Gospel Reflection 30 Mar - SVD INM - India Mumbai Province

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Gospel Reflection 30 Mar

Good Friday [Jn 18:1-19:42]

30 April 2018

The Passion and Glorious Death of Jesus

        Readings: (1) Is 52:13-53:13 (2) Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9

1.  Theme in brief:

Carrying our crosses out of love

2.   Focus Statement

Like Jesus, we too are called to complete our life’s mission by carrying our daily crosses willingly out of love for God and humans, and in obedience to God’s will.

3.   Explanation of the text

Some of the salient features of John’s Passion Narrative are the following:
a) The cross is the culmination of and the price Jesus pays for his saving deeds, such as compassiontowards the sick, the hungry, the sinners and the outcasts. It is the climax of his ‘hour’ (that is, God’s appointed time) by which he glorifies the Father (12: 23).
b) Jesus faces his suffering and death willingly (voluntarily) and lays down his life of his own accordout of love for humans (18:5-8, 11, 30), and also in total obedience to the mission entrusted to him by his Father. In the Garden of Kidron Valley, when they come to arrest him, he voluntarily submits himself into the hands of his enemies by openly revealing his identity twice as Jesus of Nazareth. If they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, they should allow his disciples to go free (18.4-8). He tells Peter that he must drink the ‘cup’ of suffering that the Father has designed for him (18:11). At the end, when his ‘hour’ of death comes, he willingly gives up his spirit as an act of total self-surrender(19.30).
c) Unlike in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus walks the way of the cross up to Golgotha by carrying his cross by himself  (all alone) without anybody’s (like Simon of Cyrene’s) help  (19:17).
d)  From the cross Jesus thirsts for the love of sinners like us, and for God’s love to be realized in us (19:28). He thirsts that the spirit of his selfless love, service and sacrifice may come on earth through his followers.
e)  By his agonizing death on the cross, Jesus demonstrates to the world that there cannot be greater love than this (15:13).
f)   As he is totally committed to his Father’s will, he remains faithful to it unto death, and by his deathaccomplishes the mission for which he is sent (19:30).
g) Jesus dies at the very hour when the priests of Jerusalem’s Temple slaughter the lambs for Jewish Passover; hence, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and from whose side gush blood and water (19:31-37), symbolizing the sacraments of Eucharist and baptism.

4.  Application to life

Our reflections on Good Friday based on John’s passion narrative, are focussed on three
loving invitations given by Jesus from the cross:
(1) To repent or change our hearts:
Earlier in John’s gospel (3:14), Jesus invites us to experience a healing touch for the ‘poison’ of sin with which we are infected by fixing our gaze in faith at the Son of Man (Jesus) who must be "lifted up"– a technical word in Jn to refer to his crucifixion and glorification. Today, John’s passion narrative again invites us to experience God’s infinite love flowing from the cross of Christ. Cross is the proof of the Father’s boundless love for sinners like you and me, and for the broken world. It is the ultimate sign of God’s absolute love and generosity for us. In the light of John’s passion narrative, let us look up to the cross of Christ with eyes of faith and meditate on the price he paid to heal us from the poison of sinor all evil. God loved you, me and the whole world of sinners so much that he allowed his Son to die a criminal’s shameful death on the cross. He so loved us that he wanted to share with us his own life (called "eternal life" in Jn) by saving us through the cross of Christ (cf. 3:16-17). Was there no other way of saving us? Yes, there was. But we would not have got a shining example of somebody like uswho is able to sympathize with our weaknesses and has been tested in every respect as we are (Heb 4:15). The loving gaze of Christ hanging on the cross with his tortured and blood-spattered body should remind us of the price his absolute love and total obedience to the Father’s will has paid. He proves that there cannot be any greater love than this (15:13). We hear a voice crying from the cross: "I love you this much! What more could I have done for you?" If this not enough to melt our hearts to repent for our and our world’s sins, what else can!
(2) To imitate or imbibe his spirit of love and service:
Since John’s gospel insists that Jesus voluntarily embraced the cross, out of sheer love for humans, it is good to distinguish between the sufferings in our lives, which come without asking (like illness, natural calamities, death, etc.), and those which we voluntarily embrace in order to be faithful to the ministry of service to the needy and the suffering. The crucified and exalted Christ (as per John’s theology) invites us to embrace those crosses which come to us when we voluntarily undertake services motivated by his shining example. Those of us who are highly motivated and committed for the service of the poor, eradication of social evils, solidarity with the downtrodden and care of the outcasts and the rejected have to voluntarily embrace crosses of criticism, opposition, rejection, humiliation and intimidation. Are we willing to embrace these crosses willingly and help others to carry their crosses? Like Christ, who willingly ‘drank the cup’ of suffering the Father had given him, we need to suffer voluntarily (= take up our crosses) out of love for those whom he ministered (18:11). Does this thought make us more sensitive to the sufferings of those people?
(3) To accept our crosses in a composed manner and a spirit of self-surrender:
We may be surprised to notice a contradiction in terms at the title written above: "the passion andglorious death of Jesus". How can the cruel and agonizing death he faced be ‘glorious?’ Unlike the synoptic gospels, John’s gospel presents Jesus entering into his Passion as a composed and gloriousMessiah. His gospel minimizes the cruelty of his passion to show that he was in total control of his situation when his ‘hour’ had come, and approached his suffering and death in a composed manner. Thus, his passion narrative invites us to face our own sufferings in a composed manner like Christ and share his glory. Secondly, he wants to tell us that Jesus’ glorification takes place at his death itself.
What are the crosses we need to accept in a composed manner? They are not made of wood. As per John’s passion narrative, they could come in the form of opposition and destructive criticism we face when we do deeds of mercy towards the needy, suffering, sinners, the poor and the outcasts; of rejection and ridicule we face when we voluntarily serve the needy out of love; of what we get when we stand firmly for certain moral principles and are faithful to our life’s purpose or mission; and of negative reaction when we stand for justice and truth. When we accept these crosses we undertakevoluntary suffering for a cause and to fulfil a mission as Jesus did.

