Friday, April 6, 2012

My Thoughts on Good Friday

10 years ago or so, the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out.  It was not well reviewed.  Some swore it would stir up animosity towards Jews, which it didn’t.  Some were troubled by the gore and violence although these same people were not so troubled by gore and violence in other films.  My guess is that they were troubled by the overall message of the film, which is quite simply that, as the Gospel of John tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”   They were troubled by the reality of the Christ, which is far from the cleaned-up  really nice philosopher they prefer to think of, if they think about Christ at all.  But we can get used to that cleaned-up image of Christ on the cross.  We look at most crucifixes and we see this cleaned up image…most of the corpus is free of blood or wounds.  When I was in Peru some time back, their depictions of the crucifixion were rather graphic and hard to look at.  But they were realistic.  When one looks at those depictions, one gets a graphic understanding that the crucifixion was indeed violent, gory, and graphic.  This should give us a sense of why he endured the cross and depths of His love for us in enduring the Passion and death He did.  Quite frankly, it should trouble us, move us, and bring about a profound sense of God’s deep love for us.

Why is the cross necessary?   Because man refuses God’s love.  We sin.  We do awful things to one another.  We heap inhumanity upon inhumanity.  Each act is an act of rebellion against God, who created us for so much more and better.  In our selfishness, we rebel against God.  Justice would demand that the fitting penalty for rebellion be served, namely death.  If justice were not served, there would be no purpose to not sinning; if we were to receive an a reward independent of our actions, then our actions would mean nothing and our need to promote good would be non-existent.   No loving God would bring us into existence just for his amusement of watching us suffer and beat each other as if creation were no more than God’s Coliseum to watch us suffer in some sick gladiatorial engagement.   No.  Quite the opposite, our faith tells us it grieves God when we heap our selfishness upon each other, and deep in our hearts we feel that same distress and pain in watching man’s inhumanity to each other.  How could God allow into heaven such a rebellious species?  Would we not rebel in heaven as we rebel on earth? 

Since God refuses to give up on his creation, but also knows that justice demands punishment for our rebellion, He sends His only Son to give us a new way of life knowing full well that His words would sting our ears.  Where man had rebelled against God, now man would rebel against the world.  In Christ, Jesus redeems us and foments a rebellion against the world and its master, the devil.  He dies the execution method of a rebel in Roman times, crucifixion…a death so horrific that it would make people think twice about rebelling.   The fury of the world knows no mercy and brought that fury down in full force against Jesus.  In the movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, the one scene that is scorched into my mind more than any other is the scourging.  Jesus is first caned.  Welts and blood cover Him as He is beaten to the ground.  The Romans laugh as they make sport of Jesus, thinking Him defeated.  Then He does something…He stands up…an act of rebellious defiance against the world.  The Romans become enraged and bring out the cat-of-nine-tails (a whip with 9 ends, each with a razor on the end) and brutally beat Jesus within an inch of His life.  The whipping is halted lest Jesus dies before he makes it to the cross.  It occurs to me that each blow Jesus takes in our stead, so loathsome is our rebellion to a loving God.  He willingly does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  The offering of His Body and Blood at the Last Supper would earlier that day would know come to its bloody zenith.

In his DVD series “Catholicism”, Fr Robert Barron stands in a church in France and reflects on very old altarpiece of the crucifixion.  Its depiction is painful to see, but Fr Barron makes a point of saying that this is a portrait of the happiest man to ever live.  It is striking when he says it.  He is absolutely correct, though.  On the Cross, we see a man victorious.  Satan could not deter Him by temptations towards worldly honor, worldly wealth, worldly power, nor worldly pleasure from the Cross. On the Cross, Jesus soundly refutes these temptations and conquers them.  By His obedience, man no longer need be a slave to worldly pleasure, power, wealth, or honor…instead he can freed from such things and thus open to  so much greater with God.  When Jesus says, “It is finished’, they are not the words of a defeated would be king,  but the words or a victorious king…one who has come to do exactly what he was sent to do.  This is why Good Friday takes its name.  Jesus pays the price for our transgressions and thus breaks any hold Satan would have on us.  In the death of Jesus, we are set free.

Thus the last act of Good Friday: will we live as men and women set free from the hold of worldly power, wealth, honor, and pleasure?  Will we turn our backs on rebellion and choose to freely love?  Will we live the life of Christ?  We live in a world pockmarked by selfishness: every act of bullying, of greed, of envy, of disrespect for the integrity of another person, every act that rips away another’s dignity, of lust, of wrath...all proof that man still will reach out to be enslaved by the world.   Will we forge our own chains of slavery or allow the death of Christ free us from such chains.  Through the actions of Good Friday, we remind ourselves that we are created and meant for so much greater than this world can promise…let us embrace that Cross and by it be freed from rebellion, be freed from selfishness, and share in the victory of He who conquers it!  A Blessed Good Friday to all.

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