As we reflect more deeply, we realize that all human lives are replete with suffering. Some have very heavy crosses indeed but all humans have their own way of the cross. How that way of the cross is walked makes all the difference.
We Christians are blest in that we have a model, a guide and a helper in that walk. Jesus showed us how to walk his way and he is always with us, holding our hand as we stumble and fall and get up again. When set in the perspective of God's care, Jesus' example and the Holy Spirit's guidance, suffering can become purifying and redemptive.
The Church wisely offers us many opportunities to reflect on Jesus' example by the Scripture readings at the liturgy and also by presenting us with visual images in the Stations of the Cross which, perhaps, we need to bring more to the fore in our Lenten pilgrimage.
The Gospels, written for different communities, give varied details about Jesus. Thus we gain a fuller and deeper picture of this God made flesh as his life and death cannot be contained in a few words.
Luke, a physician and more sensitive to pain, leaves out Jesus' crown of thorns. Only Matthew's Gospel, which has stronger words, mentions the earthquake at the death of Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus asks the Father that the suffering he is about to undergo be removed from him but in John's Gospel, Jesus says "what should I say - 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour" (12.27).
Read the four accounts of Jesus on the cross. Note the differences in Jesus' statements. Luke's Gospel emphasizes Christ's compassion, so Jesus from the cross shows that same caring: "Father forgive them . . ." (23.34). As John's Gospel stresses Jesus' faithfulness to the mission for which the Father sent him, John puts the final touch by Jesus saying, "It is finished" (19.30).
Which one is correct, you might ask? Remember the Gospels are not precise historical accounts such as we write history today. They tell the story of Jesus as seen and lived by his followers. They are also the fruits of early Christian reflection on the meaning of Christ's life, death and resurrection and are meant to lead people to Christ.
Christian artists, too, throughout the centuries, have given us diverse images of Jesus. We can see Jesus, the Jew, as white or black but also with other distinctive features, according to the needs of those for whom he is being depicted.
SO MANY VISIONS
As we gaze at Christ on the cross, we notice that sometimes, we have a bloody and bruised, suffering image of Jesus while at others, Jesus is in royal garments with a royal crown which point to his glorious resurrection.
When we look out at the world, we see the diverse crosses humanity has to bear from a mere ache or pain to the devastation caused by wars. Destruction by nature in floods and in earthquakes offers us a hard-to-understand, startling view of the fate of humanity today. Illnesses of various sorts, even for very young children, sadden us and make us wonder about the justice of it all.
Each of us bears a different cross. This was brought home to me a few years ago. Youngsters in a workshop setting were asked to make small wooden crosses for the parish for Good Friday. After the pastor had put a rough-hewn cross around each parishioner's neck, he asked them to take a good look at their own cross and at their neighbours' crosses, noting the differences.
He stressed that the crosses differed but we should not envy others' nicer crosses. In the same way, we must not envy what we perceive as others' easier crosses in life. Each person must accept his or her own crosses daily in faith while reaching out to help others carry their often more painful crosses.
We know that Jesus is there in our suffering, giving us strength to follow him to the cross and glorious resurrection. Paul asserts that by sharing in Christ's cross, we will share in his glory (Colossians 1.24-27).
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