“Pray with me that you may not come into the time of trial”. Jesus knows that his hour has come and that he would be delivered into the hands of those who wish to destroy them. Jesus knows what is coming. He knows what it means for him to do the will of his Father. He knows, yet he is fearful, but his Father sends him his angel so that he can have strength. God may allow us to be tried, but God never abandons us.
The disciples react in differing ways. One group simply falls asleep – interesting the Gospel notes that they did not fall asleep out of sheer tiredness or out of indifference but “because of grief”. Jesus prays alone and then he returns to them and repeats: “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial”.
Judas now appears to betray Jesus with a kiss: how often too we fall into the trap of hypocrisy of pretending to kiss when our intention is to destroy. All of us know the falsity that is in us. All of us know how we when faced with grief and trial we run away; we bury ourselves from the challenge of facing reality.
Other disciples feel that the answer is violence and that somehow attacking the servant of the high priest they will resolve the problem. Jesus rejects violence. It is not just that one sword would be useless in the face of the high priests guard and a violent response would be imprudent. No: violence is never the answer. Jesus response to a gesture of violence which was meant to be in his own interest is categorical: “No more of this” and he heals the servant.
Violence is never the answer. We have to stand up as a community and say to men of violence, whoever they are, “no more of this”. The cold-blooded murders on the streets of Dublin solve nothing but only provoke revenge and more and more violence, and more and more hearts broken. And our world is seeing senseless violence on a scale we have not seen for decades, sadly in some cases perpetrated in the name of God.
And there are other forms of violence. There is the violence of human trafficking; there is the violence of sexual abuse; there is the violence of extortion. There is the violence of a drug trade which destroys lives, very often fragile young lives, for sordid profit which will bring its perpetrators as much happiness as the thirty pieces of silver did for Judas.
Jesus, the good one, the one who healed and cared is given over the power of darkness. That darkness is still present in human hearts and human communities. None of us is alien to it. Let us heed the words of Jesus: “Pray that we may not come into the time of trial”
Jesus is mocked. Everyone around him takes his or her turn to mock Jesus. They beat him and blindfold him; they hurl insults at him they play games trying to make him angry.
The religious officials think that their position of authority gives them the right to exploit or disregard Jesus. They interrogate him with the aura of those who feel that they have the power to act as they wish. They are in fact only looking for some phrase that will incriminate him. There is no sense of searching for the truth or of reflecting on the goodness that this man Jesus had patently done. Integrity makes the corrupt uncomfortable and those with integrity are often disposed of quickly and ruthlessly.
We live in a world where facile answers are often the order of the day. Reasoned argument is responded to with sound bites or one-liners. People are led to think that happiness can be found with empty formula or a good sales line. Where is truth? Who has the authority of truth? Is it the first come or the loudest or the person with the smartest word? Is it the ability to ridicule the other? Is the authority of truth simply determined by those who feel that they have authority?
Jesus’s authority comes from his integrity and his silence. Curiously, silence, which might appears as powerlessness, can best show up the empty abuse of authority.
In the middle of this sordid court of mockery, Peter now appears. Peter whom Jesus respected and loved shows another form of weakness, that of throwing in the towel when things to go wrong. He loves Jesus. But he is very much like each one of us: our love can be strong, and yet our love can quickly waver.
Peter is genuinely concerned about Jesus. He tries to find a way to see what is happening to Jesus; he tries to be as close as is human possible and yet remain safe. But the moment he appears to be identified he denies that he knows Jesus.
How deep do we have to dig within our own hearts to see how cowardly we can be? How many times we betray ourselves, not necessarily in the big things but in the small things of our daily life and sadly with who are dear to us. Where is courage? Courage costs.
Jesus in the midst of his humiliation knows what is going on in Peter’s heart. He looks at him. He glances at him, not with the angry glance of revenge or condemnation, not with the condescending glance of pity, but with a look which brings Peter to become once again the person he really would like to be. He weeps for his betrayal, but Jesus’ glance allows him to begin again.
How to destroy your enemy! Jesus is brought to Pilate. The plan is well prepared. Everything is thought out. They are going to destroy him. It is a plan tailor-made now for Pilate’s ears, different to the accusations brought in the religious court. The various steps are ready in case any one of them fails in its intent: “We found this man perverting our nation”; “he forbids us to pay tax to the emperor”; “he stirs up the people by his preaching”.
Their first efforts fail, not because Pilate is exigent in analysing the truthfulness of their accusation. No Pilate finds the golden solution: send him elsewhere and let someone else deal with the problem.
Jesus comes before Herod. Herod is an interesting figure. “When Herod saw Jesus, he was glad, for he had wanted se see Jesus for a long time”. But before long, Herod and his men began treating Jesus with contempt and mocking him.
Many want to see Jesus. They are like Herod they want an experience for themselves; they would like to domesticate Jesus; they would like people to think that they had some influence with Jesus and earn some new respectability from that. But Jesus does not give Herod any sense of respectability, but only silence. In the midst of this mockery of justice, Jesus alone retains his dignity through silence.
