In today's first reading Isaiah paints a startling portrait of the suffering servant of Yahweh. This suffering servant has a dignity about himself and his spirit is intact and unbroken in the midst of all that he suffers. Physically he was abused and reduced to a subhuman condition, yet in the face of all that he suffered there is no bitterness, no anger, no resentment, no complaint. Isaiah is describing not only the suffering servant but in fact he gives us a pen portrait of Jesus himself as he goes to his passion and he also gives us a model of how the Christian is called to respond to suffering. Jesus would embrace the cross and transform it into an expression of love for all human beings. The cross, the object of death can become the object of life for us and for others, if it is embraced with faith, as coming from God's hands.
He risked his life, all he got back was…
One night a fisherman heard a loud splash. A man on a nearby yacht had been drinking and had fallen overboard. The fisherman leapt into the cold water and rescued the man and revived him with artificial respiration. Then he put the man to bed, and did everything he could to make the man comfortable. Finally, exhausted by the ordeal, the fisherman swam back to his own boat. The next morning the fisherman returned to the yacht to see how the man was doing. "It's none of your business," the man shouted defensively. The fisherman reminded the man that he had risked his life to save him. But instead of thanking him, the man cursed the fisherman and told him that he never wanted to see him around again. Commenting on the episode, the fisherman said: "I rowed away from the yacht with tears in my eyes. But the experience was worth it, because it gave me an understanding of how Jesus felt when he was rejected by those he saved."
Mark Link in 'Journey'
Today's Gospel presents a mortal conflict between good and evil, a battle between the Prince of Peace and the prince of this world. Good Friday is a day of paradox because an instrument of death becomes the source of life. It is also a day of mystery because the sinless one became as sin; a day revealing mankind at its worst and God at His best. Ultimately on this day love conquers death. Jesus on the cross transforms the curse of the cross into an instrument of blessing and eternal life. In the Gospel we hear an account of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John. There are several facets of the passion we could successfully reflect upon: The agony in the garden and the fearless confrontation of Jesus with those who came to arrest him. The triple denial of Peter in the presence of a maid servant. The trial before Caiphas in the Pretorium and then his confrontation with Pilate, and the lingering unanswered question: "What is the truth?" We could meditate on the Way of the Cross and his final moments on the cross. We could ask the questions: Why did the Father permit the Son to suffer? Why does God seem to abandon Jesus? Does God abandon his people, his beloved when they suffer? For that matter is the Father oblivious to the passion of his Son and to all his sons and daughters who even now suffer in the world today? While God does not reveal always his power, he always gives us the assurance of his comforting presence. We want God to be a powerful God, one who does away with all suffering. In Jesus' suffering and dying on the cross, we see as it were, an impotent God, a God who is made vulnerable precisely because he loves us, is ready to suffer with us and for us.
Thy Will, Not Mine
Robert Grant's short story The Sign concerns a young man called Davidson. He wants to be a writer and has just mailed his first novel to a publishing house. Filled with fear about the publisher's decision, he goes outside and paces back and forth in an orchard. It was Holy Week. His thought went back and forth between Christ and himself, like a needle and thread: to Christ in the garden of Gethsemane kneeling in prayer, and to himself in the orchard; to Christ preparing for the supreme agony of hanging by nails, back to himself and his book with Dow Press. He stopped and said."Thy will, not mine." But then 'a bolt of awareness' struck him. He really didn't mean what he said. What he really meant was that he wanted God's will to be done if it coincided with his own will and worked out 'right', to the joint glory of the pair of them, God and Davidson. And for the moment he was nauseated. Then he sat down and cried.
Mark Link in 'Journey'
In the musical Sound of Music Sister Maria, when confronted with a momentous decision which was to change the entire course of her life, spoke the well-known line of assurance: "When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window." Millions of Christians who have faced many 'closed doors' (heartaches, trials and disappointments) in their lives will raise up a hearty 'Amen' to her confident expression of faith. In fact, many of the world's great have achieved their most heroic accomplishments in the face of 'closed doors'. John Milton wrote Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained after having been afflicted with total blindness. Beethoven wrote some of his greatest music, including his Ninth Symphony, after he was almost completely deaf.
