At the Foot of the Cross

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

His ministry began and ended with wine. This is something that I never considered. The gospel of John has only record of His first miracle. Water transformed into wine. It was the best wine the steward had tasted. On the Cross, the people gave Him sour wine in return. The transaction was complete. “It is finished.” Now, we wait for Him. We wait and see what God is going to do. We have taken the best from Him and in return we gave Him the Cross. What can we expect from God? Do we deserve anything good from Him?

Perhaps we might think that we are different from the people who jeered and mocked Him at the Cross. We like to think that we are better than them. I believe that the people who heard the final words of Jesus wished that they had been better. They wished that they had remained the crowd that shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” and not become the crowd that demanded, “Crucify Him.” Alas, they were the same and one crowd. We are just like them. We have the potential to welcome God joyously into our hearts and at the same we can murder Him with our words and actions. We are no different from those people. They are us and we are them. We are saints and devils at the same time. We can do despicable things believing that we are doing something good. Then we take refuge in our intentions. We claim that we had good intentions. The people who crucified Jesus had good intentions. The religious leaders believed that it was necessary to kill Jesus for the sake of the nation. Everyone had good intentions. It was not enough. At the foot of the Cross, all this becomes clear. One thing is for certain we cannot remain as we are. Something needs to change. How many times are we going to crucify the One that can truly transform our contradictory souls?

There were those who wept for Him at the Cross. They were the strong ones and yet, they were helpless. They knew what was right, but they could not do anything about it. They could not speak. Their voices would have been silenced by the anger and hatred. They could only weep. They thought that they were lamenting all the things He suffered; His humiliation, His tortures, the cruel mocking and the treacherous treatment from the people whom He loved. He who hung on the Cross corrected them.

Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. Luke 23:28

At the foot of the Cross, all our frailty is revealed. All our illusions are shattered. All theories of us being essentially good lose their foundation. We are not evil and we are not good. We are just lost. We destroy the things that can save us and uphold things that contaminate and poison our souls. We cannot keep our focus on the good because we just don’t know how to recognize it. Those who are able to see goodness are often helpless. The truth is we are all helpless. No one wants to be evil, but we end up in the middle of something evil and we cannot resist it. The Only One who could resist was crucified. He had a choice but he accepted the Cross. It was necessary. He wanted us to realize who we are. We are not evil beings. In some ways, we are much worse. We are people who believe in goodness but seem to do the contrary. At the foot of the Cross, this becomes clear at the moment when He said, “It is Finished.”

These are strange words but they moved the heart of a seasoned soldier. In His death, the centurion saw Jesus’ victory. He proclaimed,

“Truly this Man was the Son of God.” Mark 15:39

It was a title given in ancient times to emperors and great conquerors. A centurion who knew that victory means the defeat and humiliation of one’s enemies proclaimed Jesus as a victor at the Cross. He was at the foot of the Cross with the rest of them. He witnessed everything from the start to the end but his eyes were opened to see something powerful. He saw Hope. He saw the establishment of a new Kingdom. He saw a new kind of King. Jesus began His reign on the Cross. It seems absurd to make such a claim. For those who believe in the false image of humanity such a claim is deserving of disdain and mockery. The Cross is meaningless for them. However, whenever I look at the Cross, I see Hope. The words, “It is finished” are not a judgement on our frailty. They are a promise that this agonizing conflict in our souls is not eternal. It can end and be overcome but we need to go to the foot of the Cross. We need to go there and face our true selves first before we can see the Hope that hangs on the Cross.

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A Personal Holy Week Reflection

I can’t really remember what I was looking for on the book shelf when I found this old copy of the gospel of Mark. Perhaps I was in the mood to read something. I opened the gospel and read the opening lines.

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

I was eleven years old.

Since it was Holy Week and I thought to myself that maybe I should just take a few minutes to read the gospel. I don’t think I had planned to read the whole gospel. Like any average eleven year old, my attention span was gravely limited and the gospel of Mark looked like a lot of reading material for someone my age.

For some reason, after the reading the first line, I was drawn almost immediately into the text. I remember it as if it was yesterday. My whole being was absorbed into my inner reading world. My voice in my head narrated the story and my soul just listened deeply and consumed every word that was spoken. It felt like time had stood still for the moment and my attentions span was suspended in a timeless space. As I read about the things Jesus did and said, He became more than a mere personality in a story. He became real being and yet not real as in a real personality in a biographical narrative. I felt His presence in the room. The other players in the stories became irrelevant at that moment. It did not matter what they did or said. Their doubts and faith did not register to me. Only the person of Jesus was alive.

As I kept reading and my sense of His presences in the room became stronger. I won’t say that the gospel was clear to me. I did not understand the parables, I did not understand many things I was reading as I understand them now. However, I remember sensing in my spirit that there were deep and profound things being said. In my soul, there was a growing sense of awe and reverence whenever Jesus responds to the Pharisees. None of those who unjustly accused Jesus invoked any emotional feelings in me. There was no anger or hatred towards them. There was no disappointment when Judas betrayed Jesus or when Peter denied knowing Him. My eyes and hears were focused on the Son of God. Everything in mind was empty except for the person of Jesus.

When I read Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, my whole being was captivated by those words. No Hollywood production could have penetrated by entire being the way I felt when I read those words alone in my room. When Jesus breathed His last breath, the veil of my heart was torn from top to bottom. It was the first time in my eleven years that I felt the helplessness and injustice of His death. I responded in a way only appropriate for an eleven year old, I buried my face in my pillow and cried. I was afraid that some family might walk into the room and see me crying. I locked the door so that I could be free to mourn the death of Jesus.

