This is a very wounded world we live in. No one is exempted from the wounds of society. This is what original sin is all about; because of our wounded nature, we keep on hurting each other, consciously or unconsciously, even though we desire to love and care for each other.
Indeed, when we reflect on the gospel text today, we can identify with the different characters in the passion play. In fact, this is what the Church expects of us. This explains why on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday, the congregation is asked to participate at some parts of the passion. The part the congregation takes is that of those characters that denied Jesus and the crowd who called for the execution of Jesus. In so doing the Church reminds us that all of us have different roles to play in the suffering, not just of Christ but of the world. Let us not be too naïve to think that we are suffering because others have done us injustice. That would be too presumptuous. We have our part to play in every problem, misunderstanding, quarrel or conflict.
So today, if you feel that you are alone in your suffering, assuredly you are not. The world suffers with you too. Most of all, Jesus suffers with you as well in His humanity and in His love for us. If you feel betrayed in relationship, especially infidelity in marriage, in friendship, even with close friends, Jesus went through that as well. He was abandoned by His apostles; even the inner circle could not keep vigil with Him in His final moments. But what is most heartbreaking is that one of the Twelve betrayed Jesus and sold Him out for money! If you were Jesus, you would have been heartbroken too. No wounds pierce our hearts deeper than those inflicted by people we love.
Equally painful for Jesus was to know that His chief apostle, Peter, lacked the courage to acknowledge their friendship even to a maid and some servants. That is how we feel too. In times of trouble, our bosses do not stand up for us. In times of failure, even our parents and loved ones condemn us. In times of need, our friends play us out and abandon us. Few stand up to defend us publicly, although in private they say they support us. This is the truth. Many lack courage to risk their lives to stand up for others even though they are right. We all want to be accepted and to be popular. We see which direction the wind is blowing and accordingly, we choose what is in our best interest; not for what is right. This was the case for Pilate as well. He saw the devious intentions of the priests, but instead of taking a firm stand on Jesus’ innocence, he allowed the popular wish of the people to determine the fate of Jesus for fear of losing his office and position.
Then there are others who are enslaved by past hurts and resentments. We find it difficult to forgive those who have hurt us, much less to forget the psychological pain. Some of us carry our wounds for years. We cannot forgive our siblings or even our parents for failing us. Indeed, much of our pains today is due to the inability to let go of those hurts that wound us deeply. We bear so much resentment. But what we see at the cross is the silence of those who had been wounded. Jesus was silent and only uttered words of excuses and forgiveness for His enemies. Mary, the mother of Jesus, grieved silently with Him but uttered no words of anger or hatred. With Jesus, she would have said in her heart as well, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Finally, some of us cannot accept our illnesses, our immobility or are still grieving over the death of a loved one. We are angry with God that we are not able to look after ourselves. We cannot accept that He took away our loved ones, especially if they had suffered a sudden death, such as in an accident, or even from a short illness. Departures are always painful, as they create a vacuum in our lives, knowing that we cannot see or touch or hear them anymore. Someone has to be blamed and we cannot understand why God is so cruel to take away someone whom we love and depend on so badly, leaving us alone.
What must we do? How can we heal our pains? The prophet Isaiah says, “through his wounds we are healed.” How do the wounds of Jesus heal us? Jesus’ wounds can heal us because He shared our sufferings.Not only did the Son of God share our sufferings, but He carried our sufferings on our behalf. This is because He was without sin and He suffered unjustly and innocently for our sake. “They gave him a grave with the wicked, a tomb with the rich, though he had done no wrong and there had been no perjury in his mouth.” Unlike us, He was not suffering for His sins. As Isaiah says, “And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. But we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through him his wounds we are healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way, and the Lord burdened him with the sins of all of us.” Jesus suffered to awaken us to our sins and to God’s love and mercy.
What is salvific is that Jesus not only suffered but He showed us how to suffer positively. Again, Isaiah said, “Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth.” It is not enough to suffer in life like a stoic but to suffer in a redemptive manner, using our sufferings to transform ourselves and to inspire others. It is how we suffer that will inspire others and give hope to them. When we visit patients in hospitals, we see some who are full of bitterness, anger, moaning and groaning and complaining. We leave the hospital feeling sad and sorry for them. But if we meet patients who are suffering much, but suffer with love and faith in God, sharing with us their faith in God and that they do not fear death, we leave feeling hopeful, encouraged and strengthened in our faith. We do not leave the hospital bitter with God in spite of the fact that the patient might not live.
Jesus is our leader in suffering and in salvation. He perfected His love for God and for us through the sufferings He went through. His love of God was not sheer sentimental love and nice words but a giving of Himself and His life. Before His enemies, Jesus was faithful to His identity. Twice He said to those who arrested Him, “I am He!” He was hinting at His claim of divinity. Before Pilate who thought he had power over Him, He said, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greatest guilt.” In no uncertain terms, He made clear His mission and identity. “Yes, I am a King, I was born for this, I came into the world for this; to bear witness to my truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” This is in direct contrast to many of us who succumb to our enemies. Instead of being true to our faith, values and identity as a Christian, we give in to the pressures of society, especially the secularistic values of the world that are consumeristic and individualistic and at times even anti-life and anti-love.
We are called to contemplate on the Crucified Christ. In the first reading, the suffering servant will be “lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.” This is the foreshadowing of Jesus being lifted up on the cross. Indeed, when we contemplate on the sufferings of the Crucified God on the cross, it is something beyond any human imagination; that God would die in Christ on the cross. Truly, “His soul’s anguish over, he shall see the light and be content. By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.” When we know that God who loves us suffered as much for our sins and identifies with us in our sufferings, we can accept the mystery of suffering even though we might not understand why, since God was not spared from suffering as well.
As we contemplate on the Crucified Christ, we find hope and courage. Regardless of our sins and weaknesses, we know that Christ will understand us for He has been through all trials, sufferings and temptations. “Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme High Priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin.” Jesus would have compassion for us more than anyone else. So none of us should ever feel unworthy or hopeless, for the Lord forgives us all our sins and He feels with us in all our temptations and weaknesses.
That is why we can “be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.” Like Jesus, we can be confident of God’s help. “During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.” With Jesus, in times of trials and even death, we too must say, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Let us not be afraid to accept His divine will and find peace for our souls. Through suffering, we will too learn true obedience and find peace for our souls as we learn to surrender everything into the hands of God. He will not abandon us. Mary and John and a few women stood by Jesus regardless. He was not all alone. And just as He sent Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus to give Him a proper burial, so too, God will send the most unlikely people to help us endure the storms of life.