John 18:1-19;42, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
There was a multitude of people who had gathered at the Place of the Skull. Some were mere onlookers, others were those who despised Jesus—jeered and mocked him as they passed by. The Roman soldiers could not have cared less; they were more interested in casting lots to see who got to take Jesus’ clothing.
But then some others in the crowd stood out. They looked at the Lord differently because Jesus had looked at them in his life very dearly: Mary His mother, John His beloved disciple, and Mary Magdalene.
Standing right next to them, let us contemplate this afternoon on our crucified Lord.
We first stand right next to our Blessed Mother. Tears silently roll down her cheeks. She reaches out to touch the wood of the cross—feeling its rough surface. Her soul pierced with a sword as it had been prophesied. She grieves for Jesus whom she has loved and cared for from her womb but is now dying before her very eyes. We look at her and ponder how she could bear to stand on that blood-soaked ground and watch the agony of her beloved Son, knowing that there was nothing she could do or say to comfort Him. And then we get a glimpse of where she draws her strength—she receives it from the undying love of her Son: The Lord looks at His mother; sees her anguish. He consoles her; assures her that she will not be alone, and places her in the care of His beloved disciple. Jesus remembers His mother even as He struggles for His breath on the cross.
Perhaps, we too may have lost someone dear to us this year. Some may be accompanying a family member in her twilight years, or maybe some are going through a terrible crisis in their lives; dejected and hopeless, they feel abandoned. But when we look up at the cross with the Blessed Mother, let us be consoled, for we know that our anguish and pain do not go unnoticed. The Lord sees us and finds ways to help us.
In the case of Mary, the help came through John the Beloved. He too was there at the foot of the cross. As we stand with him, we recognize that his tears were not just of sorrow—his eyes speak of regret, almost profound guilt. This could have been because, just the night before, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane, all the disciples, including himself, fled in fear. He had abandoned to the murderous brutes the one who loved him ever so tenderly. But John has come back, overcoming his fear with sheer love for his master and friend. And as John stood his ground, the One who loves him most looks at him and gently asks a “favor”: “take care of my mother,” Jesus appeals to his friend—and this, John took on as a mission.
Maybe we too find ourselves in a position where we may have compromised our faith, when we took for granted the patient love of God or presumed God’s mercy and decided to make our own path, neglecting the will of our God. Yet, somehow, our heart tells us that in this life, there is no other path—we can never really run and stray too far away from our God. His love, His mercy seeks us out—and often, lead us to Him, nailed to the cross, asking us to stop just thinking about ourselves but instead begin taking care of those whom He has loved dearly—the weak, the vulnerable, the strangers, and the outcasts. And so, when we look up to the cross, this timei with the Beloved Disciple, let us open our heart to the Lord’s invitation to continue His mission of love.
Finally, we look up at the cross as we stand with Mary Magdalene. We know of her as the woman who was once possessed by seven demons until Jesus took pity of her and cast the demons away. We look at Magdalene weeping; as the one who has set her free is now bound helplessly on the cross. She wonders what has happened to this man who had the power to bring sight to the blind, feed thousands, calm storms, even bring Lazarus back to life—bewildered why this man is now hanging on the cross, drenched in his own blood, breathing his very last. And then she too sees what the Blessed Mother and John have seen. The Son of Man’s ultimate power, his final proclamation of the Good News, is to lay his life, totally, fully for all. She remembers then with profound gratitude how it is that love that gave her new life—freedom from the slavery of her sins, even freedom from the oppressive and judgmental eyes of her assaulters.
We too, I guess, may have doubted at times God’s presence in our world of madness and folly. We may feel that we are in an endless spiral of sinfulness until we finally encounter our God; our God whose omnipotence is His unconditional love—a love far greater than our frailties and even our unfaithfulness—a love that brings us healing, meaning, and joy. And so, when we look up to the cross, now with Mary Magdalene, let us learn to fall in love once again with someone who never gets tired of saving us from our own chaos.
My dear friends, on this Good Friday, when we stand with the Blessed Mother, John the Beloved and Magdalene and look up to the cross, let us behold that on, “On this tree,” as Malcolm Guite puts it:
“Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free,
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height,
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true,
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light,
We see what love can bear and be and do.
And here our Savior calls us to his side,
His love is free, his arms are open wide.”
**engraving by Pietro da Cortona from the Getty Museum collection