Good Friday – 2019
Is 52:13-53:12; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42
“I looked in vain for compassion, for consolers; not one could I find.” That verse should sound familiar to us. It’s verse 21 of Psalm 69. We chant it every week on Friday at Vespers and sometimes we see it in antiphons. It pretty much encapsulates the theme I would like to look at for our celebration today.
The first mystery of the Rosary is the agony of Jesus in the garden. He was in so much anguish that he sweat blood. Did he have a foreshadowing of the great sufferings he was going to have to undergo in the next 24 hours? Or did he see evil in all its ugliness, or all the sins that he was going to atone for? That we do not know. But we do know that he felt really horrible. And in that really low moment he wanted the companionship of his close friends. He had taken the Eleven to the Garden of Gethsemane with him, and then had further singled out Peter, James, and John. He wanted them close by and alert, and then chided them when they could not stay awake. We see clearly the human side of Jesus who wanted the solace of human companionship in the midst of suffering.
It hurt him to have Peter deny him. It was a breach of fidelity. He had hand-picked Simon and made him the rock upon which he founded his Church. After the cock crowed, the look Jesus gave to Peter stung him to the heart. And Peter went out and wept bitterly. A consoler Jesus should have been able to count on, who nonetheless let him down.
Pilate tried to free him, but the crowd yelled ever louder: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” No compassion there!
He was whipped savagely by the Roman soldiers, and blindfolded and punched, and crowned with razor-sharp thorns and taunted and ridiculed. For someone who needed the sympathy of a loved one, it was nowhere to be found.
Because Jesus had already been so badly maltreated by the time they gave him the cross to carry, he had become weak – maybe because of the loss of so much blood. They were afraid he wouldn’t be able to make it to the final destination. So in the Synoptic tradition a random bystander was pressed into service to aid Jesus with his cross. He most likely would have been forgotten to history otherwise. But now, 2,000 years later, everyone familiar with the Passion narratives can remember his name as Simon of Cyrene. The Gospel of Mark further identifies him as “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” A footnote for that verse in the New American Bible says, “The precise naming of Simon and his sons is probably due to their being known among early Christian believers to whom Mark addressed his gospel.” It would seem that Simon was radically moved by the experience and he and his household became believers and were pillars of the early Church. Jesus appreciated his help and assistance so much in his moment of friendlessness that he inundated him with the grace of faith.
Among the 14 Stations of the Cross is the 6th one, where Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. Jesus looked for compassion, for consolers, and finally he found one. This wonderful woman didn’t know what else to do, so she took off her veil and wiped the bloody, pulpy, grimy, bespittled face of Jesus. Her loving, sympathetic gesture spoke worlds to a heart that was so desperate for love and tenderness. As a token of his great appreciation, tradition tells us that Jesus imprinted the image of his face upon her veil, and she, and the Church after her, treasured this precious memento.
In the old film, Ben Hur, there is an earlier scene when Charlton Heston was part of a chain of prisoners and desperately thirsty. Jesus gives him a drink, and their eyes meet. Later, after Ben Hur is a regular citizen again, he happens to be on hand as Jesus is being led to the cross. He recognizes him and tries his best to return the favor. Just as he is getting the cup of cool water close to the lips of Jesus, one of the soldiers knocks it out of his hands and it all spills on the ground. It is a poignant scene.
Then we see Jesus pinned to the cross between two bandits and they are all three squirming in severe pain. The chief priests and leading Jews are taunting Jesus and mocking him – those who had awaited him for so long but tragically could not recognize him when finally he came. The thief on his left is disrespectful of Jesus too, but the thief on the right defends him and declares his faith in him – at this moment when he looks anything but a conqueror and a king. Jesus is so touched by his heartfelt belief and repentance that he assures him, “This very day you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus was in the lowest of the lows, when it came to emotions. He looked for compassion, for consolers, to ease his pain. When he encountered one he was superabundant in showing his appreciation.
Finally, in the last moments, below him at the foot of the cross stood John and the mother of Jesus and two other Marys. They were demonstrating their love and devotion to the end. Their tears and anguish were solace for the utterly wrenched body and soul of the unrecognizable Jesus of Nazareth. That companionship he craved in his hour of need was finally there for him. Their undaunted love for him dismissed the danger of being arrested themselves. And Jesus would not be outdone in generosity. He made sure his mother and John were well-provided for. And all four of these people were devoutly fervent for the rest of their lives and attained a worthy place in heaven. And of course Mother Mary sits next to the throne of God.
What can we take away from this? How can we apply it to our lives? For one thing, we can be on the lookout and sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. We might be able to find written on their faces, “I looked in vain for compassion, for consolers; not one could I find.” Jesus has assured us, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). We can be the Balm of Gilead that soothes the sting of their wound.
Also, we can meditate on the Passion and great suffering of Jesus and all he went through for us. He is outside of time, and for him it is as if we are there in the moment comforting him and keeping him company. Jesus has told many of the canonized Saints in private revelations that this is one of the most pleasing types of prayer for him. It may not be very pleasant for us – who isn’t automatically repulsed by the prospect – but it brings great consolation to Jesus and shows him that his supreme act of love does not go without appreciation.
“I looked in vain for compassion, for consolers; not one could I find.” Will you assuage his thirst?