The gospel spoke to me in a real way that day. No one sat down and explained anything to me. It wasn’t necessary. The person of Jesus had become a real person to me. He had stepped out of the stories that I heard on Sundays and became a living person to me. At that moment, I did not know what to do but I knew I had to do something with my life. Jesus was too real for me to go on living my life as if He was still trapped in the pages of Bible. He is real and life could not be the same after this day for me. It took a few years to do something about it but the fire was ignited on that particular Holy Week.

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Self-Destruction or the Truth: A Good Friday Meditation

And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”- John 11:50

Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”- John 18:37
Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”- John 8:32

Caiaphas thought that he was saving the nation when he persecuted Jesus. We often overlook this part but the High Priest believed that he was doing something good and he ended up trying to destroy Life itself.

This is not just the unfortunate paradox of Good Friday, but it is the tragic reality of life. People who desire to lead a happy and free Life are the very ones who engage in a self-destructive lifestyle. These are not your drug addicts or common criminals. Caiaphas and the crowd that shouted, “Crucify Him!” were not such people. They were people who wanted the best things in Life and they ended up destroying the only One who could lead them to Life itself. They were not evil people: they were blind to the Truth. They refused to listen to the Truth.

Pilates asked, “What is the Truth?”-John 18:38

Jesus never answered Pilate. Jesus was not ignoring him. The question was a good question but Jesus did not have an answer to it. For Pilate, the Truth is a “what”. Pilates was expecting a teaching or a a doctrine.  However, for Jesus, the Truth is a person. You cannot teach a person to someone. They have to meet the person who know him or her. The Truth is a person.

Until we meet the Truth, we will engage in self-destructive habits. We will settle for false notions of happiness because only Truth can lead to freedom and happiness. When we talk to the crack addicts or the homeless children, as well as adults, they will say that they are the only ones who have freedom. For them, they think true freedom and happiness is being able to do what one pleases. There are some who engage in criminal activities because they want money to buy fancy clothes and have the latest technology. For them, true happiness is having possessions and being respected for what you have. They are no different from your average person except that we can see the self-destructive consequences of their mentality in a clear and distinct way. The affluent are able to hide their self-destructions more effectively. In the gospel account, the religious authorities were walking the path of self-destruction because they believed that the path of happiness was in upholding religious doctrines. Being religious, whether Christian or otherwise, is not a guarantee of the knowledge of Truth. If we believe that the truth is a “what”, then we won’t be able to recognize the Truth that is a “who”.

Today we remember that the Truth was hanging on the Cross. It seems like an irony that the Truth that set us free could not set Himself free. It is a stumbling block and it sounds like foolishness. However, before we receive the Truth, we need to know that Life without the Truth is a life that leads to death. It is a life of self-deceit. It a life that is full of contradictions. Jesus was the Truth that sets us free from our lies and we need to see the consequences of our lies in order to embrace the Truth. The truth is that our lies destroy the very essence of Truth in our midst. However, Truth is greater than the power of lies. In order to discover this, we first have to go to the foot of the Cross.

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The Silence of Jesus

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.-Hebrews 4:15

And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent.-Matthew 26:62-63

Jesus kept silent. His silence was perhaps a judgment or perhaps it was an acceptance of the way things are. The trial was unjust and there was nothing Jesus would say or do to change the outcome. Perhaps, silence was the only appropriate response.

Just outside our apartment building there is a small group of homeless adults. The people have grown accustomed to their presence here and consider them to be part of the neighborhood. They don’t beg for money. They do odd jobs to help them buy food and clothes. One of them is called Natal which means “Christmas”. He is a 40 year old man and has been homeless for so long that he has given up hope of ever living in a house. Natal and his friends have their own bed cushions and they even have a small cabinet with pots and pans which they bought or had given to them. Every weekend, they cook in the streets and when we walk by they always invite us to have a meal with them. Last week, the police came by and took everything that belonged to Natal and his friends, including their pots and pans and their cushions and blankets. We met Natal after the fact and of course, he was upset and depressed. He looked resigned as well. This was his life. The only thing he said was that they stole his personal belongings purchased with his own money. It was his property. However, it seems like the homeless have no rights to personal property. There was nothing Natal could do, except to remain silent.

I have witnessed this scene several times. A grave injustice is committed against the homeless, whether adults or children, and all they could do is lower their heads in submission and remain silent. Anything they say would only aggravate the situation. They can only remain silent.

Jesus allowed Himself to be in the shoes of those whose rights are ignored. In fact, Jesus did not imagine that He had any rights when questioned by the authorities. Jesus understands how Natal felt. Or rather, Natal might be able to understand what the Lord went through better than us. However, it does not end just with the silence. The silence is a recognition that the justice in this world is an imperfect justice. However, the One who is epitome of Justice understands how Natal feels and He has experienced what Natal is experiencing. The Silence of Jesus is a not a sign of defeat. His silence exposed the so-called justice of this world. It reveals its limitations. Natal got back what he lost the next day. The police did not return his things. The people in the neighborhood gave Natal their cushions and pots and pans. We saw Natal smiling. He said God is my advocate. He is right. Jesus knows what Natal felt and only Jesus can bring true justice for the Natals in this world.

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