Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday). April 7, 2023

 

Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday). April 7, 2023

Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12; Hebrews 4: 14-16; 5: 7-9; John 18: 1 – 19: 42.

 

Theme: The Holy Cross of Jesus and our own Crosses

Three men (Alexander, Maxwell, and Joseph) needed jobs. As a condition to be hired, their master asked them to travel a long distance on foot, and each needed to carry a big wooden cross to the job site. They started their trip early in the morning. They were excited and determined to get that job. After a couple of hours of traveling, they were tired. Their crosses were heavy to carry. Alexander, the oldest, shared with the group the idea of trimming their crosses in order to make them lighter. Maxwell agreed with him but Joseph, the youngest one, disagreed with them. So, Alexander and Maxwell trimmed their crosses while Joseph decided to carry his entire cross to the destination. Alexander and Maxwell walked faster than Joseph as their crosses became lighter. On the road, these two men trimmed their crosses again and made them lighter than before. Finally, before noon, these two men arrived at the river and saw their master standing on the other side waiting for them. He congratulated them. Noticing that Joseph was not with them, he asked them to find out where he was. These two men told him that their friend was a lazy man, and perhaps he died on the road. So, the master asked them to wait for him anyway before they crossed the river and reached the final destination. Very late in the evening, Joseph arrived with his entire cross. Then, the master asked each man to use his cross as a bridge to cross the river. Note that the crosses were about the size of the river. Alexander and Maxwell who trimmed their crosses could not cross the river because their crosses became too short. Only Joseph who kept his entire cross was able to cross the river and reach the final destination. Alexander and Maxwell begged Joseph to let them use his cross, but the master said that it was not possible.  

Each one of us carries his/her “Christian cross” and we are on our earthly journey to our destination which is heaven. Crossing the river represents our passage from this world to heaven which will take place at the final judgment. The cross represents our faith in Jesus. Each one of us will use his/her own faith (not the faith of the parents, of the children, or someone else’s faith) as a bridge to access the kingdom of heaven. “Trimming” our faith means trying to adjust our faith in the way that we want but not in the way that God wants. This means, our faith is trimmed every time when we sin. Note that it is not wise to continue our spiritual journey with a “trimmed faith” when we know that it will never serve us as a bridge to reach eternal salvation. In this case, what we need to do is to use the Sacrament of Confession anytime we sin because it is in this sacrament of reconciliation that Jesus forgives all our sins and offers us a new “cross” or a new “faith” to resume our spiritual journey.

The Alexander and Maxwell of our story represent people of our time who continue to “trim their crosses/faith”. One of the reasons why people do this is because they avoid suffering and prefer an easy life without Jesus. We know that a life without Jesus leads to eternal condemnation. To help us resist temptations that force us to “trim” or abandon our Christian faith amid our daily suffering, the liturgy of the Passion and Death of Jesus that we celebrate today invites us to reflect on the theme of the Holy Cross of Jesus and our own crosses. This theme is centered on the suffering of an unknown servant of the Lord (first reading), of that of Jesus (the Gospel), and the suffering that you and I endure daily.  

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah sings of the suffering servant, sinless and defenseless, silently facing affliction and condemnation. This reading commences with God claiming this “suffering servant” as “my servant”. Despite his sufferings, God said that “his servant” shall prosper, be raised high, and be greatly exalted. (Isaiah 52: 13). Our suffering will not last eternally. God is telling us that our suffering will end one day, and we will prosper. While the people looked at this suffering man as being punished by God, Isaiah said that it was the infirmities of the people he bore and their sufferings that he endured. Like a sheep, he did not resist nor protest. He suffered in silence. Notice the promise God made to “his servant” if he fulfills his mission and gives his life as an offering for the sins of others: “He shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.” (Isaiah 53: 10). And his reward is to have a place among the great and to divide the spoils with the mighty. (v. 12). So, for the will of God to be accomplished through us, and for us to have a place among the righteous in God’s kingdom, we are called not to “trim” our cross/faith but to carry it entirely until last day of our earthly lives.

The Church applies all that happened to the “suffering servant” of our first reading to Jesus. Suffering was no less part of Jesus’ life as we heard in the Gospel, the account of the Passion of Jesus according to John. Before his Passion, Jesus went through numerous sufferings. He spent forty days in prayer and fasting in the wilderness, so he experienced hunger. He received rejections, even in his hometown. He went through frustrations several times with his disciples who repeatedly missed the points of his lessons. In his ministry of teaching and healing people, sometimes he needed time for himself to rest, but the crowds kept going to him and making him so busy and overwhelmed. During his passion, as Saint John tells us in today’s Gospel account, our Lord felt abandoned by his closest friends when he was arrested. Judas betrayed him. He is accused unjustly, revealed to the public as a common criminal, tortured, treated as an object of ridicule, and crucified on the cross. We cannot imagine all the suffering of dying on the cross. Our Lord went through a lot before and during his passion. He accepted to suffer and die because of the sins of all of us so that we might be saved. Despite all his suffering, Jesus “did not trim his faith”. He did not disobey God. You and I no doubt experience suffering moments on our own “way of the cross”. We are called not “to trim our cross/faith”, meaning not to disobey God, but to carry it until the end of our earthly pilgrimage.    

The author of our second reading tells us that from all his sufferings, Jesus learned obedience (See Hebrews 4: 15). His suffering is a “Yes” to the call of God. So, his death on the cross is the culmination of a whole life of self-surrender in love and obedience to God. Thus, by meditating on Jesus’ sufferings, we learn how to bear our own sufferings. We are called to face our sufferings with courage and great faith. Our second reading tells us that Jesus “offered prayers and supplication with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (Hebrew 5: 7). So, we too, any time we go through trials, let us continue calling upon God and he will hear our supplications. We, Christians, believe that since God did not abandon his Son Jesus but raised him from the dead, he will also never abandon us. So, let us not “trim” our cross or abandon our faith because of suffering.

However, when you and I feel like our cross is trimmed (through our sins), and, knowing that it will no longer serve us as a bridge to reach heaven, the letter to the Hebrews that we heard in our second reading exhorts us to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hebrew 4:16). Here, we are encouraged to go back to Jesus through the sacrament of reconciliation. Confession is the time when we receive the grace of forgiveness of all our sins, renew our relationship with God, get a brand new cross/faith, and resume our spiritual trip.

May the Holy Cross of Jesus that we will soon venerate today help each of us to grow up in our relationship with God even amid suffering and so enable us to carry our own ‘crosses” entirely until the end of our earthly lives. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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