The Son of Man must suffer greatly

March 29, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news this Good Friday from Mark 9:11-13.

Then they asked him “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He told them, “Elijah will indeed come first and restore all things, yet how is it written regarding the Son of Man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

I’ve always wondered why we call today ‘Good Friday.’ The Greek liturgy uses the term ‘Holy and Great Friday.’ It is ‘Holy Friday’ in the Romance languages and ‘Sorrowful Friday’ in German. In Denmark they refer to it as ‘Long Friday.’ The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “From the earliest times the Christians kept every Friday as a feast day…and why the Friday which marks the anniversary of Christ’s death came to be called the Great or the Holy or the Good Friday. The origin of the term Good is not clear.”

A New Catechism states, “The name of the day, Good Friday, is in itself an echo of the feelings which dominate the liturgy. In spite of a deep sense of grief, there is a dawning joy at the thought of all that Jesus has accomplished.” There doesn’t see to be anything good about the suffering and death of Jesus. I have always felt a profound grief. I am in the habit of imagining myself back in that day. It was April 3 in 33 C.E. according to astronomical calculations based on Peter’s quoting in Acts of the prophet Joel , “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and splendid day of the Lord.” I image Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, the heart-rending grief of his followers witnessing the tragedy, and the burden of responsibility of all those who condemned Jesus or acceded to his sentence. In doing that I’m not able to look ahead to the resurrection, just as none of his followers could because they didn’t understand what Jesus had tried to tell them. They were stuck in the moment, feeling their own lives and hope ebb as they watched Jesus slowly give up his spirit. I do know, of course, that Jesus rose on the third day. But it seems to me that on this day I am to fully feel the suffering, the sinfulness of humanity, the shattered hope for the kingdom of God.

Franciscan Richard Rohr in Wondrous Encounters helps me to a new perspective on Good Friday. He writes, “The central issue at work is the human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying ourselves — to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating behaviors….Jesus dies ‘for’ us not in the sense of ‘in place of’ but ‘in solidarity with.’….Jesus’ body is a standing icon of what humanity is doing and what God suffers ‘with,’ ‘in,’ and ‘through’ us. It is an icon of utter divine solidarity with our pain and our problems….It is our central transformative image for the soul. Whenever you see an image of the crucified Jesus, know that it is the clear and central message unveiled. It reveals what humanity is doing to itself and to one another….On the cross, the veil between the Holy and the unholy is ‘torn from top to bottom’ (Matthew 27:51), the ‘curtain of his body’ becomes a ‘living opening’ (Hebrews 10:20) through which we all can now walk into the Holy of Holies, which on different levels is both our own soul and the very heart of God. Nothing changed in heaven on Good Friday, but everything potentially changed on earth. Some learned how to see and to trust the contract between God and humanity. God has always and forever loved what God created, ‘It was good, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). It was we who could not love and see the omnipresent goodness. We were trapped outside the veil. But now…we can ‘confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor’ (Hebrews 4:16). The curtain is, and always has been, wide open, as we see dramatized in the naked body and bleeding heart of Jesus….It seems we needed an image that shocking, dramatic, and compelling or we just could not get the point, see ourselves, or trust the Great Love.”

At some time in the past the first reading on Good Friday was Hosea 6:1-6 in which God speaks through the prophet, “For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.” That is the good in Good Friday, God’s everlasting love for me. Jesus didn’t die as a sacrifice for my sins; he died in solidarity, in compassion, with my own suffering and failure. He is beckoning me to die to myself so that I may live in God’s love and goodness, to trust the contract that God sealed with Jesus’ blood. I have been so focused on these years on Good Friday by the shocking image of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion that I failed to see the good news.

This reading from Mark follows the transfiguration. Coming down from the mountain Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone of their experience until he had risen from the dead. Of course, they couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. They were really puzzled. According to Barclay, the rabbinic teaching was that Elijah would appear three days before the Messiah. “On the first day he would stand on the mountains of Israel, lamenting the desolation of the land. And then in a voice that would be heard from one end of the world to the other, he would cry, ‘Peace cometh to the world. Peace cometh to the world.’ On the second day he would cry, ‘Good cometh to the world. Good cometh to the world.’ And on the third day he would cry ‘Jeshuah (salvation) cometh to the world. Jeshuah cometh to the world.’ He would restore all things.” The Jews thought that Elijah was continually active in heaven and on earth and would be ‘the herald of the final consummation.” Some of his followers believed that Jesus was Elijah who had been exalted to heaven along with Moses. Jesus here meant that Elijah had indeed appeared in the person of John the Baptist. He and John were both heralds of the Messiah. At the same time, Jesus is now linking the Son of Man (his term for himself) to the Messiah with the message that he, Jesus, would be treated as violently as had John.

What Barclay writes about the disciples for me relates to Rohr above, “They still did not understand, and their failure to understand was due to the cause which always makes men fail to understand — they clung to their way and refused to see God’s way. They wished things as they desired them and not as God had ordered them. The error of their thoughts had blinded them to the revelation of God’s truth.”

I can relate tot he disciples, trying to puzzle all this out, trying to make sense of it all. It was so contrary to their education and expectations. When I think in one way like I have all these years about Good Friday, it makes it really difficult to change to a new way of thinking and, hence, understanding. I think I made some progress today. I feel that I am no longer trapped outside the veil, separated by the curtain from God, the Great Love.




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