To begin with the reflection of today, I want to back up to the garden of Gethsemani when Judas showed up with a large crowd to arrest Jesus. F.J. Sheed’s comments in To Know Christ Jesus offered something I never would have noticed.
Judas told those with him that the man he should kiss was the one they should seize. The world he used for “kiss” applied to the somewhat sketchy embrace normal where the kiss is equivalent to a handshake. But the kiss he actually gave the Lord he was betraying was (as Mark and Matthew tell us) the kiss of warmest devotion. One marvels at the nerve of the man who so soon after would be driven by remorse to hang himself.
Jesus’ response may startle us: “Friend, what have you come for?” It was not so long before that he had said of this same Judas, ” I have chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil.” All through the public ministry we have noticed in him a terseness which can rise to fierceness; his speech is seldom observably gentle, and never when he speaks to men hardened in evil. From now on we shall hear that tone in him no more. The words to Judas are a reminder that he has entered into his victim-condition, he goes to the slaughter lamb-like: there is no rage in him, no judging even. He is wholly judged.
We see something of this when he presents himself to those who would seize him with the words, “I am he.” So much majesty was in him that “they drew back, and fell to the ground.” In that moment he could have passed through their ranks, as once or twice before. But it was not his will. He let them take him. (p.363-364)
You can read today all four evangelists giving their own account of the trial by Pontius Pilate (Mt 27, Mk 15, Lk 22, Jn18) Here again, as before, we must keep in mind that in these brief summaries, each gospel writer probably omitted a vast amount of information, choosing only to tell us, and in no particular order, what each thought necessary to tell of what was said and done. Sheed points out that the opening question in each of the four accounts, however, sets up for us an understanding of where Pilate was coming from in this whole situation. The question is “Are you the King of the Jews?”
For the Sanhedrin, “Son of God” had been the fatal phrase. For Pilate, Christ had to be shown as a threat to Roman rule. (p.369) If you read in Luke the indictment Caiaphas and the others brought against Him, there are two answers to these accusations that Christ gave that convinces Pilate that there is no reason for his intervention: “My kingdom is not of of this world” and “For this was I born, for this I came into the world, to give testimony to the truth.”
“Truth!” exclaimed the Pilate. “Is that all?” The Roman Empire, especially at its Eastern end, was littered with philosophers and sophists, mystics and mystagogues. The Roman civil service was trained to treat them with a sort of contemptuous tolerance – there might even be something in the stuff they were talking, but nothing that interested practical men, above all nothing that threatened Roman dominion. The Jesus whom they wanted him to kill for them was evidently one of that mystical sort. (p.369)
Sheed goes to point out that Pilate was no fool – he understood the Jewish leaders had their own reasons for wanting Jesus dead. He also knew that they had not the power to accomplish this, but he did. Why didn’t he play along? Enough is known about Pilate that we know he probably knew they were asking him to do their dirty work, and it wasn’t doing the dirty work that was the problem but that he resented it – resented by used as a convenience. It was no secret he disliked the Jews. He had three conflicts with them that we know of – one of which he won, two of which he had to concede and undergo censure from Rome. Pilate knew the Jewish leaders would have no problem reporting him again, and he didn’t like feeling like he was being pushed around. He thought of two loopholes, both of which he tried to avoid the situation, neither of which worked of course. One was an appeal to the crowd and the other a transfer of the whole case to Herod the Tetrarch. Failing these, Pilate was only willing to resist to a point, and he ended up yielding.
We now move forward to the Road to Calvary. As Sheed reflects on Jesus carrying his cross, this pharagraph particularly struck me as meaningful:
His enemies, we realize, saw him only as the victim and knew nothing of the priest. We know, of course, about the priest. But we also are in danger of seeing only the victim, to such a point do his sufferings afflict us. We miss too much of the meaning of passion and death if we do not realize that it was as celebrating priest that Jesus carried the cross, hung on the cross, died on the cross. (p. 375)
The seven things Jesus says in the three hours he hung on the cross, as recorded in the Gospels, are now discussed by Sheed. One of these seven things bears reflecting on, whether Catholic or non-Catholic. Let’s read what Sheed presents.
One third thing he said about others, which does not appear instantly to have to do with redemption, yet most profoundly has. To his mother, who was standing before the cross with John, he said, “Woman, behold your son.” And to John, “Behold your mother.” On the surface it is a purely personal, purely domestic remark. But the surface meaning will not do. If he had merely wanted to arrange for someone to look after his mother once he had left the world, he had had plenty of time to do it in the months before. It was not a sudden idea, come to interupt the offering of his redemptive sacrifice. If he chose to say it at this moment, it was because it belonged to the redemptive process.
The church sees it as more than the provision of a home for his mother. Mary was being given as Mother not only to John but to all the children of Eve. The redemption Christ was winning for the race as a whole must be applied to each man individually. In the application, Mary was to play an essential part.
John must have wondered what it meant to be given a new mother. So must the mother who bore him. For she was there too…..On Calvary she saw what looked like the end of the road for their king, saw too who were on his right and on his left, and in what posture. Now one of her sons was handed over to be someone else’s. (p. 376)
It was after tasting it that Jesus cried, “It is consummated.” (Jn 19:30). What he had become man to do was now done. Expiation had been made, sufficient and overflowing for the first sin which had made the breach between God and the human race, and all the sins by which the breach had been widened. This was Atonement. Disguised by our pronunciation, the meaning of the word is at-one-ment. God and the human race had been at-two: now, and for ever, they would be at one. Individual men might still separate themselves from God, but no one could separate the race of man.
With his work completed, Jesus let this earthly life pass from him. “Father,” the voice rang out, once more with a quotation from a psalm, “into thy hands I ocmmend my spirit” (31:6). The centurion in charge of the execution squad said, “Indeed this was the Son of God.” (p.378)
WE ADORE YOU, O CHRIST, AND PRAISE YOU.
BECAUSE BY YOUR HOLY CROSS YOU REDEEMED THE WORLD.