Let us think of other
crosses too: persons we find difficult to live with; places that are dangerous and risky; and circumstances/ situations that cannot be changed in spite of hard efforts; situations that are absurd, frustrating, confusing, uncertain and the unexplainable; our powerlessness to change anything in spite of having all powers; and our loneliness in sickness and old age or lack of support from our own people. Sometimes we have to carry the cross of an incurable or lingering illness, a broken relationship with family members/ friends/ neighbours, a breakdown in marriage, a deep-rooted bad habit or addiction (personal or someone else’s in the family), an enmity with neighbours, a jobless situation, a loss of job and a sudden death in the family. Sometimes we may have to carry some of these crosses alone without any help or support from others as Christ had to do. These crosses lead to questions that haunt our minds now and then without an answer: "Why this particular thing should have happened to me...What wrong have I done…? Where is God….?"
Today, Christ reminds us about the price he paid to help us go through our own way of the cross andGolgathas so that the light of Easter may shine on us. He invites us to place all our smaller and bigger crosses at the foot of his cross and unite our suffering with his suffering and death. Though all of us know that suffering in any form is a part and parcel of human life, when it comes to us we find it difficult to accept it in a composed manner as Christ did. I still have vivid memories of sitting at the bedside of my sister for six days (that looked like one month) and helplessly watching her dying at such a young age due to the attack of deadly cancer. When I reached her bedside at the last moment (as I was working in a distant place), she saw me and wept bitterly unable to speak a word. Then she went into a coma which kept her hanging between life and death for six days. Though it was difficult to accept that loss at that time, it has taught me a lesson. That experience has made me more sensitive to other people's suffering than before, and to the depth of pain families go through when their near and dear ones die in terminal illnesses and tragic accidents. It has made me realize how vulnerable andlimited we are, as human beings, and how dependent we are on God’s power. This realization should lead us to admit our powerlessness and surrender ourselves into God’s hands and say: "Do what you want with me." When our faith-surrender leads to peace and serenity of mind we experience the glimpses of glory emerging from the cross (as John’s gospel tells us).

5.   Response to God's Word

Do we voluntarily embrace those crosses which come to us when we voluntarily undertake services motivated by his shining example? Do we accept our crosses (especially those which come to us because of our voluntary service) in a composed manner and with surrender to God’s will, or grudgingly with a lot restlessness and complaints? What are our personal crosses and crosses of the world we would like to place at the foot of Christ’s cross and unite our suffering with his? Only when we accept our sufferings in faith and surrender to God’s will, our cross has a redemptive value. Today, during the most sorrowful liturgy of Good Friday, are we going to kiss the cross with this intention or just to fulfil a ritual?

6.   A prayer

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world. O Crucified Lord, we bow down before your Holy Cross in an act of thanksgiving for such a great price your absolute love has paid in order to save us. Today we bring all our personal crosses and the crosses of the suffering humanity in the world and place them at the foot of your holy cross. Give us the grace and strength to accept them lovingly and in a composed manner. We unite them with your suffering and death as an act of total surrender to your holy will.  Remain with us, and be our support and strength when our crosses become too heavy for us. Amen.

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