On Good Friday, we arrive at Calvary. With darkened skies, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels) note those present: the faithful women; chief priests; scribes and elders; and the two thieves who have been crucified (one penitent, one impenitent). Also included in the mix are the centurion, soldiers, and numerous bystanders. As we draw nearer, we see the lifeless body of Jesus that has been beaten, bruised, scourged, and pierced. We wonder how this has come to be. How is it possible that Jesus is so abandoned and alone? Where are His chosen followers and faithful friends?
In returning to the present, we acknowledge that we are but Monday-morning quarterbacks. Salvation history has played its hand. After man’s fall from grace, the prophets beckoned our return to God and promised that God would send a Savior. In John’s Gospel (3:16), God reveals His motivation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, God’s love for us is unmeasurable.
Over two millennia removed from the Crucifixion, most U.S. Catholic Christians are privileged to sit comfortably, listen, and reflect upon what happened on that first Good Friday. In silence, we ask ourselves: How would we have behaved? Would we have been among the faithful women or would we have fled the scene? While none of us know the answer, there seems a great likelihood that we would play the anonymous power described by Pope Benedict XVI:
Judas is neither a master of evil nor the figure of a demoniacal power of darkness but rather a sycophant who bows down before the anonymous power of changing moods and current fashion. But it is precisely this anonymous power that crucified Jesus, for it was anonymous voices that cried, Away with him! Crucify him!
Now for those of us who are etymologically challenged, a sycophant is a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important so that they might gain an advantage. In other words, a sycophant is a yes man, a bootlicker, and a brown-noser. How many of us see ourselves this way? How many of us simply go-along to get-along? How many of us seek the path of least resistance so that we do not offend the behavior of others or appear as judgmental?
But has not Jesus taught us right from wrong? Has God not given us the Commandments and written His law and life upon our hearts? Nevertheless, how often do we look the other way when we are confronted with that which is wrong? Through our unfaithfulness, can we say that we are any different than those who denied knowing Jesus or fled His presence when the powers of evil came calling? By our actions, have we not abandoned Him in the public square—where His presence is needed the most?
Some years ago, I remember meeting a friend at a restaurant where we were served by a kind and gracious waitress. At the end of our meal, we thanked her for the hospitality she had provided. As we were leaving, however, our conversation turned to faith. After my friend and I noted that we were both fathers, she responded that she was the mother of three. She told us how her teenage children had been chiding her for taking them to Mass and how they “proudly” pointed out that their friends’ parents—don’t. I asked her why she takes her children to Mass. Like Mary, she proclaimed that God has done great things in her life and that it was her desire to share this divine gift with her children. In short, she wanted her children to know that God loves them.
On Good Friday, isn’t this the message? As He hangs before us, does not God remind us that despite our transgressions and turning away from Him, that He always remains with us and for us. By His infinite love, He never turns from us, but allows each of us the freedom to turn away from Him.
Love, as we know, is a two-way street.