All over the world it is Good Friday, and Good Friday is the day on which we remember the passion and death of our Lord. The passion and death of our Lord is an event that is narrated by all the four evangelists – Mk 14:1 - 15:47; Mt 26:1 - 27: 66; Lk 22:1 - 23:56; Jn 18:1 - 19:42. These are the texts in which we find the passion narrated by the different evangelists and even as you go through the passion texts, you will realize that while the core of the writing is the same, there are differences in a few of the events and incidents. And the reason why there are these differences is because the event goes beyond the comprehension even of the evangelists. How are we to understand the passion?
I want to take three aspects of the passion for our reflection. The first of these is that before the passion proper, the second is when Jesus is in the throes of the passion, and the third after his death. The event that I was to focus on before his passion is his prayer at Gethsemane, and I would like you to read slowly and meditatively Mk 14:32-42 which speaks of this prayer. Jesus is tense, Jesus is anxious; Jesus is worried like any one of us might be. Because he knows what is going to come, and he knows what is going to come not because he can tell the future but because he knows who he is and what he has done. He knows what is going to come because he has stood up for the truth no matter the consequences. And yet there is that anxiety, and yet there is that tension. And the first thing that Jesus does to get rid of the anxiety is, not to take a pill; it is not to go for a massage, but to go to pray. And to pray to his Father. The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane provides for you and me a lesson on prayer, and the first step is the attitude, the disposition. We are told that as soon as Jesus reaches Gethsemane after telling his disciples Peter, James and John to watch with him, he goes to pray and his attitude and disposition is made clear when he throws himself on the ground. The throwing himself on the ground conveys an attitude of total surrender to God. Before his prayer he is very clear that he wants God to take control; that he wants God to take charge and that he wants God to direct the events of his life. The words that he uses is in his prayer are simple, are direct, are to the point. There is no philosophical jargon, there are no theological concepts – it is a prayer which comes from the heart. And the prayer is unashamedly, unabashedly to ask first for what he wants “Father, take this cup away from me”. It is difficult to drink, it is a challenge to drink because Jesus is not a sadist, Jesus does not want to run to his death, he does not want to die, he is like all of us who want to continue to live. “Father take this cup away from me”, and yet because the Father’s will is primary for Jesus, and yet because the Father’s will takes precedence even over his own life, Jesus adds “Not my will but Yours be done”. And this is the challenge of prayer. The prayer of Jesus was never unanswered, the prayer of Jesus was always answered because the prayer of Jesus was always a prayer in which he asks for what he wanted, but then let the Father do His will. Is my prayer the prayer like that of Jesus or do I stop with give me, give me, give me. Can you link and identify your prayer with the prayer of Jesus? Can you, whenever you make a prayer, whenever you pray to God, ask unashamedly for what you want and yet add at the end of your prayer “Your will not mine be done”. And even though Jesus receives no support from his companions because they are asleep, even though Jesus receives no response from the Father because the Father is silent, he gets up strengthened in his prayer as is evident from the fact that he makes no move to stop the fight in the garden, he makes no move to respond to Judas, he only says in the garden before he can be arrested “let the Scriptures be fulfilled”. In other words let God’s will be done. Jesus is fortified; Jesus is strengthened even despite not having received an audible answer. And the reason why Jesus is strengthened is because he knows he has prayed, and he knows the content of his prayer, and he means the content of prayer, and if it is the Father’s will that he die, so be it. “Let Your will be done”.
The second part is the passion and death proper. We encounter Jesus who seems to have no support whatever, His disciples have run away, the Sanhedrin have all condemned him as deserving death. Pilate could not really care less whether he dies or lives. The people, and the same people whom he probably fed with bread, whom he healed, whom he made whole are the ones now who shout “crucify him, crucify him”. And Jesus looks around and wonders whether he is a failure, and wonders whether all the good that he apparently did has come to naught, whether all the reaching out and making whole was useless. And even as he hangs on the cross he knows there is one person, even if human beings are ungrateful, there is one person who will support him in his hour of need and he turns to his Father. And the Father is silent. And the Father makes no move whatever to stop the situation. The Father will not interfere, the Father will not intervene. The Father seems to be absent from the life of Jesus, and the same Jesus who could hear his Father’s voice at his baptism calling him beloved son, the same Jesus who could hear the Father’s voice at the Transfiguration reiterating that Jesus was beloved son is now a Father who is silent. And this is the hour when Jesus needs all the support and strength he can get, and there is no one who can give it to him apparently, not even his Father. And so he turns to his Father and says “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” And I want you to take note of these words. I want you to look now at the crucified Christ. I want you to go back to those times when you lost hope, when you gave in to despair, when you felt that God was punishing you, when you felt that God was not on your side. I want you to go back to those times when you lost faith. I want you to go back to those times when you behaved as if God was not alive, as if Jesus never came on this earth, and I want you even as you think those thoughts to look at the crucified Christ. And if you were to ask this Christ “Where are those numerous people whom you helped, where are those lepers who you made whole, where are the blind, the deaf, and the lame and the paralysed, where are they? When no one stands by you, he will say no one. And you say, it’s possible that people are ungrateful, it’s possible that people will not give you thanks. What about those disciples? I can understand that one of them has betrayed you. What about the other eleven, and especially the ones whom you were so close to – Peter, James and John, where are they now? And he will say “I do not know”. And then you turn to him and say human beings by and large might be ungrateful, they might not remember the good deeds done by someone else, they might not give thanks for them, but where is your Father – the Father who loved you, the Father whom you prayed in Gethsemane, the Father who was constantly walking with you, where is the Father? And he will say, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Stay with this for a little while. Let these words of Jesus sink into your heart.
Before we can move on to the third aspect, the events immediately after the death of Jesus, there are two significant events which occur, the first of these is found in Mk 15:38 in which we are told that the veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom. A number of interpretations are given to this event, i.e. the veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the holy place is now no longer in existence. So God is available 24 x 7, 365 days of the year. That is one interpretation. A second interpretation that the veil of the temple has been torn is that God has abandoned the temple; God is no longer in the temple. But the interpretation which will make sense to us is that God is now visible on the cross, is that God can now be found on the cross, is that God so loved the world that he spread his arms in abject surrender when they were crucifying him. The second event is found in the next verse of Mk 15:39 when the centurion representing gentiles and unbelievers all over the world, points to the cross and said, “This man, this crucified Christ, this Christ who spreads his arms on the cross is indeed Son of God. When Jesus, spoke with his Father, he said to his Father that even if one human being came back to them, his death would have been worth it, Will you be that “one” today?
As we continue our reflection on the passion and death with our brothers and sisters all over the world, let this event, this historical event be our consolation and our strength. Let it be hope for us when we carry our own cross no matter how heavy they might be. That even though the Father might seem absent, the Father is there.