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THE CRUCIFIXION – “JESUS PRAYED FOR ALL OF THEM, THE WEAK, THE COWARDLY, THE BLIND, THE MALICIOUS”

16 Apr

JESUS IS LED OUT OF THE CITY

“With two criminals also condemned to be crucified, Jesus was led out from Jerusalem to Golgotha, the ‘Place of the Skull.’ He was so weak that the soldiers forced a man named Simon of Cyrene to assist Him in carrying His Cross.

On the was some women of Jerusalem wept over His fate. Jesus said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold days are coming in which men will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if in the case of green wood they do these things, what is to happen in the case of the dry?’ (Luke 23:28-31).

‘AND HE WAS RECKONED AMONG THE WICKED’

At Golgotha Jesus was nailed to His Cross and the two thieves were crucified, one on His right hand, and the other on His left. In this way there was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaias [Isaiah] which Jesus had applied to Himself: ‘For I say to you that this which is written must yet be fulfilled in me. ‘And He was reckoned among the wicked” (Luke 22:37, and Isaias 53:12).

‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS’

Jesus was nailed to the Cross at noon. His first words after He had been raised on the Cross were, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). These words are a witness to the love of God for men, to the love Jesus’ human heart for men. They are also a witness to the foolishness and malice of men.

Jesus was shedding His Blood on the Cross for the salvation of mankind. His own race, His own people had brought this about. Misled by their leaders, they stood at the foot of the Cross of human redemption, mocking their Redeemer.

PILATE ‘GETS HIS OWN BACK’

Pilate, in one last gesture of disdain for the passions of the Jewish leaders, had inscribed on the Cross, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’ (John 19:19) [in Latin:’INRI’ – Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum]. The chief priests, refusing to have Jesus for their king, protested, but Pilate remained firm. He was not courageous enough to follow his own principles and save an innocent man. But he was brave enough to indulge in this one small vanity. He would flaunt his own power in the face of the priests and people. But Jesus, ever kind and merciful, prayed to His Father for all of them, the weak, the cowardly, the blind, the malicious.

‘FOR MY VESTURE THEY CAST LOTS’

While Jesus was thus praying for those who were mocking Him, regarding Him as a criminal, the soldiers, as was their custom at an execution, were dividing His garments among themselves. There were four soldiers, and they divided His garments four ways. But when they came to His tunic there was a difficulty. The tunic was seamless and could not be divided. They therefore cast lots to see who should win this prize. Both St John and St Matthew point out that in this way there was fulfilled in the life of Jesus what the Psalmist had said of himself (and, by anticipation, of Jesus): ‘They divide my garments among them; and for my vesture they cast lots’ (Psalm 21:19).

JESUS, OUR LORD AND BROTHER, NOW PROCEEDS TO GIVE TO ALL CHRISTIANS THEIR SPIRITUAL MOTHER

In the midst of this story of humiliation and suffering there was one note of gentleness and compassion. Some of the friends of Jesus were present at the foot of His Cross. His mother Mary was there, Mary of Cleophas, Mary of Magdala, and perhaps a cousin of Mary, the mother of James and Joseph. St John, the beloved disciple, was also there. Noticing them, Jesus addressed His mother and said, ‘Woman, behold thy son.’ Then addressing St John, He said, ‘Behold thy mother’ (John 19:26-27).

Thus Jesus, even in the hour of His agony, was mindful of His filial duty to provide for the care of His mother. And, as St John himself tells us, ‘from that hour the disciple took her into his home’ (John 19:27). Down through the centuries since then, Christians have also seen, and rightfully, in this incident a symbol of the fact that the followers of Jesus, like St John, are the spiritual children of Mary, the mother of the Redeemer.

MAKING FUN OF JESUS CHRIST

Meanwhile, the soldiers and the crowd were mocking Jesus. Some who were passing by remembered His words about the destruction of the temple and shouted up to Him, ‘Aha, thou who destroyest the temple, and in three days buildest it up again; come down from the cross, and save thyself!’ (Mark 15:29-30).

The priests and Scribes (perhaps knowingly) applied to Him the words of the twenty-first Psalm, saying, ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save! If he is the King of Israel, let him come down now from the Cross, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he wants him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God” (Matthew 27:42-43).

DISMAS BECOMES A BELIEVER

The two thieves who had been crucified, one on each side of Him, entered into the raillery against Him. Finally one of them said, ‘I thou art the Christ, save thyself and us!’ (Luke 23:39). At this moment the other thief (usually known as Dismas) changed his mind and his heart about Jesus. From an unbeliever he became a believer. He turned to the other thief and said, ‘Dost not even thou fear God, seeing that thou art under the same sentence?’ (Luke 23:40). He recalled the fact that they were all to die shortly and face the judgment of God.

WHO ARE THE TWO ‘THIEVES’?

His language implies that they also were being executed for rebellion against the Roman authorities. It is possible that they belonged to some group active in its opposition to Rome. This is confirmed by his next words, ‘And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what our deeds deserved, but this man has done nothing wrong’ (Luke 23:41).

