April 14, 2017: GOOD FRIDAY (Part I)
April 14, 2017: GOOD FRIDAY
Rank: Double of the I Class
(Part I - The Morning)
“Behold the MAN!”
(St. John, xix. 5)
The sun has risen upon Jerusalem. But the Priests and Scribes have not waited all this time without venting their anger upon Jesus. Annas, who was the first to receive the divine Captive, has had him taken to his son-in-law Caiphas, the High Priest. Here he is out through a series of insulting questions, which disdaining to answer, he receives a blow from one of the High Priest’s servants. False witnesses had been already prepared: they now come forward, and depose their lies against Him who is the very Truth :– but their testimony is contradictory. Then, Caiphas, seeing that this plan for convicting Jesus of blasphemy is only serving to expose his accomplices turns to an other. He asks him a question, which will oblige our Lord to make an answer; and in this answer, he, Caiphas, will discover blasphemy, and blasphemy would bring Jesus under the power of the Synagogue. This is the question: I adjure thee, by the living God, that thou tell us, if thou be the Christ the Son of God? (St. Matth, xxvi. 63) Our Saviour, in order to teach us that we should show respect to those who are in authority, breaks the silence he has hitherto observed, and answers: Thou hast said it: I am: and hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven. (St. Matth, xxvi. 64; St. Mark, xiv. 62) Hereupon, the impious Pontiff rises, rends his garments, and exclaims: He hath blasphemed! What further need we have of witnesses? Behold! now ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? The whole place resounds with the cry: He is guilty of death! (St. Matth, xxvi. 65, 66).
The Son of God has come down upon the earth, in order to restore man to Life; and yet, have we this creature of death daring to summon his Divine Benefactor before a human tribunal, and condemning him to Death! And Jesus is silent! and bears with these presumptuous, these ungrateful, blasphemers! Well may we exclaim, in the words, wherewith the Greek Church frequently interrupts today’s reading of the Passion: “GLORY BE TO THY PATIENCE, O LORD!”
Scarcely have the terrible words, He is guilty of death, been uttered, than the servants of the High Priest rush upon Jesus. They spit upon him, and blindfolding him, they strike him saying: Prophesy! Who is it struck thee? (St. Luke, xxii. 64) Thus does the Synagogue treat the Messias, who, they say, is to be their glory! And yet, these outrages, frightful as they are, are but the beginning of what our Redeemer has to go through.
But there is something far more trying than all this to the heart of Jesus, and it is happening at this very time. Peter has made his way as far as the court of the High Priest’s Palace! He is recognized by the bystanders as a Galilean, and one of Jesus’ Disciples. The Apostle trembles for his life; – he denies his Master, and affirms, with an oath, that he does not even know him. What a sad example is here of the punishment of presumption! But, Jesus has mercy on his Apostle. The servants of the High Priest lead him to the place, near where Peter is standing; he casts upon him a look of reproach and pardon; Peter immediately goes forth, and weeps bitterly. From this hour forward, he can do nothing but lament his sin; and it is only on Easter Morning, when Jesus shall appear to him after his Resurrection, that he will admit any consolation to his afflicted heart. Let us make him our model, now that we are spending these hours, with our holy Mother the Church, in contemplating the Passion of Jesus. Peter withdraws, because he fears his own weakness; let us remain to the end for what have we to fear? May our Jesus give us one of those looks, which can change the hardest and worst of hearts!
Meanwhile, the day-dawn breaks upon the City, and the chief Priests make arrangements for taking Jesus before the Roman Governor. They themselves have found him guilty; they have condemned him as a Blasphemer, and, according to the law of Moses, a Blasphemer must be stoned to death: but they cannot apply the law: Jerusalem is no longer free or governed by her own laws. The power over life and death may only be exercised by her conquerors, and that in the name of Cæsar. How is it, that these Priests and Scribes can go through all this, and never once remember the prophecy of Jacob, – that the Messias would come, when the scepter should be taken away from Juda? (Gen, xlix. 10) They know off by heart, they are the appointed guardians of those Prophecies, which describe the death to which this Messias is to be put, – and yet, they are the very ones who bring it about! How is all this? – They are blind, and it is Jealousy that blinds them.
