Good Friday homily by Fr. Claude Perera
First Reading: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 (Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant of the Lord)
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 31:2-6, 12-13, 15-17, 25 (David facing a death-threat from his own son Absalom) Response: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” – Luke 23:46)
Second Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 (Jesus, the High Priest Who Knows What Human Suffering Is)
Gospel: John 18:1–19:42 (The Passion of Jesus according to John)
Today’s first reading is the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant of the Lord found in the second part of the Book of Isaiah (Chapters 40-56). In its historical context, it depicts a corporate personality of the exiles consisted of the prophet and the Israelite exiles in Babylon. They were treated rather tolerably and benevolently at the beginning. But after the Israelite exiles defied the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar to everyone in the Babylonian Empire to perform emperor worship, they were made to go through enormous atrocities. These can be seen in the cruel tortures to which Daniel and the three young men were subjected (Cf. Dn 3:1-100). This figure of the Suffering Servant is a prototype or a pre-figuration of the passion of Jesus.
In the second letter from the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author speaks of cultic high priests of the OT who were incapable of understanding human sufferings, rather they contributed to the same exploiting the poor and needy. But Jesus the supreme High Priest who came from God, was yet able to understand human sufferings because he totally identified himself with human frailty except sin. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews invites us to approach Jesus Christ, the throne of grace and mercy when we are facing sufferings. What a consoling thought to the humanity fallen victim to Covid 19 virus that Jesus is with us in our suffering and anxiety. The reading further says that Jesus offered up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and tears, during his life on earth to the one who had the power to save him from death and he learnt obedience through his sufferings. Dear friends, we pray that we make Jesus’ obedience our own as we suffer, and we keep inspiring courage to all around us who are suffering and continue our journey of faith.
Today we read the passion narrative according to the Gospel of John. The gospel of John is divided into two major sections, namely, the Book of Signs (Chapters 1–12) and the Book of Glory containing the passion (Chapters 13-21). The passion is a very cleverly written narrative into which John has put some of his theological motives. Johannine Jesus is truly human who submitted himself to vicissitudes of human nature, but he was also the Son of God. John never uses the word ‘suffer’ (Greek psk¯) in his gospel. Unlike the three synoptic gospels, John downplays on the idea of suffering. For John passion is not the moment of Jesus’ defeat, but the moment of glory. Read the Johannine passion narrative slowly and see for yourself to see how Jesus is in full control of the situation. John does this with the help of the literary technique called irony. Irony is to say exactly the opposite of what is denoted by the words. For example, apparently, Jesus is being tried if we take the words of the gospel at their face value. No, he is not being tried in fact, but the ones that are really being tried are the forces that were opposed to Jesus symbolized by the Greek term kosmos meaning the world opposed to Jesus. They pronounce their own judgment on themselves. Pilate is apparently the judge, but he is not the true judge. Instead, Jesus is the real judge who is judging his accusers. His eloquent self-assurance frightens the high priest and intimidates Pilate who was wavering between various parties, desperately trying to save Jesus. The Church represented by his Mother and the twelve whose destiny looked desperately threatened is given the custodianship of the Beloved Disciple when Jesus said, “Woman, behold thy son.” Hanging on the cross, Jesus entrusts his mother to his beloved disciple, who took her to his home. Unlike in the synoptic tradition, He does not make the cry of abandonment, “My God, My God why have you abandoned me” quoting Psalm 22 used by the Jews in their night prayer; rather, His final words are words of decision and completion: “It is consummated or accomplished.” In the Gospel of John there is no separate event of the Pentecost. The moment of Jesus’ death becomes the moment of the Pentecost; because the Greek verb used to speak of the death of Jesus is paradid¯mi which means not that He gave up the spirit or died, but He handed over or transmitted his Holy Spirit. All these show that the crucifixion of Jesus, as narrated by John, is not a tragic end, but the beginning of the greatest victory ever. As Moses lifted the bronze serpent in the desert and healed those who were bitten by the fiery serpents, so does the Paschal Lamb hanging on the cross healed and saved the children of Eve struck by the serpent in Genesis.
Jesus’ broken body on the cross is a metaphor of the fragmented world. The Church itself is broken into many Christian denominations. Humanity is but a body broken into races, languages, religions, castes and classes. We minister as broken people to broken people. On a mundane plane, these are the suffering masses, victims of Covid 19, the sick, wounded, alienated, rejected, lost, anguished, confused, refugees, those deprived of the necessities of life are all part of this broken body of Christ. You would have seen the pictures on TV of a mother with her children in India who together committed suicide due to starvation caused the present pandemic.
On another level, there is moral and spiritual evil. Violation of God’s commandments, direct and indirect killing, bloodshed, violence, war, bio-chemical warfare, religions killing infidels in the name of God, hatred, anger, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, stealing, irresponsible living, immoral living, sinful socio-political structures that perpetuate injustice and cruel dictatorships, political slavery, neo-colonialism, misguided and frustrated youth, and poor in their many faces. Man has polluted and destroyed God’s creation taking the earth to self-destruction. Many have openly rejected God and his Church. This is the reality of the modern godless, materialistic and consumeristic civilization. We have become earth-bound rather than a heavenward people.
The Paschal Lamb died because of this sinful world in order to reconcile it with God. His passion continues in the world. Can we change our ways? Rather than crying for Jesus, let us cry for and with one another. Can this be a more loving and sharing world? In God’s unfathomable love, the broken body of Christ is forever transformed into the full and whole life of the Risen Christ. Can we bring humanity the hope for which Jesus died? The, “truth” that stands before us is the figure of the humiliated Jesus, ridiculed and crucified Jesus dying for our sins on one side. However, on the other side, we stand before the truth about a God who loves and forgives us fathomlessly. He is a God who refuses to give up or reject or destroy what he has created in His own image and redeemed by the precious blood of his son. Let Good Friday give us reason to hope, to carry on, even to rejoice in view of a better future, a better humanity and a better earth. By the grace of the Risen Christ let us keep transforming our crucifixions into Easter victories.