John 18:1-19:42, Good Friday 2016
A little over a year ago, ISIS took a video as they incinerated a Jordanian pilot in a cage. My friends said that the footage was all over the net, but I resisted the temptation of watching it. I learned my lesson many years ago when a friend sent me a dreadful video. It showed a Taliban skillfully slicing a man’s neck to decapitate him—all of ten seconds, it seemed it was. The frightful image stayed in my mind much longer than I wanted it to; plus the gurgling, spurting sound of blood from the grunting man—it lingered in my ears more tenaciously than I could shake it off. To the fundamentalists, Islam has come down now to only this: “If you are not a Muslim, then you are a sinner, and we will kill you—you and your family.” Right now, I’m not sure which is more dreadful—to see a man incinerated, decapitated, or to clearly see that religious men can sink deeper and deeper into unspeakable depravity…all in the name of Allah, or Yahweh, or God.
My sisters and brothers, today is Good Friday. The cross is once again front and center. It is reminiscent of a torture as heinous as incinerating a pilot or slicing off a man’s head—amid cheers and jeers of “Crucify him. Crucify him.” But remember what our elders taught? “That you should never look at the cross without at the same time, thinking of your sins.” Our elders said, “Ang inyong mga sala mao’y naglansang kang Christ diha sa iyang krus.” So, Good Friday after Good Friday, the dying, tortured, mangled Christ compels us to think of our sin, our sin, our most grievous sin; our fault, our fault, our most grievous fault. Krus, sala; sala, krus.
If the Islam fundamentalists have reduced their whole religion into a single issue, we Catholics might actually have our own version of this reduction: that everything Christ was and did, especially the cross, all of that comes down now to only one issue: sala. Well, there’s a further complication to that formula. It has compelled us to think in moral dichotomies. Who is a sinner and who is not? Who’s going to heaven, who to hell? What does the law say, what is the violation? And not very far behind: Who is Catholic and will be saved, who’s not and will fry? Who can be baptized, who mustn’t? Who’s married in Church, who’s living in sin? Who’s team-buhay o team-patay o team-tatay? Who’s straight, who’s gay? The entire life and teaching of Christ, now reduced to either sin or purity, but mostly to sin. And so our Good Friday formulas go: Jesus died because of sin. He died for our sins. He died to save us from sin. And don’t get me wrong, all that is very, very true. But it is very, very lacking.
For what about love? I mean, what about the cross and love? But, on the second thought, never mind the Lord’s love, right? Jesus’ love complicates our doctrines, right? Love just blurs the line between sinner and God. So, yes, he healed the sick, but, no wait, he did it on the Sabbath. Well, yes, he pardoned sinners, but no, wait, prostitutes touched him and he didn’t even flinch. Well, yes, he even raised the dead, but no, wait, he touched cadavers. So, on the second thought, no. Leave love out of this. Love is too scandalous. Love relaxes the boundaries between sinner and righteous, between heaven and hell. Love does not clarify the point where God’s mercy should stop, so that God’s justice can begin. No, no, no, never mind love and the cross. Love leads to the horror of “relativism”. No; cross and sin, that’s it! Never mind love.
Well, the people who killed Jesus did so because they couldn’t stand too much love. His love crossed the line to the outrageous. Those arms are better pinned on a cross. They embraced way too many people. Those feet, they refused to toe the line; they’re better off nailed still. And that heart—that heart that’s way too soft on sinners, we must be bleed it dry to a full stop. The only thing that can stop outrageous love is outrageous hate. So “crucify him, crucify him.”
My dear sisters and brothers, I respect our elders very much and what they’ve taught us. But I wish to still say that we cannot reduce the cross of Christ to just an issue of our sinning—even if it’s sinning greatly. I imagine, if I asked the dying Christ, “Why are you allowing all this happen to you?” the last thing he’d say would be: “Because you are sinful!” Rather, I seem to hear him say, “Because I loved…too much, I guess.” In fact, everything he uttered to his last breath added up to that: “Because I loved.” That’s our Lord’s “reduction”. That’s what his cross is all about, much more than sin. It is all about the distance God would go to tell us again and again, “Anak, loving you is not just what I do. It is who I am. I love you into life. I will love you unto death.”
There’s a song we sing every Good Friday, entitled, “Were You There?” And my favorite line in that song is this: “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” When we look at the Christ on the cross, we may very well “tremble, tremble, tremble” out of fear for our sins, and what our sins can do. But I hope that as we grow deeper in love with the Lord, when we do look at him on the cross, may we realize that our frail bodies, our quivering, starved bodies cannot hold so much love…so that all we can do is “tremble, tremble, tremble.”