The rumour of Jesus’ having been seized during the night, and that he is on the point of being led before the Roman Governor, rapidly spread through the City, and reaches Judas’ ear. This wretched man had a passion for money, but there was nothing to make him desire the death of his Divine Master. He knew Jesus’ supernatural power. He perhaps flattered himself, that He who could command nature and the elements, would easily escape from the hands of his enemies. But now when he sees that he does not escape, and that he is to be condemned to death, – he runs to the Temple, and gives back the thirty pieces of silver to the Chief Priests. Is it that he is converted? and is about to ask his Master to pardon him? Alas! No: despair has possession of him, and he puts an end to his existence. The recollection of all the merciful solicitations made to him, yesterday, by Jesus, both during the Last Supper, and in the Garden, gives him no confidence; it only serves to increase his despair. Surely, he well knew what a merciful Saviour he had to deal with! And yet, he despairs, and this at the very time when the Blood, which washes away the sins of the whole world, is about to be shed! He is lost, because he despaired.
The Chief Priests, taking Jesus with them, present themselves at the Governor’s Palace, demanding audience for a case of importance. Pilate comes forward, and peevishly asks them: What accusation bring ye against this man? – They answered: If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up to thee. It is very evident from these first words, that Pilate has a contempt for the Jewish Priests; it is not less evident that they are determined to gain their cause. Take him you, says Pilate, and judge him according to your Law. – The Chief Priests answered: It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. (St. John, xviii. 29, 30, 31)
Pilate leaves the Hall, in order to speak with these men. He returns, and commands Jesus to be brought in. The Son of God and the representative of the pagan world are face to face. Pilate begins by asking him: Art thou the King of the Jews? – To this Jesus thus replies: My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews. But, now, my Kingdom is not from hence. – Art thou a King then? says Pilate. – Thou sayest, answers Jesus, that I am a King. Having, by these last words, confessed his august dignity, our Lord offers a grace to this Roman; he tells him, that there is somethings worthier of Man’s ambition than earthly honours. For this, says Jesus, was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the Truth. Every one that is of the Truth, heareth my voice. – What is Truth? Asks Pilate; but without waiting for an answer, he leaves Jesus, for he is anxious to have done with this case. He returns to the Jews, and says to them: I find no cause in him (St. John, xviii. 33, 36-38). – Pilate fancies that this Jesus must be a leader of some Jewish sect, whose teachings give offence to the Chief Priests, but which are not worth his examining into them; yet at the same time, he is convinced that he is a harmless man, and that it would be foolish and unjust to accuse him of disturbing the state.
Scarcely has Pilate expressed his opinion in favour of Jesus, than a long list of accusations is brought up against him by the Chief Priests. Pilate is astonished at Jesus’ making no reply, and says to him: Dost thou not hear how great testimonies they allege against thee? (St. Matth, xxvii. 13) – These words are kindly meant, but Jesus still remains silent: they, however, excite his enemies to fresh fury, and they cry out: He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee, even to this place (St. Luke, xxiii. 5). This word Galilee suggests a new idea to Pilate. Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee, happens to be in Jerusalem at this very time. Jesus is his subject; he must be sent to him. Thus Pilate will get rid of a troublesome case, and this act of courteous deference will re-establish a good understanding between himself and Herod.
The Saviour is therefore dragged through the streets of Jerusalem, from Pilate’s house to Herod’s palace. His enemies follow him with relentless fury; but Jesus still observes his noble silence. Herod, the murderer of John the Baptist, insults him, and ordering him to be clothed in a white garment, as a Fool, he send him back to Pilate. Another plan for ridding himself of this troublesome case, now strikes the Roman Governor. At the feast of the Pasch, he had the power of granting pardon to anyone criminal the people may select. They are assembled together at the court-gates. He feels sure, that their choice will fall upon Jesus, for it is but a few days ago that they led him in triumph through the City; besides, he intends to make the alternative one who is an object of execration to the whole people; he is a murderer, and his name Barabbas. Whom will you that I release to you? says Pilate: Barabbas, or Jesus, that is called the Christ? – He has not long to wait for the answer: the crowd exclaim: Not this man, but Barabbas! – What then, replies Pilate, shall I do with Jesus, that is called the Christ? – Crucify him? – Why, what evil hath he done? I will chastise him, therefore, and let him go. – But they growing irritated at this, cry out so much the louder: Crucify him! Crucify him! (St. Matth, xxvii; St. Luke, xxiii; St. John, xviii)
Pilate’s cowardly subterfuge has failed, and left him in a more difficult position than he was before. His putting the innocent on a level with a murderer was, in itself, a gross injustice; and yet, he has not gone far enough for a people that is blind with passion. Neither does his promise to chastise Jesus satisfy them: they want more than his Blood: they insist on his Death!
