Like a sapling he grew in front of us,
Like a root in arid ground…
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ….
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpted from Isaiah 53.
Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion ~
March 29, 2018
I was blown away by an article I pondered in the volume of Lenten readings that sustain me every year called Bread and Wine. This one is by a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who was a prisoner of war in WWII. It’s entitled Prisoner of Hope . . . .
The night before the Romans arrested him, Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane, taking only three of his closest friends with him and “became greatly distressed and troubled” as Mark writes. “My soul is very sorrowful even to death,” he said, and begged his friends to stay awake with him.
Often, Jesus would withdraw at night to pray alone in order to be united with God whom he so intimately called “my Father.” Here, for the first time he doesn’t want to be alone with God. He seeks protection among his friends. Protection from whom?
And then comes the prayer that sounds like a demand, “Father, all things are possible to you, remove this cup from me.” (Mark 14:16)—spare me this suffering.
Christ’s request is not granted. God, his Father, rejected it. Elsewhere, we are always told “I and the Father are one.” But here Christ’s communion with God breaks down. Christ’s true passion begins with the prayer in Gethsemane that was not heard.
Of course, there was the simple human fear of pain, But Moltmann believes it was a quite different fear that the only begotten Son could be “forsaken’, “rejected”, even “cursed’ by the Father. He’s not afraid for his life. He’s afraid for God and the Father’s kingdom whose joy he had proclaimed to the poor.
This suffering from God himself is the real torment of Christ’s passion. Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God. Who cannot be paralyzed by it? His friends were protected from it by a profound sleep.
Moltmann says the Luther bible heads this chapter with the title The Struggle in Gethsemane. The struggle with whom? Christ’s struggle with himself? His struggle with death? It’s the struggle with God. This was the real agony. He overcame it through his self-surrender.
That was his victory—and our hope.
At the end of Christ’s Passion, on Golgotha, the place of execution, we hear a despairing cry to God . . .
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice ‘Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani
MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!’”
For three hours he hung nailed to the cross, apparently in silence, locked in agony and waiting for death. And then with this cry, that expresses the most profound abandonment by the God on whom he pinned all his hopes and for whom he was hanging on the cross.
What Christ was afraid of, what he wrestled with in Gethsemane, what he implored the Father to save him from, was not spared him. It happened on the cross. The Father forsook ~ abandoned the Son and “God is silent!” The Son was forsaken by the Father, rejected and cursed, as Professor Moltmann suggests in this article. He bore the judgment in that everyone is alone and in that no one can stand.
(If you’re getting bored with this reasoning—please hang in there! I think you’ll be astonished how it will apply to you personally!)
Is there an answer to why God abandoned him? Is there an answer to the agonizing questionings and disappointment of death: “My God, Why? Why?”
As a priest I know that a real answer to that question cannot be a theoretical answer beginning with the word “Because . . .”. It has to be a practical answer—an answer from experience.
At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion. At the center of the passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken Christ. Is this the end of all human and religious hope?
Or is it the beginning of the true hope, because it is the beginning of a life that has death behind it and for which hell is no longer feared!
At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in his passion.
The passionately loving Christ, the persecuted Christ, the lonely Christ, the Christ despairing over God’s silence, the Christ who in dying so totally abandoned—for us and for our sakes—is like the brother or friend to whom we can confide, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us—and more.
In our hopes about life, in our love in living and our activity, we participate in his passion for the kingdom of freedom
Our disappointments, our loneliness, and defeats don’t separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in his death cry and await the resurrection.
This—is what faith really is: believing, not with head or lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life.
Good Friday is the most comprehensive and most profound expression of Christ’s fellowship with every human being.
In him the despair that oppresses us becomes free to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become open as vulnerable as he was.
What seemed so meaningless and irreconcilable—our hope and Christ’s cross—belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.
Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope. Has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner—a prisoner of hope!”
As I said when I introduced this article, I was blown away by it, and I hope you have been nourished by it as well. It has changed my whole perspective on Good Friday and my own understanding of Christ’s passion and my own participation in it. I will help to deepen your faith.
And now my prayer . . .
Today everywhere in the world there are people
who are forsaken, abandoned, alone, afraid, dying, mourning the loss of loved ones.