Then, believing in Jesus, he turned to Him and said, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’ Jesus rewarded his faith by saying to him, ‘Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:42-43). Jesus meant that on that very day the good thief would be with Jesus in the ‘paradise’ where the souls of the just were awaiting release so that they might enter heaven, the Kingdom of God.

THE PSALMIST’S WORDS ARE FULFILLED

About the ninth hour, that is, about three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani,’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46). The words are mysterious. Jesus is the very Son of God, one with God the Father, equally God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. How then could God forsake Him, abandon Him?

DOES GOD THE FATHER REALLY ‘ABANDON’ JESUS AT THE POINT OF PHYSICAL DEATH?

It is true that Jesus, as St Paul teaches, bore on His shoulders on the Cross the sins of all humanity (Galatians 3:13). At this moment then He could be regarded in God’s eyes as representative of all human evil. But God sees truly and He knows that Jesus, while bearing the sins of men, is in Himself the innocent, the unstained victim for the sins of men. Hence He could not have abandoned Jesus absolutely; it would have been to abandon Himself.

The mystery of these words vanished somewhat when we recall that Jesus is reciting the opening words of the twenty-first Psalm. Twice already this Psalm has entered the story of the Passion of Jesus. The soldiers cast lots for His garments as the Psalm had said. The rulers of the people had quoted it against Him. Now Jesus Himself recites the Psalm as a prayer.

He applies the Psalm to Himself in His own human nature. In the Psalm the author presents Himself as a man apparently abandoned by God. He is a ‘worm and no man: the reproach of men and the outcast of the people’ (Psalm 21:8). He has been laughed to scorn; His hope in the Lord has been mocked; He has been ‘dug’ in his hands and feet (Psalm 21:8-9, 17). Now all these things are true of Jesus on the Cross. But the speaker in the Psalm, the ‘poor man’ of the Psalm, hoped in the Lord and the Lord did not forsake him. He will declare the name of the Lord to his brethren. And because of this ‘the ends of the earth shall remember, and shall be converted to the Lord: and all the kindreds of the Gentiles shall adore in his sight… and to him my soul shall live: and my seed shall serve him. There shall be declared to the Lord a generation to come: and the heavens shall show forth his justice to a people that shall be born, which the Lord hath made’ (Psalm 21:23, 28-32).

WORDS OF HOPE AND OF PROPHECY

The words of Jesus on the Cross are then chiefly words of hope and of prophecy. It is true that God, even that Jesus Himself as God, has abandoned the human nature of Jesus, His body and blood, even His soul, to the torment of the cross, to the mockery and hatred of His own people. The words of Jesus testify this fact. But this passion of Jesus will give birth to a new people who will worship truly the one true God, Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

THE GREAT DRAMA OF HUMAN REDEMPTION

Some of the bystanders, not understanding correctly the words of Jesus, thought that He was calling on the prophet Elias. One of the soldiers, taking pity on Him, dipped a sponge in a mixture of water and vinegar, and tried to slake the thirst of Jesus, Who had just said, ‘I thirst’ (John 19:28). When the bystanders would have stopped the soldier, as if he were entering into their raillery, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elias is coming to take him down’ (Mark 15:36).

Jesus drank from the sponge. Then He said, ‘It is consummated’ (John 19:30). Then, in full control of Himself, He said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). With this He bowed His head and died. Thus there was accomplished on a Cross at Calvary the great drama of human redemption. Jesus, the son of God, Who had become also the Son of Man, gave up His human life, bled to death in suffering and ignominy for the salvation of men.

‘HE LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR US’

In the beginning, in some mysterious trial whose nature and details are not known to us, Satan and the angels who followed him had rebelled against God. Thus sin entered God’s creation for the first time. Then, in the beginning of human history, Adam, through pride and weakness, fell victim to the seduction of Satan and mankind fell under the curse of sin.

But God, in His love for men, determined to save men. Here at Calvary God’s plan for human salvation is accomplished. Jesus, the Son of God, God Himself, gives up His human life as a sacrifice of expiation, a sacrifice of propitiation to God for sin. ‘To this end the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil’ (1 John 3:8). ‘In this has the love of God been shown in our case, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we may live through him. In this is the love, not that we have loved God, but that he has first loved us, and sent his Son a propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:9-10). ‘In this we have come to know his love, that he laid down his life for us’ (1 John 3:16).

THE CONCLUSION OF HIS STORY IS STILL TO COME

Certainly, in the mind of Jesus, He was dying on the Cross for the salvation of mankind. He was offering His life for men. The miraculous works He had already accomplished, the spirituality of His teaching, these surely would recommend belief in His mission. But the conclusion of His story is still to come. The sequel to His passion and death are a divine sign of the validity of His mission to preach the Kingdom of God to men, of the efficacy of His suffering and death to save men.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (headings in capital letters added afterwards)

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