Here let us pause, and offer our Saviour a reparation for the insult he here receives. He is put in competition with a murderer, and the murderer is preferred! Pilate makes an attempt to save Jesus: but, on what terms! – he must be put on a footing with a vile wretch, and, even so, be worsted! Those very lips that, a few days back, sang “Hosannah to the Son of David,” now clamour for his Crucifixion! The City Magistrate and Governor pronounces him innocent; and yet, he condemns him to be scourged, because he fears a disturbance!
Jesus is made over to the soldiers, to be scourged. They rudely strip him of his garments, and tie him to the pillar, which is kept for this kind of torture. Fiercely do they strike him; the blood flows down his sacred Body. Let us adore this the second Blood-shedding of our Jesus, whereby he expiates for the sins we and the whole world have committed by the flesh. This Scourging is by the hands of the Gentiles: the Jews delivered him up to be punished, and the Romans were the executioners :– thus have we all had our share in the awful Deicide!
At last, the soldiers are tired; they loosen their Victim; – but it is not out of anything like pity. Their cruelty is going to rest, and their rest is derision. Jesus has been called “King of the Jews:” a King, say they, must have a Crown! Accordingly they make one for the Son of David! It is of Thorns. They press it violently upon his head, and this is the third Blood-shedding of our Redeemer. Then, that they make their scoffing perfect, the soldiers throw a scarlet cloak over his shoulders, and put a reed, for a scepter, into his hand; and bending their knee before him, they thus salute him: Hail, King of the Jews! – This insulting homage is accompanied with blows upon his face; they spit upon him; and, from time to time, take the reed from his hand, wherewith to strike the Thorns deeper into his head.
Here, the Christian prostrates himself before his Saviour, and says to him with a heart full of compassion and veneration: “Yes! my Jesus! Thou art King of the Jews! Thou art the Son of David, and therefore our Messias and our Redeemer! Israel, that has so lately proclaimed thee King, now unkings thee; the Gentiles scoff at thy Royalty, making it a subject for keener insult: – but reign thou must and over both Jews and Gentiles: over the Jews, by thy justice, for they are soon to feel the sceptre of thy revenge; over the Gentiles, by thy mercy, for thine Apostles are soon to lead them to thy feet. Receive, dearest King! our homage and submission! Reign now and forever over our hearts, yea, over our whole being!”
Thus mangled and bleeding, holding the reed in his hand, and with the scarlet tatters on his shoulders, Jesus is led back to Pilate. It is just the sight that will soften the hearts of the people; at least, Pilate thinks so; and taking him with him to a balcony of the palace, he shows him to the crowd below, saying: Behold the Man! (St. John, xix. 5) Little did Pilate know all that these few words conveyed! He says not: “Behold Jesus!” – nor, “Behold the King of the Jews!” he says: Behold the Man! – Man! – the Christian understands the full force of the word thus applied to our Redeemer. Adam, the first Man rebelled against God, and, by his sin deranged the whole work of the Creator: as a punishment for his pride and intemperance, the flesh tyrannized over the spirit; the very earth was cursed, and thorns were to be its growth. Jesus, the New Man, comes into this world, bearing upon him, not the reality, but the appearance, the likeness, of sin: in him, the work of the Creator regains its primeval order; but the change was not wrought without violence. To teach us, that the flesh must be brought into subjection to the spirit, Jesus’ Flesh was torn by the scourges: to teach us, that pride must give way to humility, the only Crown that Jesus wears is made of Thorns. Yes, – Behold Man! – the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, the triumph of humility over pride.