And we cry: “Why, God, Why?” Be with them, Lord. Help us to help them.
And this Good Friday I feel closer to you because of what I’ve read, Lord.
May it deepen our to faith and strengthen our solidarity with my sisters and brothers.
Thank you, Lord, because you’ve did it! It’s done! You saved us. Thank you ever so much!!!
And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here.
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.
Jurgen Moltmann / “Prisoner of Hope” / Bread and Wine – Readings for Lent and Easter Plough Publishing House / Walden NY / 2003
We’re half-way through Lent now and traditional this is known as Laetare Sunday ~ Laetare in Latin, meaning “Rejoice!” However, today’s readings don’t seem to have that kind of flavor.
The Responsorial Psalm has us sing: “Let my tongue be silenced if ever I forget you, Zion!”
The priests’ and deacon’s vestments’ and perhaps the sanctuary decoration probably will be of a rose color, rather than that of violet or purple for the rest of Lent.
But today’s readings are a reflection on God’s generosity, God’s forgiveness. God’s constant, loving care of his people.
The first reading from Chronicles 36:14-23 outlines the infidelity, the sins of Judah and even the priests; they polluted the temple.
But early and often did God send messengers and prophets to try to get them to turn from their evil ways. Then they were carried off in captivity to Babylon.
But even then the Lord had mercy. A new King came to Persia—Cyrus—and he let the Jewish people return to their homes and actually helped them rebuild their temple.
The message of this first reading is renewal and forgiveness. God will continue making loving, merciful overtures toward sinners early and often in our own time—toward those who are responsible for the evil the world is presently experiencing—toward those who cooperate in that evil in the hope of metanoia ~ real change of mind and heart.
We realize that God has made the ultimate overture in Jesus, incarnate, crucified and risen, in victory over sin and death.
In the Gospel from John 3: 14-21—our Scripture Scholar-friend William Barclay tell us that John goes back to a strange story in Numbers 21:4-9. On their journey through the wilderness the people murmured and complained and regretted that they had left Egypt. To punish them God sent them a plague of deadly fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent and to hold it up and those who looked at it would be healed.
John took the old story and used it as a kind of parable for Jesus. He says, “The serpent was lifted up; men looked at; their thoughts were turned to God; and by the power of that God in whom they trusted they were healed. Even so Jesus must be lifted up; and when people turn their thoughts to him, and believe in him, they too will find eternal life.”
Barclay goes on—there’s a wonderful suggestive thing here: The verb to lift up is hupsuon. The strange thing is that it’s used of Jesus in two senses. It’s used of his being lifted up upon the Cross; and it’s used of his being lifted up into glory at the time of his ascension into heaven. It’s also used in Philippians 2:9. The lifting on the Cross and the lifting into glory are inextricably connected. It’s an unalterable law of life that if there’s no cross, there’s no crown.
In this opening sentence of today’s gospel, there’s the phrase “believes in Jesus.” Barclay suggests it means at least three things . . .
First. It means believing with all our hearts that God is as Jesus declared him to be. It means believing that God loves us, that God cares for us and wants nothing more than to forgive us.
It was not easy for a Jew to believe that. Jewish people looked on God as one who imposed laws upon their people and punished them if they broke them. They looked on God as a judge and on man as a criminal at his judgment seat. (In fact, I have known Catholics who have thought the same way! That they were going to hell for the even small peccadillos. I knew a lady once who thought her flatulence was a sin!) Jewish people looked on God as one who demanded sacrifices and offerings.
Second. How can we be sure that Jesus knew what he was talking about? What guarantee is there that this wonderful good news is true? We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he knew God so well, was so close to God, was so one with God that he could tell us the absolute truth about him.
And Third. We believe that God is a loving Father because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and whatever he says about God is true. We must stake everything on the fact that what Jesus say is true and that whatever he commands we must do. When he tell us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God unreservedly that we must do.
The second phrase is eternal life. We have already seen that eternal life is the very life of God himself. So, if we possess eternal life, what do we have?
First, we have the peace of God. We are no longer cringing before a tyrannical judge. We are at home with our Father.
