Jesus on the Cross Teaching Us how to Respond to Unjust Suffering

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Jesus is teaching his apostles privately away from the crowd in today’s Gospel (Mark 9:30-37). It is the apostles’ time in seminary before they will continue Jesus’ ministry after Pentecost. He gives them a startling teaching, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” (Mark 9:31) Jesus the innocent one, the meek one, the humble one, the lowly one, will be handed over to men who will kill him. Not only did they crucify Jesus but for hours he was in agony on the cross. The Gospels describe various different groups of people sneering at Jesus and insulting him as he was dying on the cross. The words of our first reading today, from the Book of Wisdom (2:12,17-20), about wicked people deciding to attack a just person, could just as easily describe what wicked people did to Jesus when he was on the cross:

For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put him to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience. (Wis 2:18-19)

What happened to Jesus on the cross is what happens throughout history. Sometimes innocent, good, meek and lowly people are badly treated and sometimes killed. In recent weeks (2015) one horrific example of this has been making headlines; the videos exposing what happens to the unborn and to babies taken alive from their mothers’ wombs, which are too graphic and disturbing to even mention in a homily.

Sometimes the Church is the subject of hatred and anger and distorted or untruthful comments even by people who believe in Christ, and often for the same reasons that Christ himself was crucified, because of teaching that challenges to repent and convert. If someone insulted your friend you would feel uncomfortable, and if someone insulted your spouse you would feel insulted yourself. People forget that the Church is the bride of Christ, Christ founded the Church; he called the apostles from the disciples, and commissioned them to continue what he did. Insulting the Church is insulting Christ’s spouse. How does Christ feel when his spouse, the Church, is insulted? Surely we can say it is a repetition of what happened to him when he was on the cross.

How did Jesus react on the cross during this time of unjust suffering? His seven last words, as we call them, show us exactly how he responded to the cruelty of others, and how we can respond to unjust treatment that comes our way, beginning with his first word, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Jesus prayed for those who were crucifying him and when we pray for those who cause us pain it brings us healing. Jesus’ second word, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) reminds us that when we are in need like the good thief and reach out to Jesus he responds to us. His third word to the apostle John, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27), as he asked John to care for Our Lady following his death, also tells us Our Lady is our spiritual mother, so when we are in difficulty we can turn to Our Lady, our spiritual mother in heaven who is always there for us. Jesus’ fourth word on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) is the first line of Psalm 22, which again and again describes in a prophetic way so many of the details of Jesus’ passion, e.g. “they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps 22:16). This Psalm, associated with King David, comes from approximately a thousand years before Jesus when crucifixion had not even been invented as a form of capital punishment, centuries before the city of Rome itself which used crucifixion as capital punishment, was founded. Jesus prays this psalm not as a cry of desperation but knowing that the details of his passion predicted in this psalm are now being fulfilled and so this is Jesus trusting in his heavenly Father and in his plan revealed centuries earlier in Sacred Scripture. It reminds us that when we have crosses we also can continue to trust in the Father like Jesus his Son on the cross and not be afraid. The fifth word, “I thirst” (John 19:28) is Jesus not only dehydrated on the cross but even more, thirsting for our love. When we suffer we can stay close to Jesus because he is always thirsting for our love. The sixth word, “It is finished” (John 19:30) is Jesus stating he has completed all the Father asked of him, he has given his life as a sacrifice to the Father for us and reminds us that when we suffer we can unite our sufferings and offer them with Jesus to the Father for the salvation of the world. The final and seventh word, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46) shows us how Jesus died, in perfect union with his Father, a model for everyone when the moment of their death approaches, serenity at the end of suffering.

What an embarrassment it is to find the apostles discussing among themselves which of them is the greatest in today’s Gospel immediately after Jesus told them he would be killed. They still had much to learn about what being a disciple of Jesus means and they did learn and we see after Pentecost they were fearless in witnessing to Jesus, even to the point of being martyred. Eleven of the apostles were martyred, so they imitated Jesus’ death by the way they also died. With the benefit of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost and looking back, they could see how silly they had been discussing which of them was the greatest after Jesus told them he would be killed. They could have kept that embarrassing incident out of the Gospels since they were the source, and Peter was the source for Mark when he wrote his Gospel in Rome. But the apostles did not try to cover this up, they allowed it to be seen how silly they were so that we can see a new perspective is necessary to follow Jesus, no longer the perspective of the world, but the perspective of Jesus.

The wicked in the first reading deciding to attack a just person anticipate the mocking Jesus received on the cross. Jesus reacted to the injustice of the cross with his seven last words showing us how to respond to times of suffering, injustice and trial in our lives. Jesus told the apostles in advance about his cross but their reaction was an embarrassment, however they took on the perspective of Jesus and died as Jesus died, modeling their lives and deaths on Jesus, as they later understood correctly his words, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2015

This homily was delivered in a parish in Pennsylvania.

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