Jesus’ silence is definitive. Jesus makes no attempt at compromise with the corrupt. He does not attempt to give any solace and respectability to people who bear all the outward signs of authority, but have no real principle except self-interest and survival.
They continue in their trickery and trading and hope for a compromise way out. They offer a trade-off with a dangerous criminal, but it is too late as the crowd is now beyond their control. The crowd has seen that those in authority have lost their authority in that they have lost their integrity and the crowd takes every centimetre they can gain in order to get what they want: “crucify him”, they call: “crucify him” they call with ever growing insistence.
Authority and power are not identical. Authority is based on truth and on service. An authority which fails those it is called to serve may have power and may even be popular, but truth in the end prevails and silence can unnerve even the most self-secure.
Our world, in so many sectors of life, needs men and women of integrity. Our Church needs men and women of integrity and truth. Our Church needs men and women who know how to witness to silence, not that empty silence which could be cowardice, but the silence of never becoming compromised with the corrupt, never compromising truth and integrity in order to defend individuals or the institution.
Our world needs men and women of an integrity which is different to cheap denunciation for popularitys sake, or rallying the like-minded with the mentality of the crowd.
Lord help us to live with that dignity which you showed in the face of those who abuse authority. Give us the strength to go against the crowd.
Herold and Pilate have become friends. Now they vanish and leave it to others to carry out the machinery of execution, Jesus sets off on this sordid procession along with two other criminals who are to be put to death with him. The procession moves on.
They must have been worried about Jesus that he might not be able to make the journey to the end and spoil their party by dying before they could bring their mockery to its fulfilment.
They are not interested in Jesus himself. They grab a man who was coming in from the country – probably a robust country man – and they get him to carry part of the weight of the Cross.
We know that Simon of Cyrene and his family became followers of Jesus. His sons are mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. Simon was a complete stranger to Jesus. He was grabbed on his way back into Jerusalem and made to carry the cross of someone he did not know, accompanied by two criminals.
Jesus can surprise us in our lives. Indeed like Simon perhaps some strange circumstance can suddenly place us in the presence of Jesus for the first time or in an unexpected way. How could Simon have recognised the Son of God in the middle of this sordid procession of criminals and the corrupt? Jesus surprises us. Jesus can surprise us in places where we would least expect him to do so.
But this sordid procession was also being observed by others, especially those women who had been followers of Jesus and who continued to weep with him even when others left him. Where were his apostles? Where were those who were to be the pillars of his Church, the leaders of what were to be the new tribes of Israel?
The title of authority, even in the Church, does not mean fidelity or integrity or decency or courage. The courage and the human love and decency of those who stand by Jesus weeping, teaches more than those who had the authority to teach.
Lord watch over your Church. Give your Church women and men who seek truth rather than authority. Give those who receive authority to teach the courage to search ever anew for that truth in you. Help them never to abandon that search and feel they have exhausted your truth through their own formulae and not love and mercy and service.
Jesus the son of God is crucified. He endures the ignominious and horrible death reserved to the worst criminals. And yet there is something almost ordinary and every-day in the scene as people pass by immune to what is going on and make their derisory comments.
The course soldiers, numbed of any sensitivity by the cruel life that they have to live, get on with the business of their sad profession. Jesus clothes are disposed of. There is the inscription to be placed on the Cross: “This is the King of the Jews”, an act of mockery but one which did not please all. The atmosphere is one of getting the execution over with quickly and of continual mockery. Mockery is often our way of not wanting to look in depth as things we do not understand. It is easier to mock than to understand things that are painful to us.
Jesus remains with his dignity. In the midst of the humiliating mockery he forgives those who are its artisans. He commends his spirit finally to the Father.
Only one person sees that this man Jesus is different. The one authentic witness to Jesus in this sordid process of a mockery of justice is a criminal. In his own agony he sees that Jesus is not just innocent, but that he is truly the one who is entering the kingdom of his Father. And the first one who follows Jesus into that kingdom is a convicted criminal. Jesus’ kingdom is populated by sinners who repent and not by those who prefer to stand by indifferently and mock.
Lord give us integrity in our lives. Help us not to run with the crowd into the simple way of mockery. Help us to know that your salvation reaches out to all, even when we fail you and fail you gravely.
Jesus who is the revelation of the God of power and might shows his power in recognising his abandonment. It is often only when all our human supports have been taken away from us, when we feel abandoned by all, that we begin to place our hope and trust in that the power of God which comes to us in a totally ways. Jesus never abandons us.
Lord make us cautious of going with the crowd or following the story of the day. Lord keep us faithful. Keep us caring. Let us not be weakened by the busyness and the uncaring, by the slanderous and the gossip and tittle-tattle of our world which has little to do with what our lives are really about. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus crucified.”
- The Way of the Cross takes place today, Good Friday, through the Phoenix Park in Dublin from the Wellington Monument (12noon) to the Papal Cross