Anthony Castle in 'More Quotes and Anecdotes'
Ready to Die
The final sermon that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached before he was assassinated was the famous "I have been to the mountaintop" sermon. In it he declares, "I have seen the Promised Land, I am not afraid to die, I am ready to meet my Maker." He preached this sermon in the evening; he was killed the next day. Was it coincidence that he preached those words the day before he died? Or could he have had some mystic prevision of his death? It is said he preached that sermon very often, possibly a hundred times throughout the country. Andrew Young says: "The reason that he could preach that sermon so often was that he was always ready to die." He knew that death would come any moment because of the challenge that he was continually presenting to the conscience of America. He lived life fully and fearlessly. He was convinced of the rightness and goodness of what he was doing that he wasn't afraid to die. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had found something worth dying for. And so he lived passionately. He had something worth living for. In the crucifixion Jesus did not especially teach us how to die. He taught us how to live -fearlessly and passionately. The great message of the passion of Jesus is to live passionately.
He didn't have to say much
Toyohiko Kagawa was born in Japan to well-to-do parents. He was converted to Christianity and renounced his treasure and buried himself in the slums of his native land. He developed cataracts on both eyes; his lungs became tubercular; his frame developed a stoop. He suffered much. Towards the end of his distinguished life he came to one of the seminaries to deliver a lecture. When he was finished, one of the first year seminarians turned to another of the freshly-arrived juniors and remarked, "you know, he didn't say much, did he?" A woman standing nearby overheard and moved between them and set the matter right. She said, "A man on the cross doesn't have to say much."
John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word'
Harvard psychiatrist and author Robert Coles tells of interviewing a little black girl during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement in the South. The little girl was subjected to a great deal of harassment. Hate words were scrawled on nearby walls and fences along her street, and threats were made to her family. On her way to school each day she was subjected to catcalls and harsh stares and obscene gestures. At school she was shunned by white students. All of this amounted to a lot of pressure for anyone, much less a small child. During a visit to her modest home, Coles asked the girl how she kept her composure. Good book Christian that she was, the little girl replied that she knew all the Bible stories of holding fast to God no matter what people did to you. She knew what they did to Jesus and how he held fast. And so she just put everything in the hands of Jesus, she said. He was her rock. Still, that didn't make the pressure any less. People of honour like this student, whistle-blowers, those who sacrifice jobs and livelihood to hold on to principles; all bear the heavy cross of dry martyrdom.
William Bausch in 'The Word -In and Out of season'
Nothing More to Give
Some years ago, divers located a four-hundred-year-old ship off the coast of Northern Ireland. Among the treasures found on the sunken ship was a man's wedding ring. When it was cleaned up, the divers noticed that it had an inscription on it. Etched on the wide band was a hand holding a heart. Under the etching was this inscription: "I have nothing more to give you." Off all the treasures on that ship, none moved the divers more than that ring and the beautiful inscription on it. The words on that ring, "I have nothing more to give you," could have been written on the cross of Jesus. For on the cross, Jesus gave us everything he had. He gave us his love. He gave us his life. He gave us all that one person could give to another. He had nothing more to give us.
Mark of the Nails
A father wanted his son to realize the importance of making wise choices and their consequences. And so if his son made a bad decision, he'd give him a hammer and a nail to take out and pound it into a fence. Every day the son went through the whole day making good decisions, he'd let him go out and remove one of the nails. Until the boy was fifteen there were always two or three nails on the post -seems he'd be nailing new ones just as fast as he'd pull out others. The youth started to mature and make better decisions till one day all the nails were removed from the post. That was when his dad said, "I want you to notice something about the fence." Looking at the fence the boy realized that though the nails were removed there were some holes where the nails were driven in and removed. His dad said, Son, I want to tell you something about bad choices or decisions. Even though you may be totally forgiven from your bad choices or decisions, there are remaining effects, the consequences of those choices and decisions; just like the holes in the fencepost."
Brian Cavanaugh in 'Sower's Seeds of Christian Family Values'
***************From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
Alzheimer's patient remembered the cross of Jesus. President Ronald Reagan’s family watched in pain as he lost different aspects of his brilliant memory due to Alzheimer's disease. First, he began forgetting ordinary things like how to turn on the shower or to use a toaster. Soon he could no longer remember people who were his old friends or close work associates. Then he began to forget even who his children were and finally his wife. As the Reagan’s life was drawing to an end, his family gathered around his bed. He knew none of them. Five day’s before his death his wife Nancy Reagan placed a small cross in his hand. At first he seemed puzzled, then looked intently and said, “Jesus” and closed his eyes. On the day he died after 1 p.m., as Nancy Reagan held his hand, Ronald Reagan opened his eyes, which he hadn‘t opened in five days, looked right at his wife of 52 years. Then he closed his eyes and he drew his last breath.
