(Holy Thursday, 5 April 2007; Canberra, ACT Australia)
(As the date indicates, I have written this short reflection in 2007, after attending the Mass of the Last Supper at the St. Joseph’s Parish in Turner and O’Connor).
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. (Luke 23, 34)
Hanging on the Cross, Jesus was a figure of everything that is ugly, unpleasant and painful. His trial was so swift, so was His death. Crucifixion was the way the Romans implemented the death sentence to criminals and seditionists- those who tried to overthrow the Roman powers at the time. Therefore, crucifixion was a common sight. That is why the biblical accounts of Jesus’ death are so “matter-of-factly”. Surely there were some other ways to implement the death sentence. But it was crucifixion that was deemed the most horrible and painful.
By doing so, the Romans would send a very clear warning to those who were tempted to be adventurers and try to topple the government. That was why Jesus was to carry the Cross and be crucified. He was a criminal, accused not of any ordinary crime but the crime of trying to supplant the King of Rome by claiming to be the King of the Jews.
The idea was to have a long painful death, basically by suffocation. That was why the bones of those sentenced with such horrible death must be broken to ensure this suffocation effect, the loss of energy and reflex- coordination to lose the ability to breathe. But this never happened to Jesus for He died immediately. Yet, in spite of all these, we hear Jesus having His final words.
In a sense, technically and theologically, these are not the final and last words of Jesus. He spoke with His disciples after the Resurrection and He continues to speak to us now through the Scriptures and through the Holy Mother, the Church. But we must rather call them the Last Words of Jesus before His death on the Cross.
The marvel of these all is that Jesus was still able to utter these words despite all the pains He was undergoing. We must assume that His physical strength must have been consumed. But the spirit never was. First lesson, then. Human struggle is not only a physical struggle. The spirit is involved. Any ideals and aspirations can only be accomplished if we put our body and spirit into it. The total person is involved. There is no dichotomy.
Jesus gave us the example. Another and more communitarian one. Do we not observe anything unusual about Jesus’ first word? We must observe that His first word was a prayer. A prayer for what? Forgiveness. Forgiveness for whom? For His enemies and those who maltreated Him, those who inflicted Him and did so much harm, those who were in unison in shouting and asking for His crucifixion. Jesus did not pray for His family, His loved ones, His disciples, on the Cross.
He prayed for His enemies and His persecutors. In our daily life, we may be meeting people who displease us, who simply disgust us, people who blatantly discourage us. And it is not always the case of we being displeased. We might have offended other people and became “enemies” to them. Do we pray for them? Do we ask for forgiveness? I am aware that it is humanly difficult. But, our Master did it 2000 or so ago. There is no reason for us to do otherwise.
“Father, strengthen me to do what is asked of me with my whole self, spirit and body. Enlighten me to pray for my enemies, the people whom I find difficulty dealing with, and the people whom I displeased. Amen.”