostility, Jesus is still present among us publicly and we are called to make our decision, our commitment, our rejection or our declaration of indifference to that presence. The presence of Jesus in our world is not the passive presence of an idea or a manifesto, but a presence which comes out to meet us and to meet us in a manner in which very few can replicate: he comes out to meet us where we are, with all our weaknesses and even our failures and our denials of who we are. Jesus opens his arms and loves us. Still today Jesus is the one heals and restores and reconciles
At the last supper Jesus makes the extraordinary gesture of love, humbly washing the feet of his disciples, just at the very moment in which his denial and betrayal by Judas has become reality.
All of us fall into the trap of thinking that we can meet Jesus on our own terms. That means not wanting Jesus somehow to really know us. We put up defences around the side of our lives about which we are ashamed; we create a Jesus with whom we can be comfortable. Jesus knows us as we are and it is only when we stand there in front of Jesus recognising ourselves as we are, even with those dimensions of our lives which we fundamentally dislike, that he can restore us to what we really are and want to be, because that is what God wants us to be.
To fulfil his Father’s will Jesus humbled himself on the cross and laid aside all the outward symbols of the power that he possessed. We must learn humility, the strong humility which is one of integrity and honesty, with ourselves and with those around us. Pride damages us and those around us. The humility of Jesus welcomes even sinners.
Beware of big words. Peter was the one who said that he would never betray Jesus. And yet he is the one who actually betrays Jesus three times within just a few hours. Big words from a sad figure, an unfortunate man!
However, you have to like Peter because he is like each of us; he is like of each of us at our best. Yes, at our best. We are not natural heroes, nor are we those who have no conscience. Peter is afraid, even a little cowardly, yet he still goes and keeps close to Jesus, as close as is safe.
We all want to keep close to Jesus but we all try to keep a safe distance in case Jesus might demand more than we are ready to give. We build up protective barriers which somehow convince us that despite what we would like to do in following Jesus there are valid reasons – valid at least for us – why we should not be asked to follow him unconditionally.
Poor Peter is not the worst. Many of the other disciples simply flee. Peter’s heart is torn and he weeps at his own weakness. He weeps when he sees the face of Jesus, the face that is torn and weary by his trial, but is still the face of the Jesus who loves Peter and us in all our ambiguity; Jesus smiles and reconciles.
The leaders and the soldiers not only reject Jesus but the reject him in a cruel way. They mock and insult him; they beat him and attempt to provoke him. All this achieves nothing except an increase in their own nastiness. What is it that repeatedly happens to people when they attain power and lose their humanity? We see it right throughout history; we see it in our own days, in corrupt regimes, in unscrupulous financial dealings, in those who abuse those in their care. We see also the folly of violence – we see that on our streets of this our city and our country – violence which only dehumanises and creates a cycle of violence which only leads to further violence.
It is not only that power can corrupt; it can lead into a false world in which everything can somehow be justified. Jesus stands before a false trial, a trial fostered by judges who already know what they want and are only looking for some formula of words with which they can trap Jesus into being judged and got out of the way.
In the midst of this arrogance and violence, Jesus stands alone and abandoned and mocked. Yet even in this midst of such abandonment, Jesus finds the moment to look lovingly at Peter and forgive and reconcile. In the midst of all the signs and the instruments and the structures of power, Jesus who is stripped of power emerges as the really strong one. Jesus shows us the strength comes from being loving.
Herod wanted to see Jesus. He feigns interest and wants to see some show miracle. He likes spectacle. He feels that because of his power and importance he deserves to get special treatment. Yet Jesus before Herod remains in absolute silence. Let us all be clear, you cannot fool Jesus. Jesus reads the intentions of our hearts. He is not impressed by our notions of what is important and powerful in our lives. In the face of any such arrogance Jesus remain silent. He says nothing to us because we really have nothing to say to him that is sincere.
Pope Francis wishes to teach us what humility and simplicity mean. He is not talking about the simplicity and humility of the weak and of those who compromise. He is not thinking of the forced humility of those who are humiliated. It is the humility of Jesus, a humility of strength, because it is the simplicity of what is essential and necessary and authentic rather than the sham of the spin doctors. The spin doctors – in all their various forms – can offer an answer for the day, a hope that lasts for a few hours. But next morning you wake up as you were before.
Pilate is his own spin doctor, he is a fixer. He feels that he can come to some compromise with reality and with his own conscience. There is some way that he can find a win-win situation for everyone, except for Jesus –maybe even for Jesus, but he is the one that matters least. Pilate knows that neither Herod nor himself can really find any foundation for the allegations that are made against Jesus. He knows deep down that Jesus is a good man, an innocent man, but he continues to think he can find a compromise.
He offers a feared criminal to be released in the hope that the crowd might think twice. But he himself never thinks honestly. All he wants is a quiet life so that he can exercise his power without too much discomfort. In the end when he cannot fix the matter he simply hands Jesus over to the crowd as they wished.
Herod and Pilate become friends, the Gospel tells us. This is the friendship of convenience, the alliance of interests that deadens sensitivity to the truth and that deadens sensitivity to those who are the victims of our actions. Integrity costs. There are certain types of action which cannot be reconciled, but we continue to think that it can be done and it is only later when we see the trail of suffering that we lay behind us that we claim that we really did not know, we really did not think about it.