You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip with my American friend , I saw powdered milk. What is it , I asked. My friend explained, “You just add water, and you get milk.” I was amazed. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice! And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, you add water and get a ready made baby!! “What a country!" So many Christian denominations claim that they can make powdered Christians. They preach: “Accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, surrender your life to him and confess your sins to him. You are saved.“ Once saved, you are always saved. Just add water and disciples are born not made. Unfortunately, there is no such powder, and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. We must understand what it really means to be a Christian disciple from the mouth of Jesus. He proclaimed in Mathew 16: 24, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16: 24).It means that a truly practicing Christian must be a self denying and cross carrying Christian who obeys the teachings of Jesus. That is why we ask the question on Good Friday: what is the real message of the cross?
Message of the cross: The poet gets the message of the love of God from the cross. The business man views the cross as a ransom, a redemption price. The lawyers and judges prefer to remember the message of the cross as an expression of the justice of God for the wages of man's sin. The converted Jews prefer to compare the cross to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. For the martyrs and saints the cross of Christ gives meaning to our pains and suffering.
1) Message of sacrificial Divine love: To the poets and philosophers among us the cross of Christ represents the love of God as manifested to the whole world. That is why the apostle John writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16). Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, "Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:7-8).The cross truly does demonstrate and reveal the love of God the Father who sacrificed His only Son for us. God showed us what real love is by giving his Son and made it possible for us to share and experience that love: "We love, because he first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). St. John continues: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 Jn. 4:9-10). In the cross God did something more than tell us he loved us. His love was expressed in action. The cross is also a symbol of the sacrificial love of God the Son and the renewing love of God the Holy Spirit. Good Friday is the day to assess how we return that love by loving God living in our fellow human beings. It is the day to remember the new commandment of love Jesus gave us after instituting the great sacrament of love, the holy Eucharist: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
2) The message of redemption from our sins and salvation. For the business people among us the cross tells of a terrible price that Jesus had to pay as the horrible cost for our sin. That is why the Bible describes Christ’s cross in terms of a price that was paid. Jesus said, "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45). Peter explains, "You know that you were ransomed...with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" Paul tells the Corinthians, "Do you not know that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price." (1 Cor. 6: 20). “You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” We were purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28). The cross shows us exactly that we are--sinners. The prophet Isaiah explains it: "Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whol;, by his stripes we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Isa. 53:4-6). Our freedom was obtained by the price that Jesus paid for us on the cross.
Hence the cross of Calvary challenges us today to remember the gravity of our sins and the need to repent and return to God. Although it is not pleasant to have our sins and faults pointed out to us, the cross does this. When Peter preached his great sermon on the first day of Pentecost, he laid responsibility for the death of Jesus at the feet of his listeners and they were "pricked in their hearts" or "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). But we are living in a world which has lost the sense of sin and which ignores the price Jesus paid for it. The prophet Jeremiah lamented on this sad situation centuries ago, “No one repents of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done!’” On this Good Friday let us show the good will and generosity to ask God’s forgiveness for our sins along with the psalmist, “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me. For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight.” (Ps 51: 3-6)
3) The message of justice and atonement: For lawyers and judges who are always concerned about the law and justice, the cross demonstrates that man has broken the law of God and hence deserved punishment for sin. Jesus took that punishment for us by dying our death thus fulfilling the demands of justice for us. Paul wrote, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:23). We were the guilty parties while Jesus was innocent, yet God laid our sin upon him that he might receive our punishment. Paul explains it: "For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul reminds the Hebrew Christians that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22). Good Friday challenges us to make reparation for our sins by reflecting on the sufferings of Christ and to share in his atonement by actively doing good to others.
4) The message of eternal sacrifice: For Jewish Christians, the death of Jesus is the sacrifice of one life for another as animals were sacrificed in the Old Testament Period for sinful people as atonement for their sins. It is the blood of one for another. But the offering of a blood sacrifice of animals was not able to bring about man's salvation. Hence the scriptures teach that the death of Jesus redeems not only those under the New Testament but those under the Law of Moses (Heb. 9:15). You may have heard the story of soldiers who were prisoners of war on the River Kwai. At the end of a hard days work, a Japanese guard insisted that a shovel was missing. He ranted and raved, but no guilty party stepped forward. Finally in his anger he shouted, "All die! All die!" He raised his gun and prepared to start shooting. Suddenly a Scotsman stepped forward and said, "I did it." One guard kicked him. Then they hit him. They bashed his head with their rifles. Soon he was dead. The other prisoners picked up his bruised body to bury it. The shovels were counted and none was missing. The Scotsman, innocent of the accusation against him, had given his life as a sacrifice. You all know how the polish priest St. Maxmian Kolbe offered his life in the gas chamber to save another man. In the same way, the cross of Christ challenges us to do sacrificial service for others prompted by agape love.
