As we contemplate Our Lord crucified today, we behold a tragedy, the tragedy of an innocent man publicly executed. Jesus’ only “crime” was to identify himself as the Messiah, and that’s who he was; he did so to the Sanhedrin, so they decided to have him killed, and he did so to Pilate, who sentenced him to death.
His response leaves us as dumbstruck and confounded as the kings of the world mentioned in today’s First Reading. Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant is a description of Christ raised on the Cross: “…my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless…” He takes the punishments we deserve upon himself: “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” He doesn’t just say, “never mind, I forgive you”; he hands himself over to evil men to be tortured and executed. He teaches us how horrible the effects of sin are, not just to us, but to him, and that our sins have consequences. Yet Isaiah also reminds us that by his wounds we are healed. His suffering is not in vain. He has won pardon for our sins.
Today’s Second Reading reminds us that through this suffering Christ made salvation possible for us. Our Lord assumed nature to redeem us, but also to experience everything we experience as human beings except for sin. When tragedy strikes us we can rail against God, but Christ on the Cross reminds us that he is not ignorant to our sufferings because he himself has suffered. We know everything he has endured for us, therefore we know that when we’re truly sorry for what we’ve done he’ll grant us his mercy. We just have to ask. As Pope Francis reminds us, God doesn’t tire of forgiving us; we get tired of asking for his forgiveness.
As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus had his ID card hanging right over his head: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” It was meant as mockery, but it was the truth, the truth to which he had testified all along. If the execution of a guilty man doesn’t give us remorse (and it should, since it presents a failure of all society, not just the criminal), the execution of an innocent man should. This tragedy is even more profound when we gaze upon the Crucified One and remember that we should have been on that Cross instead of him.
An innocent man is dying, brutalized on the Cross, for us. Adam and Eve’s Fall and our sins incurred the death penalty. After all God had given us and done for us, we’ve repaid him by turning our backs on him, again and again. Even in his last words Jesus asks the Father to forgive us for our ignorance.
Today is a day not to dwell on the tragedy we inflicted on the good God who came to save us, but the love with which he did. Let’s die to sin and turn back to God and back to love.
Readings: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12–13, 15–17, 25; Hebrews 4:14–16, 5:7–9; John 18:1–19:42. See also Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, and Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion (2).