The truth of Good Friday

This is a translation of the Spanish homily I preached.
Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord: March 29, 2013
Isa 52:13–53:12; Ps 31; Heb 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1–19:42

On Good Friday we come face to face with the Passion, the suffering, of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is terrible, painful suffering. It hits us hard to witness it: to hear it again, to see it again, in drama and liturgy, in memory and history.

Indeed, we are amazed at him—as we heard in the first reading: amazed at him—so marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man…

It is something that we see in certain statues that vividly depict his wounds, his bruises, his torn flesh, his spilling blood. Here in the United States, perhaps we were most strongly reintroduced to these images nine years ago by the movie The Passion of the Christ. And indeed:

so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless; for those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it… He was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces…

But we know that our Lord Jesus was not alone in these terrible things that he suffered. For he entered into our suffering; he took upon himself what so many others had suffered, in different ways, and continue to suffer today.

  • For there are too many innocents who suffer from mistreatment and abuse: especially the poor and the powerless; especially children.
  • And there are too many who are betrayed by those who should love and protect them: who are betrayed even by their parents or their spouses or their children, by teachers or government officials or even priests.
  • There are too many crushed by lies and injustice; too many oppressed by empires.
  • There are too many who are horribly tortured and humiliated and put to death, for one reason or another.

Truly, our Lord Jesus bore our infirmities, and endured our sufferings.

But his suffering is not only a spectacle that we stand amazed at, startled and speechless, looking at it, until eventually we turn away. There is a truth about it, beneath the bloody surface, that we need to seek, and take hold of, and understand, and embrace.

And this aspect of the truth is brought out to us by the fact that so much of the Passion occurs within the framework of a trial: of questions being asked and answered, in order to discover the truth of the matter, and to render a judgment about what should then be done. At least, that is how a trial is supposed to work; and so how appropriate that our Lord Jesus should declare, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

And in theory, who could disagree? We all want to know the truth, and to order our lives according to it—don’t we? Or do we? What do we see among those who encounter Jesus in his suffering?

  • The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had unfortunately blinded themselves to the truth about him. They were already trapped in errors, and they became further entangled by their own pride and jealousy. And so we see them not seeking the truth but rather simply pursuing their own goals—and ready to set up false witnesses (cf. Matt 26:55-62, Mark 14:55-59), and to threaten the Roman governor, in order to get what they want.
  • And we see St. Peter, who knows the truth about Christ and about himself. He knows it! But he is not willing to acknowledge it before others, because he is afraid of the consequences. That he is a disciple of Christ has become the core truth of his life, of who he is—but when he is confronted with that truth, he replies, “I am not.”
  • And then there is Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. He says cynically, “What is truth?”—even as he struggles with the question that he must decide: Is Jesus guilty of a capital crime? But this quickly points him to another question: Who is Jesus? And we see that Pilate begins to suspect that Jesus is not only innocent of the accusations, but that he is someone much greater than a mere human being; and that something much greater than an ordinary Roman trial is occurring all around him.

And he is right. For even as Jesus is on trial, with Pilate and others trying to discover the truth about him; in a much greater sense, it is really we who are on trial, with Jesus seeking to show us the truth about ourselves. And when our Lord undergoes his suffering, when he bears our infirmities, and endures our sufferings, he is holding himself up as a mirror before our eyes to show us who we are: that we are his beautiful, beloved creation, but corrupted, enslaved, marred beyond human semblance—if only we could see the truth.

As he said to the women who met him while he carried his cross: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28) For he has known that this was the truth about us since the time of Adam and Eve’s Fall. And faced with our suffering, he did not run away, he did not lie, he did not manipulate, he did not point fingers of blame and punishment. Rather, he entered our world; he took on our human nature that could suffer; he took on our flesh that could be scourged; he took on our heart that could be pierced and pour forth blood and water. And he submitted freely to suffer our sufferings before our eyes in order to testify to the truth about us; and, even more, to provide the remedy that can heal and save us from it.

Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear… he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed…

This then is the truth beneath the surface: the truth about our Lord Jesus, before whom we stand amazed and speechless; and the truth about ourselves, which should shock us even more. This really is the truth in love. (Eph 4:15) And so, as we stand before his Sacred Heart, pierced for us, let us open to him our hearts in turn, to receive mercy and find grace, the grace that makes us whole, from our precious Lord, our only Savior.

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