We reflect, meditate and read or pray ‘The Way of the Cross’ during the season of Lent every day or every Friday. I have seen our elderly sisters in Europe praying it through out the year. In almost all the audio / video and in the text books I find the First station of the cross begins from Jesus’ condemnation. I would rather consider the agony of Jesus at a Garden which was situated across the Kidron valley.
(Kindly note that my references are only from the Gospel of John)
Just before Jesus came to the garden with his disciples to pray he made a long beautiful prayers to the Father recommending for them . He repeated saying: «Protect them in your name; I ask you to protect them from the evil one; sanctify them in the truth; As you Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.»
After such a heart touching and loving prayers, what do we find the disciples doing to Jesus? Judas came with a detachment of soldiers, police, chief priests and the Pharisees to arrest Jesus. We see in the Gospels before this incident, whenever the chief priests and the Pharisees tried to stone at Jesus or arrest him, he moved away from them.But now, here we find Jesus coming forward to ask them, «For whom are you looking?» He knew exactly what was to happen to him. Yet, appearing before them shows that he knew that his time had come to be handed over to his enemies and to drink the cup that the Father gave him. In our lives too, everything happens at appropriate time. To know this we need to be at tune with God!
Judas betrayed him and Peter used a sword and cut off the right ear of one of the slaves of high priests named Malchus. Jesus would never want to be defended by a sword rather by the WORD! Simon Peter later denied Jesus not just once but three times. I believe that this betrayal and denial of his friends were more painful for Jesus than the condemnation of his enemies. Denial of truth is more grievous than false accusations. Therefore, this experience of abandonnement by his own friends could be the First Station of the Cross.
The soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and brought him to Annas who was the high priest that year. When the high priest Annas was questioning Jesus and Jesus was responding to him, one of the police struck Jesus on the face. What a humiliation for Jesus! The police perhaps tried to belittle Jesus in order to please Annas. Do we try to belittle others in order to please our authorities or superiors?
After Annas questioned Jesus about his teaching, he sent him bound to Caiaphas, another high priest. Then from there he was brought before Pilate. They introduced Jesus as a criminal to Pilate. Why did the Jewish soldiers, officers and high priests want Pilate who was a non-Jew to condemn Jesus to death? However, Jesus did not try to defend himself and escape from the punishment, for he had already many times to the disciples and the public explained about his relationship with God the Father. Now, people shouted that the bandit Barabbas should be set free and Jesus, the Messiah should be crucified.
Jesus, the Highest Priest of all stood before these priests and listened to their accusations and condemnation. Yet Jesus did not show any gesture of pride but stood in obedience before the authorities. How easy is it for us to come down to this level like Jesus in submissiveness? Whenever we opt for evil, let us remember that we let Barabbas free and condemn Jesus!
Jesus, having God the creator of the Universe as his Father and having his kingdom not in this world, did not use these as his privileges or power to escape from crucifixion and death, but he gave himself to testify to the truth. Don’t we at least for sometimes use our power for our own privileges? When we do that, are we testifying to the truth?
The soldiers struck Jesus again on the face. (19: 3) When we read and reflect these verses, we feel with Jesus and have pity for him. Let’s remember, whenever we try to humiliate others in our community or family again and again, we are no better than those soldiers.
Before Jesus was made to carry the heavy cross, the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head. All shouts of hail such as, ‘Jesus, Son of David, Jesus , Son of God, Son of Man, prophet, Messiah, Saviour, Hosanna, everything is silenced by the shout, ‘Away with him’ and ‘crucify him’! Jesus’ heart was heavy with these shouts of hatred and his body was burdened by the heavy cross!
We too must have experienced or seen others experiencing such anguish; troubled both by bodily ailments and despair of life situations. Are we like Pilate though wanted to free Jesus from the burdens and punishments, yet let the injustice be done? Or are we like those chief priests and the crowd having pleasure in giving verdicts? Pilate repeated saying that he found no case against Jesus, yet he had Jesus flogged and let him have a crown of thorns and a purple robe ! A typical political game - speaking beautiful words and doing all evil! After playing a nasty power game he handed Jesus over to the soldiers to be crucified!
We do not find in any of the Gospels that Jesus fell down due to the heaviness of the cross. Nevertheless, the Synoptic Gospels mention about Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to carry the cross for sometime. Meeting of Mary his Mother,and Veronica are not seen in the Scripture. Luke mentions that there were a great number of people who followed him on the way to Golgotha and among them were many women. The other characters and events that we find in the narrations are our concern and compassion for Jesus!
