A Cycle – Good Friday 20
Jn. 18:1-18, 42
Today I will once again watch “The Passion of the Christ.” If you have never seen it, or if you have not watched it in a while you should. This 2004 movie directed by Mel Gibson was strongly criticized by movie critics, by Christians and by Jews. The strongest criticism was due to its vivid scenes showing the brutality of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus. The truth is the scenes were sickening and you can see the pain and agony Jesus endured. The reality is the scenes were tame because flogging and crucifixion were much worse than portrayed.
Here is another reality about those twelve hours; the scriptures do not provide us with those graphic images, but they do reveal the spiritual agony endured by Jesus. God is not trying to shock us into being thankful, instead God is showing us how far He will go to restore us. God knows how we respond to wrong done by ourselves or others. We have been raised in a system of reward and punishment and because of that we know wrong must be punished and restoration is part of correcting the wrong we have done. This internal system of ours keeps us from believing all is well between ourselves and God.
Oh, we can be comfortable with our ability to not commit grave sin and that belief keeps us believing we will not be condemned for the sins of our past. Yet, we are not certain we will be admitted into the company of saints when we die. In fact, a majority of Catholic’s are satisfied if they just attain a place in Purgatory because one day, they will attain heaven. How can we reconcile God’s promise of salvation by the sacrifice of Jesus when our internal doubts war against total acceptance of salvation only through Jesus Christ ?
We seem as a people to spend a lot of time striving to be good faithful Catholic’s and structure our spiritual lives around religious practices aimed to keep us in right standing with God. This is good and it is helpful, but does it achieve the desire of God to give Him our hearts. The truth is, I cannot say it does or does not because no one knows the disposition of our hearts except ourselves and God. However, I can speak for myself and my own struggle with feelings of uncertainty as I wrestled with reconciling my inability to allow God to touch my heart.
The lesson of the passion of Christ for me was discovered in the action of the disciples from the moment they began to follow Jesus and those after his crucifixion. We know they failed to understand many of his teachings and revelations. We know they failed to understand what was happening in the upper room that night.
After the events in the upper room Peter, James and John were invited to pray with Jesus in the garden and they fall asleep. Jesus tries to rouse them, but they keep falling asleep until it is too late for the hour is upon them. Jesus responds to their inability to do what he asks of them by acknowledging a fact about our human nature – “…the Spirit is willing by the flesh is weak.”
We want to be in the presence of Jesus, but it is easier to succumb to our weaknesses and one of those weaknesses is our desire for a faith we can understand. A faith that is predictable and in one sense challenges us to respond by standing up for our faith. We take heart in the fact, Peter fought back when Jesus was arrested, drawing his sword and striking a blow to protect Jesus. We know Jesus stops him and rebukes him for this act. Peter’s action later that night when he denies knowing Christ tells us why our outward manifestations of faith are not enough. We easily can perform outward signs of faith which have no connection with our hearts being centered on God but have more to do with protecting our own selves.
From the moment God crated us in His image, God’s heart was centered on us and centered on tearing down all the barriers separating us from Him. The cross is more than a visual reminder of the gift of salvation. It is a reminder of the depth of the love of God who continually is inviting us to be in His presence and allow Him to complete in us what this day made possible for us. Let us not repeat the action of the disciples as they fled after Jesus was arrested. Their protective instincts took over and the ran away from Jesus. We do not physically flee, but we do often fail to stand firm as our faith is attacked by forces pushing all signs of faith out of the public eye.
Where did the disciples go that night after the arrest of Jesus? Peter we know followed the arrested Jesus from a distance. We know the disciple John shows up on Calvary but where were the other 10? We know they eventually end up in that upper room trying to make sense of his death. We know Jesus appears to them and we know how they were confused by his appearance and failed to grasp the full meaning of what they were seeing and experiencing with each encounter.
They are a picture of us and how we love that upper room experience and try to recapture it and make sense of it. The thing we must keep in focus is they never did grasp it until the promise of God to send the Holy Spirit occurred 50 days after this night.
In the days after Easter, we will once again hear about the encounters of Jesus with the disciples and their responses. You will once again see the lack of understanding and at the same time you will see glimpses of joy and revelation. The disciples on the road to Eumaeus is a prime example of how Jesus is always with us and yet we fail to recognize him and respond. This day set the stage for our hearts to be burning within us as we come to know Jesus because Jesus is the only way to the Father.