Is 52:13-53:12; Ps 31; Heb 4:14-16, 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42. Jesus’ death
The Holy Liturgy of Good Friday starts with the Celebrant prostrating himself on the ground. It is a sign: imitating Jesus prostrate in anguish in the garden of olives. How can we remain insensitive to such a love that will die for us and that will not abandon us? Isaiah writes: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all … Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” The prophet tells us why Jesus is prostrate with his face on the ground. And if that was not enough, he adds: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Jesus is the lamb who has taken the sin of the world upon himself; he has struggled against evil, at the cost of losing his life. Jesus does not want to die: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Jesus knew very well what God’s will was: “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” God’s will was to prevent evil from swallowing us whole, to stop death from overcoming us. Jesus did not avoid death. He took death upon himself so that it would not crush us. He did not want to lose us. Not one of his disciples, either of yesterday or today, ought to succumb to death.
This is why the Passion continues today. It continues in the numerous gardens of olives in our world where there is still war and where masses of millions of refugees are huddled. It continues there, where there are peoples prostrated in anguish. It continues in the sick who are abandoned and alone in their agony. It continues wherever there is anyone sweating blood because of pain and desperation. The Passion in John’s Gospel that we heard today begins in the garden of olives, and the words Jesus speaks to the guards express very well his decision not to lose anyone. When the guards arrive, it is Jesus who goes to meet them. Not only does he not flee, he seems to take the initiative and asks the approaching squad: “For whom are you looking?” To their response: “Jesus of Nazareth,” he replies, “So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” He does not want his disciples to be harmed. On the contrary, he wants to save them, preserve them from every evil. Besides, he spent his whole life gathering the dispersed, healing the sick, and announcing a kingdom of peace, not one of violence. His commitment becomes the motive for his death.
From where does the opposition to him arise? From his being merciful, perhaps too merciful. From his love for all, ever for his enemies. He spent too much time with sinners and tax collectors. And then, he forgave everyone, and easily too. It would have been enough for him to remain in Nazareth and he would have lived past his thirty-third year; or he would have had to lower the demands of the Gospel or soften the stubbornness with which he defended the weak, every single time. To sum it up, it would have been enough to think just a little bit more about himself and just a little bit less about others and he certainly would not have ended up on the cross. Peter, for example, did just that. He followed Jesus just for a little bit, and then he returned to going along his own way. And, after the persistent questioning from the woman servant, Peter even denied knowing him. Besides, what did it matter? With just one sentence he saved himself. On the contrary, Jesus did not want to deny either the Gospel or Peter or the others. And yet, at a certain moment for him it would have taken little to save himself. Convinced of Jesus’ innocence, Pilate asked Jesus for just a simple clarification, but Jesus was silent. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate asks, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Peter spoke and saved himself. Jesus was silent. He did not want to lose anyone of those who were entrusted to him, and so he was crucified.
We, too, are among those whom the Father entrusted in Jesus’ hands. He took our sins and our crosses upon himself so that we might be relieved. This is why the cross is solemnly carried into the church today, and then all kneel before it and kiss it. The cross is no longer a curse to us; it is now the Gospel, the fountain of a new life. The apostle Paul writes: “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own” (Titus 2:14). On that cross the law of self-love, until then irresistible, was defeated. The one who lived for others to the point of dying on the cross broke this law. Jesus took away our fear to serve, our fear of being in solidarity with the poor, and our fear of living no longer for ourselves only. With the cross we were saved from the slavery of ourselves, from our ego, so that we can open our hands and hearts to the ends of the earth. The liturgy of Good Friday, not by chance, is marked in a particular way by a long, universal prayer; it is as if we extend the arms of the cross all the way to the ends of the earth in order to make everyone feel the warmth and tenderness of God’s love that overcomes everything, covers everything, forgives everything and saves everything.