Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Meditations for Holy Week & Easter based on John’s Gospel 6. For Friday, March 21, John 19:25-37, Words from the Cross

Three only of the seven words from the Cross uttered by Jesus are recorded in John’s Gospel, and we shall look only at these three. Here is the usual order in which they are reflected upon on Good Friday: Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive…”; Luke 23:43 “Truly I say to you…”; John 19:26,27; Matthew 27:46, “My God, My God…”; John 19:28; John 19:30; and Luke 23:46, “Father into your hands…”.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who out of your silence on the cross bequeathed to your church seven Words: Grant that we may ponder them as an insight into the inexhaustible gospel of your love and of the redemption of the world; and also grant that we may learn from them to glorify by speech and silence the Father in heaven, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God world, without end.

Verses 25-27 “Woman, see, your son” and “See, your mother.”

The names of the women who stood near the Cross are carefully noted. Here we see how what was known as the “weaker sex” appeared the most manly: they are the faithful counterpart of the four soldiers who crucified Jesus!

John focuses attention on one of the women and the apostle John, neither of whom is referred to as being at the Cross by the other three Gospels. What he records is a simple but profound event illustrating a truth and reality—that is, that at the time of the Lord’s death, a new family is brought into being. Mary receives John, and John receives Mary, at the Lord’s direction. This union prefigures and foreshadows the genuine love (agape) and family nature of the Church of God. Mary, the Mother of the Lord, becomes the mother of the faithful, while John, the Beloved Disciple, symbolizes the ideal disciple.

Of course, we are not to allow this important symbolism of the unity of the Church to remove from our view the loving concern shown by Jesus for his beloved mother in making sure she is cared for, and which is also emphasized by the later comment of John that “from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

If this word from the Cross proclaims the true unity of the new people of God, then what happened to the seamless robe of Jesus when he was actually crucified by the four soldiers (verses 23-24) presents yet another truth concerning the people of God. Since it remained intact, the seamless robe points to the unity of the believers who are joined to the Lord and who feed on his body.

Verses 28-30 “I thirst” and “It is finished.”

“I thirst”

Having been on the Cross for a while, Jesus has accomplished the work that the Father gave him to do, and rightly and naturally his attention and desires turn towards his return to the Father—he longs and inwardly, spiritually thirsts for this return. In using the verb, “ I thirst,” of the desire for God Jesus was making use of a familiar image found often in the Psalter –see e.g., Psalm 42:2; 63:1-2 & 69:22. The devout Israelite often cried out, “My soul thirsts for God…”

Not surprisingly, the soldiers take the cry literally and in their cruelty offer him not water but vinegar, which would have intensified any physical thirst! However, they offer the drink on a twig of hyssop, not realizing that they were pointing (for those with eyes to see) religiously to the use of hyssop in the Passover, and beyond this to the meaning of the death of Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. During the Passover season, in order to recall Exodus 12:22, the doors of Jewish houses were sprinkled using twigs of hyssop. For John’s Gospel, the Jewish Passover is fulfilled in the sacrifice of the true Paschal Lamb, the Lord Jesus, who is also the Door (John 10:7) of entry into the kingdom of God.

“It is finished”

The Divine Victim has completed his mission and work. The salvation of the world is accomplished. And the life of Christ on earth is at an end. The first stage of the glorification of Jesus is come to an end.

This, as a cry of victory, is not to be contrasted with the last words of Jesus in Matthew and Mark as if these were a cry of defeat. The latter are from Psalm 22:1, “My God. My God why have you forsaken me….?” And though they may seem to be a cry of apparent defeat, they are not, if one reads the whole Psalm carefully—and Jesus no doubt had the whole psalm in his mind when he began to quote it. At the ending of Psalm 22, all the ends of the earth turn to the Lord (cf. the words of Jesus, John 12:32, that when he is lifted up he will draw all unto him”). The clue to the harmonization of these two different words from the Cross is to see “It is finished/completed” in John as the summary of the content of the whole Psalm, which begins with the sense of abandonment, but does not end there.

The second half of verse 30 (“bowing his head he gave up his spirit”) may simply mean that Jesus gave up his spirit to his Father and thus died peacefully, his work ended.

It may also mean that Jesus hands over the Holy Spirit to those at the foot of the Cross, particularly to his Mother, who symbolizes the Church as the new people of God, and to John, who symbolizes the true disciples. In John 7:39 the Evangelist affirmed that those who believed on Jesus were to receive the Spirit once Jesus had been glorified. This moment at the Cross is the glorification of Jesus and thus Jesus looking down from the Cross to those below hands over to them the Spirit, who has been his Guide and Strength and will be theirs as the Paraclete. However, if we follow this interpretation, we must go on to say that we are to receive this reference to the giving of the Spirit as evocative and proleptic (the representation of a thing as existing before it actually does), pointing out to us the ultimate purpose for which Jesus has been lifted upon the Cross. (The actual giving of the Spirit is by the Resurrected Lord, John 20:22.)

[We shall meditate on Holy Saturday in Meditation 7 upon what happened to the dead body of Jesus after he gave up his spirit.]


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