Reflection for April 10, 2020, Good Friday
Readings: Is 52:13-53:12; Heb 4:14-16, 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42
One of the problems with the readings we have today is there is so much that it would not be possible to cover even half of the material in a reasonable amount of time. In the first reading have the fourth of the “Suffering Servant Songs” from Isaiah; the first three we have seen in the previous three days. This passage from Isaiah 52-53 is the passage the Ethiopian eunuch was reading when Philip was instructed by the Holy Spirit to speak with the man (Acts 8:27-39). Recall that the eunuch asked if the Prophet was speaking about himself or another. This gave Philip the opportunity to explain how this passage was fulfilled in our Lord.
The second reading has to do with the High Priesthood of Jesus. For the Jewish people, only the physical descendants of Levi were able to be priests. The priesthood of Jesus is the one that preceded the priesthood of Aaron and the Levites. Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek (see Gen 14 and Ps 110). What is interesting in the reading today are the points which state His prayers and supplications made to the One Who was able to save Him from death were heard. Clearly, Jesus died. So, being saved from death does not mean He did not die, but that He conquered death and has risen to new and everlasting life.
The other point of interest is the statement that “Son though He was, He learned obedience through suffering.” As God, Jesus did not need to learn anything, but in His human nature, He learned things the same way we do. We learn through experience. It is not that our Lord did not know what obedience was or that He had ever been disobedient to either His Father in Heaven or to His earthy parents. If He had been, it would have been a sin, and we know He never sinned. So, this statement of St. Paul helps us to understand that this act of obedience was different from the others. This one He prayed might be taken away from Him; I assume that never occurred at any other moment of His life. Nonetheless, even though He prayed this way, He always stated the He chose God’s will rather than His own (meaning His human will).
We now come to the points I would like to mention from the Gospel. Once again, there are so many that it is difficult to choose only a few. There are a few points of explanation I would like to address so some of the events on the Cross may take on a new and deeper meaning for us. St. John does not spend a lot of time with what happened in the actual crucifixion and death of our Lord. However, what he does mention (verses 23-37) all deal with points of the fulfillment of Scripture. On several occasions in this short passage St. John tells us this thing was done or said to fulfill a specific passage of Scripture. These are pretty obvious. However, there are several other points that have specific references, but are not mentioned as such. These are the points I would like to address.
The fact that our Lord was crucified fulfills what we read in Psalm 22 (21 in the Vulgate). St. John does not include our Lord’s cry from the Cross “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” as the three Synoptic writers do. But these words are the first verse of this Psalm. They are not words of despair, but words of prayer that show the fulfillment of this Psalm. I have often wondered what King David saw that he was able to write these words more than 900 years before anyone came up with the idea of crucifixion. The details in the Psalm describe the agony of crucifixion perfectly.
One passage that has raised questions for centuries is our Lord’s reference to His Mother as “woman.” This appears to be a very disrespectful way to address His Mother. However, recall that Mary’s name is never mentioned in St. John’s Gospel. She is referred to as the Mother of Jesus and twice as “woman” (Jn 2:4 and 19:27). This is done intentionally to call attention to who this “woman” is. There is not time to go into the entire process of showing the references, but suffice it to say that Jesus calls His Mother “woman” because it refers back to Genesis 3:15 where God told Satan: “There will be enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and hers.” There is not disrespect at all (again, that would have been a sin); but calling attention to the fulfillment of prophecy.
In verse 29 we are told someone put a sponge on a hyssop reed and put it to the mouth of Jesus to drink. On the surface we might wonder why St. John is wasting words by telling us about a hyssop reed. After all, who cares what kind of pole the sponge was on? Well, this is a very important little point as it refers back to the Book of Exodus. Remember that when the people were about to leave Egypt, they had to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their homes so the angel of death would pass over. It was with hyssop reeds that they applied the blood (Ex 12:22). This is the connection St. John wants us to make. This is the Lamb Whose Blood will cause death to have no power over us.
The final point I want to mention is the twofold use of the word “finished” in verses 28 and 29: “after this, Jesus, knowing all was now finished…” and “When Jesus had received the vinegar He said ‘It is finished.’” This brings us all the way back to Genesis 2:1-2 where we read “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished…on the seventh day God finished His work…” What this tells us is that the work of Jesus on the Cross is bringing about a new creation. His suffering and death established a New Covenant, but the grace of that Covenant allows us to live as a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).