Integrity is hard. Integrity costs. It is hard to take unpopular decisions; there are so many pressures to conform, to slip into a compromise. In the midst of the court of cruelty and compromise and superficiality which surrounds Jesus his reaction is silence, again not the silence of fear or the silence of the right not to reply, but the strong silence of no to corruption, the silence which says I will not be part of your world of corruption. It is not the silence of escape, but the silence which is paid with a high price and Jesus pays that price that we can be free and honest and people of integrity.
Jesus makes his way on the path towards his death on the cross. People are following; people of different backgrounds, perhaps a little like us this afternoon. Some were there because they wanted to be. Some were these out of sordid curiosity. Others happened to be there and came over to have a look and then move on. Others are unmoved and have their laugh. Some are there weeping and anxious and terrified about the significance of what was about to happen. Simon of Cyrene is not just there but is dragged into the scene in order to help Jesus carry the cross.
We do not what he was doing there at that moment. We do not know what his thoughts were as he was briskly ordered to accompany what appeared a criminal on his way to execution. But we know that something happened. Simon’s children appear later in the Acts of the Apostles as well-known and respected members of the Christian community. That encounter with Jesus in his weakness spoke to the heart of Simon.
We encounter Jesus in many guises and in situations we would least expect. Jesus appears to us right there in our busy world when our thoughts are taken up and fixed with our affairs, big and small. Jesus appears unexpectedly not just in time but in appearance. He comes when we are busy and Jesus comes to us humiliated and in the distress of one carrying a cross and we may be too busy to recognise him.
To complete the picture of the humiliation of Jesus those who condemn him even find two criminals to be crucified along with him. They feel that this scenario will show all those who pass by that Jesus was nothing other than a criminal and that his end will be like the end of any other criminal.
Jesus makes his way slowly and painfully towards his death on the cross. The machine of execution works silently and efficiently without emotion. Those who lead Jesus to his execution are immune to any of the comments that are being made by the crowd or the passers-by. They use those they encounter just to ensure that they can carry out their sordid acts as quickly as possible. Jesus alone appears as the one who cares and who has a sense of purpose.
We have many things to do. Busyness is the professional illness of the modern man or women or young person. We are fixated and trapped, isolated and alone in our way of thinking. How often in the face of the suffering and anguish in our world do we pass by? How often do we fail to notice? How often do we fail to understand? How often do we not just pass-by but hurry up our steps?
Those who panned Jesus death had their own perfect image of the scenario, three criminals humiliated and suffering brutally. Yet that very scenario, the scenario of the Cross, has become a sign of salvation, has become a sign of hope for generations over centuries, because Jesus gave himself to inhumanity in order that humankind could be saved and that we would learn what true humanity means, how humans must live for one another.
The soldiers try to provoke Jesus: “If you are the king of the Jews save yourself”. They fail to understand how Jesus is king. He has not come to save himself but to give himself so that we can be saved and have life.
Jesus becomes weaker and the level of the insults and provocation becomes even greater.
Only one authentic voice emerges: that of one of the criminals who are being crucified beside Jesus? We are talking about a man who himself admits that his punishment is just, a harsh man guilty of violent crimes. What is it that enables this man to recognise Jesus while the other and those around him fail to do so? What is it in this man that leads him not only to repent his own ways but makes him the only one who speaks words of justice to Jesus: “this man has done nothing wrong”? A self-admitted criminal, a law breaker, is the sole voice in this spectacle of brutality and disinterest, of cruelty and mockery carried out in the name of the law, to speak words of justice to Jesus.
In the midst of his own distress Jesus is moved by these words of integrity and this man gains what he probably never expected. He attains mercy. Justice and mercy belong together. Justice is not attained just by a balanced weighing-scale: true justice provokes an outpouring of mercy. The scales weigh in a pointed way towards the troubled human being. Even the guilty encounter a mercy which heals.
This self-admitted criminal’s story is not just a nice anecdote set into the brutal narrative of Jesus death on the cross. In a sense, this encounter can be seen as an icon of how Jesus’ mission has been accomplished, so that Jesus can now commend his spirit to the Father: this encounter with the sense of justice which is in a fallen man has released a surge of healing and reconciliation and forgiveness into the world. Jesus breathes his last, and new life explodes.
That is the message of the way of the cross. That is the message of the innumerable encounters that Jesus has had over the centuries not with the establishment but with those who you would last expect to be the icons of conversion and redemption. Jesus the friend of sinners is recognised by sinners and rejected by the establishment and ignored by the crowds who pass-by or who never even pass-by because they are too busy with their own affairs that they do not even look around at the suffering of the world.
We go back from the solitude of this park into our busy world. We go back knowing that in all our weakness, in an encounter with Jesus, justice and mercy can embrace us and enable us to work together to build a world where simplicity and healing, caring and thoughtfulness, lead to resurrection, especially for those trapped in the ways of death. Lord Jesus, by your cross and resurrection you have redeemed the world.
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