April 6, 2012
Yesterday, we reflected on the act of ritual washing that then paved the way to watching. Jesus, anticipating the end of his earthly sojourn, and aware of the rising tension between the forces of darkness against the forces of light, became the ever provident Lord and Savior that God always is for us His people. He instituted the Priesthood. And by instituting thereby, too, the Eucharist, the first Holy Mass ever celebrated on earth, the first unbloody yet fully meritorious sacrifice offered in this world, Jesus saw to it that the act of redemption He was just about to do – a bloody and ignominious death on the cross, would be perpetuated and repeated in an unbloody manner for all times and for all peoples. The one and unique Redeemer, who redeemed all of humanity in one fell swoop, sort of, in one bloody and perfect Sacrifice on the Cross, thus assured that salvation goes on up till now, for all days, and for always.
The washing of the feet – the granting and institutionalization of the office of ordained ministers held by priests patterned after His own heart, assured the presence of those who would keep watch over the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar, and do that saving memorial from then on, till the end of time.
We did our own little part in the watching. We kept vigil, before the altar of repose. For today, Good Friday, in deference to that one, unique and humanly unrepeatable ACT of redemption on the Cross, the Church does not celebrate Eucharist. The Church stands still and venerates the wood of the Cross, on whom our redemption was wrought.
Good Friday, for all its richness and complexity, for all its dour seeming silence and lack of pomposity, is a day of contrasts, a day of reversals, a day unlike all other days. Today, we are face to face with a big choice, a solemn personal decision, quite unlike the decision of the crowds when they shouted “hosannas” at first, and then hollered “crucify him” the next. No … the crowds don’t matter anymore when the Lord would be led alone almost, followed by no more than his closest followers, a tiny band of brothers and sisters who kept watch till the end. The washing that ought to have led to watching with the Lord, unfortunately, through sin and human weakness, hardly took place last night. The three choicest disciples slept through the vigil, as he shed blood, sweat, and tears at Gethsemani.
Today, together with Mary and a handful of women and men who would stand at the foot of the cross, we need to decide. We need to choose. We need to proclaim where we stand, and declare Jesus of Nazareth either as LIAR, LUNATIC, OR LORD!
It is hard to decide. It is even harder to choose. And it is most difficult to acclaim what even Scripture seems to present in an ambiguous manner. The first reading from Isaiah leads the pack, sort of. It speaks of ignominy and utter humiliation. But it also speaks of glorious exaltation. It refers to a marred countenance. Yet in the same vein it talks about many being amazed at him; startled at him would be more like it. Isaiah speaks of a sapling with “no stately bearing.” But take note, there is a sudden shift of focus in Isaiah’s words. The very nondescript appearance of the Son of Man, the very sufferings – “pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins,” – took on an altogether different meaning. “By his stripes we were healed!” Isaiah becomes even more prophetic and declares his choice which was clearer than Sprite … “Because of his affliction, he shall see the light in fullness of days … And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.”
No one goes through all that if Jesus were a liar! No one submits himself to such pains and sorrows unless one is a lunatic! A liar, like Judas, who even had the temerity to declare, “surely, it is not I, Lord!” would not have the strength, courage, integrity and resiliency to stand for one’s convictions till the very end. A liar would simply slip away, like a frightened snake, out into the labyrinthine darkness, far out in the lairs of more lies.
A liar would not stand up for anything. A liar would not guarantee anything. But Jesus did … “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without committing sin” (2nd reading).
So was Jesus a lunatic then? Was he a nut who simply went through a charade of pain and suffering, after making preposterous claims, after taking his band of erstwhile followers for a ride?
Let us put Pilate on the therapist’s couch and see … He did a thorough clinical assessment of the supposed lunatic, the Christ. He did an equally thorough criminal background check of the Nazarene. He asked the right questions. He pried the correct data. He rephrased his questions and did the equivalent of “cross examination” and “redirect” examination. No lunatic ever stands with integrity and consistency and courage for what he declares. “My kingdom is not of this world … You say I am a king … You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.”
Jesus said it all, with courage and consistency. Jesus did it all. Like a lamb, he was led to the slaughter. He did the unthinkable. He went through the unimaginable. But what he did, drove the nail of truth that cannot be denied or downplayed for all times and seasons … that the power of God was revealed in weakness and humiliation!
This is not something for liars! Neither is this something for idiotic lunatics! Ironically, the soldier who pierced his side, declared what should be our choice, what should be our own decision, and our own declaration … “Truly, this man is the Son of God.” He is no liar. He is no lunatic. Jesus Christ is Lord!