Like the tiger that grows fiercer as he sees blood, so is Israel at the sight of Jesus after his scouring. Crucify him! Crucify him! – the cry is still the same. – Take him you, says Pilate, and crucify him; for I find no cause in him. And yet, he has ordered him to be scourged enough to cause his death! Here is another device of the base coward; but it, too, fails. The Jews have their answer ready: they put forward the right granted by the Romans to the nations that are tributary to the Empire. We have, say they, a law, and according to the law he ought to die; because he made himself the Son of God. Disconcerted by the reply, Pilate takes Jesus aside into the hall, and says to him: Whence art thou? Jesus is silent; Pilate was not worthy to hear the answer to his question. The silence irritates him. Speakest thou not to me? says he. Knowest thou not, that I have power to crucify thee, and I have power to release thee? Here Jesus deigns to speak; and he speaks, in order to teach us that every power of government, even where pagans are in question, comes from God, and not from a pretended social compact: Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. Therefore he that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin (St. John, xix.).
This dignified reply produces an impression upon Pilate: he resolves to make another attempt to save Jesus. But the people vociferate a threat which alarms him: If thou release this man, thou art not Cæsar’s friend; for whosoever maketh himself a King, speaketh against Cæsar. Still, he is determined to try and pacify the crowd. He leaves the hall, sits upon the judgment-seat, orders Jesus to be placed near him, and thus pleads for him: Behold your King! as though he would say, “What have you or Cæsar to fear from such a pitiable object as this?” The argument was unavailing, and only provokes the cry: Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him! As though he did not believe them to be in earnest, Pilate says to them: Shall I crucify you King? This time the Chief Priests give the answer: We have no king but Cæsar! – When the Ministers of God can talk thus, religion is at end. No King but Cæsar! – then, the sceptre is taken from Juda, and Jerusalem is cast off and the Messias is come!
Pilate, seeing that nothing can quell the tumult, and that his honour as Governor is at stake, decides on making Jesus over to his enemies. Though against his own inclination, he passes the Sentence, which is to cause him such remorse of conscience that he will afterwards seek relief in suicide. He takes a tablet, and with a style, writes the Inscription which is to be fastened to the Cross. The people demand that two thieves should be crucified at the same time, – it would be an additional insult to Jesus: this, too, he grants, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaias: And with the wicked was he reputed (Is, liii. 12). Having thus defiled his soul with the most heinous of crimes, Pilate washes his hands before the people, and says to them: I am innocent of the blood of this just man; look ye to it! They answer him with this terrible self-imprecation: His blood be upon us and upon our children! (St. Matth, xxvii. 24, 25) The mark of Parricide here fastens on this ungrateful and sacrilegious people; Cain-like, they shall wander fugitives on earth. After so many hundreds of years have passed, the mark is still upon them.
Here commences “The Way of the Cross;” the House of Pilate, where our Jesus receives the sentence of Death, is the First Station. Our Redeemer is consigned, by the Governor’s order, into the hands of the Jews. The Soldiers seize him, and drag him from the Court. They strip him of the scarlet cloak, and bid him clothe himself with his own garments, as before Scourging. The Cross is ready and they put it on his wounded Shoulders. The place where the new Isaac loads himself with the wood of his sacrifice, is the Second Station. To Calvary! – this is the word of command, and it is obeyed: soldiers, executioners, priests, scribes, people, – these form the procession. Jesus moves slowly on; but, after a few paces, exhausted by the loss of Blood and by his Sufferings, he falls under the weight of his Cross. It is the first fall, and marks the Third Station.
