GOOD FRIDAY & THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE CROSS

GOOD FRIDAY & THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE CROSS
Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.
In the whole wide world everyone has seen a Cr
oss. Everyone knows that Jesus died on a Cross
and that a Cross is the symbol of Christian
religion. But today Cross has become a fashion. I
have seen not only Christians but young persons of
other faiths also wearing a Cross on a chain
or even as ear-rings. Sometimes people ask me for
Bible and other literature
of Jesus Christ and
also a Cross.
In spite of such popularity of the Cross not ma
ny people know about the real meaning of the
Cross nor its spirituality. The Good Friday gives
us an opportunity to know the significance and
the spirituality of the Cross.
The words of Jesus himself can he
lp us to understand the meaning
and the spirituality of the Cross. The four Gospel
s together give us seve
n ‘words’ or utterances
of Jesus spoken from the Cross.
The seven different utterances of Jesus, spoken
from the Cross, are found in the New Testament.
The four evangelists –
Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John – together give th
e seven utterances or
Jesus’ words from the Cross. Jesus spoke them as he hanged on the Cross. The first of the seven
sentences is given both by Matthew and Mark in
their Gospels, “My G
od, my God, why did you
abandon me?” (Mt. 27, 46 & Mk 15, 34).
Jesus remained always in constant contact with
his heavenly Father during his whole life on
earth. Indeed, Jesus often told his disciples th
at, “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10, 30). “My
Father has given me all things. No one knows
the Son except the Father, and no one knows the
Father except the Son and those to whom the Son
chooses to reveal him” (Mt. 11, 27). “That you
may know once and for all that the Father is in
me and that I am in the Father” (Jn. 10, 38).
Jesus addressed God calling him ‘Father’ not by any
other name. Here, Jesus
is not calling but he
is imploring his Father. Mathew and Mark have
put Jesus’ pleading to his Father in the same
words, “My God, my God, why did you ab
andon me?” (Mt. 27, 46; Mk 15, 34).
This cry of anguish remind us the first verse of Psalm number 22 which says,
“My God, My God, why have you
abandoned me?
I have cried desperately for help,
but still does not come” (Ps 22, 1).
What do we understand when we hear
this cry of anguish of Jesu
s from the Cross? We see the
encounter of the great power of divine love a
nd the satanic evil power. Did Jesus hanging on the
Cross feel that in the encounter of the power of
love and of the satanic power of evil, God, his
Father has abandoned him? Or does Jesus wants to
teach us that in the encounter of the good and
the evil, there may not be
always poetical Justice?
Those who fought for truth like Ga
ndhiji and Martin Luther King
did not die a na
tural death but
they were martyred by the bullets of their satani
c killers. When Jesus cries with anguish from the
Cross, we know that he has deeply felt and e
xperienced the abandonment of his heavenly Father.
When we human beings have to tread the deep
valley of abandonment, we know that Jesus has
gone on the same way before us on the darkest path
of human life. Jesus’ cry of anguish in the
hopeless situation encourages us to keep our
faith in God in similar predicament.
The second utterance of Jesus from the Cross
is a pleading for his pe
rsecutors. Jesus said,
“Father! They don’t know what
they are doing.” (Lk 23, 34). Jesus often spoke to his disciples
and the crowd milling around him duri
ng his three-year long public life that they should forgive
one-another.
Once the leader of the twelve disciples, Peter ev
en asked Jesus specifically. “Then Peter came to
Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, if my brother keeps on si
nning against me, how many times do I have to
forgive him? Seven times?’
“’No, not seven times,’ answered Je
sus, ‘but seventy times seven”
(Mt 18, 21-22). That is to say,
there is no limit in forgiving.
When Jesus prays for forgiveness even during
his excruciating pain of hanging on the Cross,
then we can understand and appreciate the heart of
Jesus and the power of the Cross. When Jesus
prays that, “Father forgive them” he does not speci
fy exactly who are exactly he is praying for
forgiveness from his heart. Jesus is pleading fo
r forgiveness not only for those who clamour for
his capital punishment and for t
hose who carry out the order of
capital punishment but Jesus is
pleading for forgiveness of the entire humanity for their crimes and sins. The meaning of the
Cross and its spirituality is that Jesus by
his own Cross won forgiveness for the whole
humankind.
The third utterance which Jesus spoke from the
Cross was his words to
the good criminal saying,
“I promise you that today you will be in Paradise
with me” (Lk 23, 43). We
know that together
with Jesus two criminals were also crucified.
One of them like his enemies and detractors has
insulted Jesus saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah?
Save yourself and us!” (Lk 23, 39). But the
other criminal rebuked him saying, “Don’t you fear
God? You received the same sentence he
did. Ours, however, is only right
, because we are getting what we
deserve for what we did; but
he has done no wrong’ And he said to Jesus,
‘Remember me, Jesus when you come as King!’
“Jesus said to him, ‘I promise you that today
you will be in Paradise
with me’” (Lk 23, 41-43).
In the response of Jesus to the good criminal we
can see a number of impo
rtant things. The first,
the criminal acknowledges that he
is a sinner, a criminal. But in th
e response of Jesus there is no
reference to the criminal’s crime or punishme
nt but only his forgiveness and blessing. Jesus
assures the criminal that today he would be with
Jesus in Paradise. In other words hanging from
the Cross Jesus assures the criminal the unconditi
onal love of his heavenly
Father. Then, saying
“with me”, Jesus assures us, sinners, that he, Je
sus, is with us. With
unconditional love Jesus
forgives the criminal and blesses him. Similarly, from the Cross Jesus continues to bless all
people with his unconditional love. So Jesus tells us that the Cross is no more the sign of
punishment but of blessings and love.