Second, it gives us peace with our fellow human beings. If we have been forgiven, we must be forgiving. It enables us to see others as God sees them. We become on human family.
Third, it gives us peace with life. If God is Father, God is working all things together for good. This a friendly universe!
Fourth, it gives us peace with ourselves. We are most afraid of what’s inside of us than anything else, it seems. We know our weaknesses, the force of our temptations, the tasks and demands of our own life. But now we know we are facing them with God and with his Son Jesus.
And finally, it makes us certain that the deepest peace on earth is only a shadow of the ultimate peace that is to come.
And so we come to probably the most quoted scripture passage in the world—John 3:16 in today’s gospel.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have everlasting life.
All great men have had their favorite texts, but this has been called “Everybody’s text.” It contains the essence of the gospel. Barclay says it tells us certain great things . . . .
First. It tell us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes preachers draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle loving Jesus. But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son and he sent him because he loved humankind.
Second. It tells us that the root of God’s being is love. It’s easy to think of God as looking at us humans in our disobedience and rebellion and saying: “I’ll break them: I’ll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back as in the Old Testament. It’s easy to think of God as seeking the allegiance of his subjects to satisfy his own desire for power. The tremendous thing about this text is it shows us God acting not for his own sake, not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring the universe to heal, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch, (as many despotic government rulers today are) who treats each person as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not batter or bully them into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.
Third. It tells of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the person who loves God and the one who never thinks of God, the person who rests in the love of God and the one who spurns it—all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As Augustine put it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”
And now before you go, here’s a hymn sung in many churches that extols God’s love for us. Click here..
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – volume 1 revised edition / Westminster Press / Philadelphia / 1975 /pp.134-138.
Once again, I rely heavily on our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay for his insights for today’s reflections. First of all, he notes that John after the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he and his friends returned for a short visit to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, and shortly after that he set out for Jerusalem to observe the Passover feast.
This, Barclay observes, is interesting in that John’s chronology of the life of Jesus is quite different from the other three gospels. In the others, Jesus is depicted as going to Jerusalem only once—the Passover feast in which he was crucified, the only visit to the holy city other than the one when he was a boy. But in John, Jesus makes frequent trips to Jerusalem, including three for Passover. Barclay notes there’s no real contradiction here—only different points of view.
Today’s Gospel story is about Jesus’ Cleansing the Temple. It could not have happened twice. He angered the Temple authorities so much that they had a warrant for his arrest. And this story is only in Chapter two of John’s gospel. Barclay notes that John is more interested in truth than in facts; he’s not writing a chronological biography of Jesus. He’s thinking back to the great prophecies of the coming of the Messiah: “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to the temple. For he is like the refiner’s fire, and the fuller’s soap . . . , and he will purify the sons of Levi. . . .till they present a right offering to the Lord.
Right at the beginning he shows us Jesus acting as God’s Messiah must act. And he did. His anger is a terrifying thing. He formed a scourge out of cords and moved through those selling oxen and sheep and doves and the -money-changers sitting at their tables and drove them all out of temple and said, “Take these away and stop making my Father’s house a house of trade.”
The Passover was the greatest of all Jewish feasts. The law stated that every adult male who lived within fifteen miles of the holy city must attend. Now here are some facts that shaped Jesus’ anger. Astonishingly, it’s likely 2.25 million Jews sometimes assembled in Jerusalem in those days for Passover. And there was a tax that every Jew over 19 must pay—the Temple tax. It was one half shekel. At that time, the value of a half shekel was about 6 cents. It was the equivalent of almost two days of working man’s wages. In Palestine all kinds of currency were valid—from Greece and Egypt and Tyre and Sidon and Palestine. But the Temple tax had to be paid The Jewish shekels; the foreign coins were considered unclean; they could be used to pay ordinary debts, but not debts to God.
So in the Temple courts sat the money-changers. If there trade had been straight forward, they would have been fulfilling an honest and necessary purpose. But they charged to change the money and they charged get their change. The poor pilgrims couldn’t win. The wealth that accrued from the Temple tax and from this and from this method of money-changing was—well—beyond belief.
