Good Friday -- 1991

Every Good Friday, we who are aware of the meaning of Jesus' suffering and death, can find no better meditation than the Gospel according to John. For this writing is the work of a man who had for nearly seventy years reflected on and taught about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And while I cannot prove this, I am securely confident that St. John the Evangelist--the disciple whom Jesus loved--had read and reflected on the gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

But St. John had a different purpose than the other gospel writers. Beyond reporting the facts relating to the history of Jesus, St. John asks his reader to look beyond the data, to meditate with him, to see deeper, to contemplate, and so to allow oneself to be overtaken by the Truth. Throughout his gospel, St. John employs the word "sign." Everything he reports about Jesus is a symbol, an indicator of some deeper meaning which only the humble searcher for Truth will detect.

Consider his account of Jesus before Pilate. In quick master strokes, St. John depicts Jesus as a person of sheer majesty. Who is on trial? Clearly, for St. John, it is not Jesus but Pilate. The Roman Governor is in a situation which he cannot understand; he is bewildered, he flounders, he lacks that arrogant contempt with which he normally treated Jewish matters. Even his famous question, "What is truth?" is not uttered arrogantly but wonderingly. But his wonder is born, not of awe, but of uncertainty. Back and forth he goes, between Jesus and the Jews who are demanding his crucifixion. Finally, he poses to Jesus what he considers the most important question: "Where do you come from?" And St. John adds, startlingly: "Jesus gave him no answer." There were other times when Jesus was silent. He was silent before the High Priest. He was silent before Herod. He was silent when the charges were made against him by the Jewish authorities. Sometimes, we have the experience of finding that argument and discussion with others is no longer possible; there is nothing more to say that can make any difference. The silence of Jesus before Pilate is a terrible moment--for Pilate!

The scene between Jesus and Pilate comes to an end when Pilate brings Jesus before the crowd. Jesus is clad in purple finery, crowned with thorns, and bearing a reed for a scepter. He seats Jesus in the bema, the magistrate's seat. Waving his hand toward the enthroned Jesus, he cries: "Am I to crucify your king?" Despite the crowd's angry reaction, notwithstanding their cries to crucify Jesus, Jesus sits there in silence, indeed, in majesty. And the majesty of the moment is immutable. Jesus has undaunted courage. Serenely, he has accepted the cross. He is regal, and never so regal as in this moment when men did their worst to humiliate him.

A little while later, Jesus' arms are flung wide, nailed in an agonizing crucifixion, the worst form of death which a person can endure. John the Apostle, Jesus' Mother Mary and three other women stand near the cross. And once again, St. John's reflections reveal a deeper meaning than his words immediately suggest. "Behold your Mother." "Behold your son." Here, surely is one of the loveliest moments in all of the gospel narratives. As he is dying for you and me, through your representative and mine, Jesus gives us his second greatest gift; his Mother is now yours and mine. There follows immediately his greatest generosity. St. John remarks carefully: "When Jesus knew that everything had been completed, he said, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, I thirst." Of all the happenings that occurred during Jesus' three hours on the cross, most of which are not reported in any gospel, why does John--and John alone--report this seemingly trivial event? Because Jesus's thirst for that moment for which he was born; your salvation mine. Not surprisingly, after the Roman soldiers had misunderstood and tried to slake a merely human desire for refreshment (which Jesus refused), Jesus uttered in a loud voice,--and let us note carefully, with the greatest joy!--"it is consummated." (It is accomplished. It is achieved. It is finished.) Your salvation and mine is secured. And then, with quiet deliberation, Jesus triumphantly leaned his head backwards and died.

We are here this afternoon because we are sinners. We come with tears. We come penitentially. We come in the hope that we can, even to the smallest degree, overcome our sinful pride and so unite ourselves with that moment, that one solitary moment in the history of creation when the humility of God triumphantly overcame our sinful pride. This is a solemn moment. In personal humility, considering the forgiveness of God which Jesus Christ won for us, we rightly celebrate the triumph of the Cross. And so, we ponder.

Sermons and Lectures by Damian Fandal, O.P.