Of course, it was a very hard and painful experience of Jesus to carry the cross and to walk from the court of Pilate to the Place of Skull! It was much more painful for him perhaps when Pilate put an inscription on the cross ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews!’ Was it a compliment or mockery?
Still worse mockery was when they took his clothes and tunic and made him naked! To face humiliations is not easy. We can suffer hunger, thirst, poverty, heat, cold, sickness and even loneliness, but to be humiliated in front of others is the most painful experience. Jesus suffered it a lot Let’s not even try to attempt it on any!
People were healed by just touching the edge of the garments of Jesus. Now the soldiers have taken awy and divided among themselves. Why? Did they want to use it as relics or did they think that they could heal the people with those pieces of his clothes?
At the last moments of his suffering, Jesus found three women, all of them named as ‘Mary’, one, his mother, the other, the wife of Clopas and the third Mary Magdalene! What a terrible sorrow for both the mother and the son!
How many mothers suffer like this in this world when their children are physically or mentally disabled, terminally ill, should go for child labor, become addicted to liquor and drugs, get involved in gambling and other serious criminal activities or when they are deserted by their own children at their old age? Jesus tried to comfort his sorrowful mother by entrusting her to one of his disciples. There are many mothers who do not even have such a privilege.
Jesus’ suffering does not end there. When he knew all was finished, he said, «I am thirsty!» They gave him sour wine. Can any one drink sour wine when they are thirsty? Can sour wine quench the thirst? Don’t we hear or see such heinous act in the world even today? When we discriminate people on the basis of caste, race and color or when we are indifferent to the needs of dear ones or neighbors, we give them also sour wine in place of drinking water.
Mark in his Gospel says that Jesus did not take the wine but John says that Jesus received it and then died. However, we find that Jesus does not lament or grumble over his suffering or unjust contempts, but suffered everything with obedience and tolerance. How far are we capable to accept sufferings especially such unjust ones even if we are assured of crown of glory? When God did not spare His own Son from humiliations, suffering and death, why do we long for a life without trouble? It is not by running away from troubles but by enduring through them will give us victory!
The culmination of Jesus’ suffering was when one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, knowing that he was already dead. It is cruelty at the pinnacle! It shows how much aggressive and merciless a man can be.
When all the familiar disciples of Jesus watched secretly everything, Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus gathered all his courage and asked Pilate to take away the body of Jesus. That’s how it happens with us too often; not the ones we consider as our friends or neighbors will come to our aid but strangers and aliens. Nicodemus also joined with Joseph of Arimathea and did according to the burial custom of the Jews and laid Jesus in a new tomb Shall we call it as ‘A blessing in disguise’?
I have seen in India on Good Friday, in many of the Churches, either the people watch the film ‘The Passion of Christ’ or they dramatize and some people (especially women) weep watching the suffering of Jesus. This is just like some people becoming emotional when they watch a hero or heroine suffering in films. Here, Jesus is not a Holywood Hero but Hero of the Universe ! He suffered not just for a shot but for ours ins ! Therefore, we need to repent and reconcile. Repentence means to Regret on our failures and Repair them and the most important is not to Repeat them.
Though Jesus had foretold about his suffering and death to his disciples three times, none of them seemed to have understood or taken it seriously. Perhaps, they too like other people expected that he would save himself on the cross? It doesn’t seem they believed either that Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day If they had believed, they could be at the tomb before Mary Magdalene. Even after Mary Magdalene told them that the soldiers must have taken away the body of Jesus, two of them ran to the tomb and investigated and seeing the linen wrappings they believed what Mary Magdalene had said. They believed only when Jesus himself came into the locked room and appeared before them!
Today, for us the passion and resurrection of Jesus is a history or even mystery! We amuse at the disciples who were passive even when Jesus stood among them and told them, «Peace be with you!»There is no mention of how they responded or reacted when they saw Jesus. Were they excited or afraid or overwhelmed? How do we respond to the risen Christ today? We may not see him physically but we have numerous experiences of Risen Christ in our life who comes to us with the message of peace amidst our fears, anxieties, doubts, despair, difficulties and sickness. Let us not be passive but be active and let us not hesitate to say everytime when we experience the Risen Christ, «My Lord and my God!»