He falls, not so much by the weight of his Cross, as by that of our sins! The Soldiers roughly lay their hands on him, and force him up again. Scarcely has he resumed his steps, than he is met by his afflicted Mother. The Valiant Woman, whose love is stronger than death, was not to be absent at such an hour as this. She must see her Son, follow him, keep close to him, even to his last breath. No tongue could tell the poignancy of her grief. The anxiety she has endured during the last few days has exhausted her strength. All the Sufferings of Jesus have been made known to her by a divine revelation; she has shared each one of them with him. But, now, she cannot endure to be absent, and makes her way through the crowd. The Sacrifice is nigh its consummation; no human power could keep such a Mother from her Jesus. The faithful Magdalene is by her side, bathed in tears; John, Mary, (the mother of James the Less) and Salome (the mother of John), are also with her: they weep for their Divine Master, she for her Son. Jesus sees her, but cannot comfort her, for all this is but the beginning of what he is to endure. Oh! what an additional suffering was this for his loving Heart, – to see his Mother agonizing with sorrow! The executioners observe the Mother of their Victim, but it would be too much mercy in them to allow her speak to him; she may follow, if she please, with the crowd; it is more than she could have expected, to have been allowed this Meeting, which we venerate as the Fourth Station of the Way of the Cross.
But from this to the last there is a long distance, for there is a law, that criminals are to be executed outside the City Walls. The Jews are afraid of Jesus’ expiring before reaching the place of Sacrifice. Just at this time, they behold a man coming from the country; his name is Simon of Cyrene; they order him to help Jesus to carry his Cross. It is out of a motive of cruelty to our Lord, but it gives Simon the honour of sharing with him the fatigue of bearing the instrument of the world’s salvation. The spot where this happens is the Fifth Station.
A little farther on, an incident occurs which strikes the executioners themselves with astonishment. A woman makes her way through the crowd, and setting the soldiers at defiance, comes close up to Jesus. She holds her veil in her hands, and with it respectfully wipes the Face of our Lord, for it is covered with blood, sweat, and spittle. She loves Jesus, and cares not what may happen to her, so she can offer him this slight comfort. Her love receives its reward: – she finds her Veil miraculously impressed with the likeness of Jesus’ Face. This courageous act of Veronica marks the Sixth Station of the Way of the Cross.
Jesus grows weaker at each step: – he falls a second time: it is the Seventh Station. Again do the soldiers violently raise him up, and push him along the road. It is easy to follow in his footsteps, for a streak of Blood shows where he has passed. A group of women is following close behind the soldiers; they heed not the insults heaped upon them; their compassion makes them brave. But the last brutal treatment shown to Jesus is more than they can bear in silence; they utter a cry of pitiful lamentation. Our Saviour is pleased with these women, who, in spite of the weakness of their sex, are showing more courage than all the men of Jerusalem put together. He affectionately turns towards them, and tells them what a terrible chastisement is to follow the crime they are now witnessing. The Chief priests and Scribes recognize the dignity of the Prophet that had so often spoken to them: they listen with indignation, and at the Eighth Station of the great Way, they hear these words: Daughters of Jerusalem! weep not over me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. for behold the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us! And to the hills: Cover us! (St. Luke, xxiii. 27-31)
At last, they reach the foot of the hill. Calvary is steep; but is the place of Jesus’ Sacrifice. He begins the ascent, but falls a third time: the hallowed spot is counted as the Ninth Station. A third time the soldiers force Jesus to rise and continue his painful journey to the summit of the hill, which is to serve as the Altar for the holocaust that is to surpass all others in holiness and power. The executioners seize the Cross and lay it upon the ground, preparatory to their nailing the Divine Victim to it. According to a custom, practised both by the Romans and the Jews, a cup containing wine and myrrh is offered to Jesus. This drink, which had the bitterness of gall, was given as a narcotic, in order to deaden, in some degree, the feeling of the criminal, and lessen his pain. Jesus raises to his lips the cup, which was proffered him rather from custom than from any idea of kindness; but he drinks not its contents, for he wishes to feel the full intensity of the sufferings he accepts for our sakes. Then the executioners, having violently stripped him of his garments, which had fastened to his wounds, lead him to the Cross. The place where he was thus stripped of his garments, and where the cup of bitter drink was presented to him, is venerated as the Tenth Station of the Way of the Cross. The first nine, from Pilate’s hall to the foot of Calvary, are still to be seen in the streets of Jerusalem; but the Tenth and the remaining four are in the interior of the Church of Holy Sepulchre, whose spacious walls inclose the spot where the last mysteries of the Passion were accomplished.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Passiontide and Holy Week, Dublin, Edition 1870
Glory be to Thy Patience, O Lord!