5) The message of heroic suffering: Crucifixion was used early in history by the Phoenicians, then the Greeks and the Romans as a feared way of subduing conquered territories. The cross was the crudest instrument of torture used by the Romans to punish rebels and criminals, and the slow death by hanging on the cross was the most excruciating experience of pain in the world. But Jesus knew beforehand every detail of his cruel suffering, humiliation, rejection and death and welcomed it all wholeheartedly according to the eternal plan of God his Father. The challenge from the cross for us is to accept our unavoidable share of pain and suffering in this life, deriving strength and inspiration from the suffering of Christ and to offer it for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of the world. Jesus proved that voluntary acceptance of suffering has salvific value. It was in fact a condition for his disciples: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16: 24, Mark 8: 34, Luke 9: 23).
But carrying one’s crosses does not imply the pre-eminence of mortification and denial. It does not refer primarily to the need to endure patiently the great and small tribulations of life, or, even less, to the exaltation of pain as a means of pleasing God. It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love. That is how the martyrs and saints understood it and that is how we have to accept our crosses and carry them. Carrying Christ’s cross is suffering for others by sharing our blessings sacrificially with others. It is accepting the pain involved in controlling our evil tendencies in order to allow God and His love to become the real Center of our lives. It is the pain involved in standing with Jesus and gladly following him even if that means scorn and humiliation from the rest of the world. Hence let us learn to love the cross of Christ, venerate it and draw daily inspiration from it for our Christian life. “We adore you Christ and bless you, because it is by your holy cross that you redeemed the world.”
1) “But you wear a cross.” On her first night there, the head counselor said that three of the boys had asked to escort her to dinner. Alone! How would she handle it if all three decided to act out at once? She swallowed hard. She desperately needed this job so she fought back the panic and walked with her charges to the dining hall. They passed through the cafeteria line as tantrums and fights erupted around them. Fortunately none of her boys exhibited any kind of behavioral outburst. They made their way to a table in the center of the busy cafeteria and the boys took their seats. Margaret picked up her fork and was about to take the first bite when she noticed that all three boys were staring at her. "What's the matter?" she asked. Aren't you going to ask a blessing?" asked eight-year-old Peter. "I didn't think I was supposed to," she responded. "This is a state school, isn't it?" "Yes," said David, his blue eyes brimming, "but you wear a cross." Her grandmother's words surged to the surface of her memory. "Never forget what this cross means," her grandmother said. "We thought that meant something," said Roman, clearly disappointed. "It does. Thank you for reminding me," Margaret said, as she bowed her head, no longer afraid. (CATHOLIC DIGEST, Feb. 92, p. 64) Margaret learned something about sainthood that day. Saints trust in God and God alone for their ultimate security. Saints submit their will to the will of God. Saints stand firm and witness to their faith.
2) What’s that plus sign doing up here? A young Jewish girl visiting a Catholic church for the first time, was puzzled at the cross on the altar. She asked her Catholic friend, “Marie, Why do you keep that plus sign on the altar? That’s one wrong understanding – the cross as a plus sign. It is an equally distasteful idea that the cross is the I, the capital “I” crossed out. The truth is that cross is “I” stretched out - reaching down into the ground of being, up in the infinity of becoming, and out toward as many others as it can touch. With the Cross as a plus sign shaping our lives, we can live while we wait, knowing that a) renewal comes through rejoicing; b) grace is communication by gentleness; c) peace comes through prayer; and d) attitudes produce action.
3) You took my parking space at church: One day, a man went to visit a church; He got there early, parked his car and got out. Another car pulled up near the driver got out and said, “I always park there! You took my place!"
The visitor went inside for Sunday school, found an empty seat and sat down A young lady from the church approached him and stated, "That’s my seat! You took my place!" The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing. After Sunday school, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, “That’s where I always sit! You took my place!" The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still He said nothing. Later as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, "What happened to you?" The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, "I took your place.”