It was estimated that the annual profit was about $100,00 for the Temple. And Barclay says that when Crasus captured Jerusalem in 54 B.C. he took from it $3,400,000 without coming near exhausting it.
What enraged Jesus was that pilgrims to the Passover who could ill afford it, were being fleeced at an exorbitant rate by the money-changers. It was a rampant and shameless social injustice—and what was worse it was being done in the name of religion.
Besides the money-changers, there were sellers of oxen and sheep and doves. Many pilgrims wanted to make a thank offering. Victims for the sacrifice could be bought in the temple court. But no. The law was that the animal had to be unblemished and, therefore, the Temple authorities set up appointed inspectors (muncheh) to examine the victims that were to be offered. The fee was 1 cent. If the worshipper bought the animal outside the Temple, of course, it would be rejected. A pair of doves would cost about 4 cents outside but 75 cents inside. Here again, was bare-faced extortion of the poor and humble pilgrims who, as Barclay says, were practically blackmailed into buying their victims in the Temple booths. It was that which moved Jesus into flaming anger. St. Jerome thinks that the very sight of Jesus made the whip unnecessary. A certain fiery and starry light shone from his eyes and the majesty of the Godhead gleamed in his face.
Now, Barclay suggests there are at least three reasons why Jesus acted as he did..
First, God’s house—his Father’s house, as he said in John’s gospel—was being desecrated. In the Temple, there was worship without reverence. Worship without reverence can be a terrible thing.
When I attend Mass once in a while I’ll find a priest who rushes through the Eucharistic Prayer in a distracted fashion—the most solemn part of the Mass, or who doesn’t say the words of Consecration reverently. I ache inside for the priest, for myself and for the people who are not being edified.
Second, Jesus acted as he did to show that animal sacrifice and all that went into it was completely irrelevant. For centuries the prophets were saying exactly that. “Bring no more vain offerings” (Isaiah 1:11). “They love sacrifices; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the Lord has no delight in them.” (Hosea 8:2:12-16).
Third. The Temple authorities were making the Court of the Gentiles into an uproar and a rabble where no man can pray. The lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep, the cooing of the doves, the shouts of the hucksters, the rattle of the coins, the voices raised in bargaining disputes—all these combined to make the Court of the Gentiles a place where no one could worship. The conduct in the Temple court shut out the seeking Gentile from the presence of God. It may well be that this was most on Jesus’ mind. Jesus was moved to the depths of his heart because seeking pilgrims were being shut out from the presence of God. “Mark has Jesus say: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers ” Mark 11:17).
Bishop Robert Barron in a reflection in the Magnificat liturgical magazine for today’s gospel has this to say . . . .
The most fundamental vocation of human beings is to give God right praise. In this act of adoration we become rightly ordered in ourselves. Accordingly sin is the suspension of right praise., a turning of the heart toward creatures rather than the Creator, which results in the disintegration of self and of society. All of the institutions of Israel—law, covenant, prophecy and Temple—were intended to bring the nation back in line to make Israel a priestly people.
Hence, the corruption of the Temple represented much more than simply an issue of social or institutional injustice. It was the compromising of the identity of Israel. Jesus comes to restore God’s holy people to right praise—and to turn inside out and upside down all forms of false worship. Thus, as you contemplate the image of Jesus cleansing the Temple, ask yourself the following question, “Precisely what or whom do I worship?”
As I conclude this reflection, I am reminded that St. Paul has told us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). And so, I’ve added to our title, Cleanse us too, O Lord! Bishop Barron suggested that we ask ourselves what or whom we worship? In America today we have all kinds of idols besides the Creator and we treat our bodies as anything as the temple of the Holy Spirit that they are.
So here is my prayer . . . .
Jesus, I wonder what your disciples thought when they witnessed your blazing anger.
Some even today say it’s so out of character for you.
Would that you would come into our world today and throw out those who hurt the poor!
But I know that’s up to us to do, right?
But at least help me to form “right praise” and cast out the sin in my life.
Yes. Jesus, this is one more instance of “the Jesus I know and love.”
(Ya know, I never thought about your anger before.)
And before you go, here’s a Lenten hymn for you.Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. This is a song by John Michael Talbot
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – volume 1 revised edition / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 /pp. 107 – 114.