REFLECTIONS ON THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS
The First Last Word:
“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do”
Fr. Joeven MATUGAS, sx
The first word spoken by Jesus while his dying body was hung on the cross “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do”.
The very word uttered from the lips of Jesus…begging the Father for forgiveness of those criminals who nailed his hands and his legs on the cross….forgive them, forgive them, forgive them. In this present time, this remark “forgive them” is a very disturbing word. There is a sense of guilt. There a sense of shame. Jesus is crying forgiveness for the people who mock him, who spit on him, who scourge him, flog him, wound him, put him on trial, judge him, and nail him on the cross. Jesus is not establishing the probe of innocence for these people by saying “they don’t know what they are doing”. Rather he established his unending love and mercy for these people.
As human as we are, to forgive those who commit crime against us is just impossible. To forgive those people who hurt us, who wound us is just unimaginable. It might be an easier language to preach, to share and to talk but an intricate gesture to do. Jesus suffered a lot of pain; physical, mental and psychological. But He bears them all without complaint. I cannot just visualize the flogging and the sweat, blood and tears coming out from his weak body. When they nailed him on the cross, his hands outstretched and legs crossed, with his bruised and beaten body resist to breath. Indeed, he still cried for mercy to his enemies.
I definitely ask myself how much pain I encountered in life that has broken me down. Oftentimes, I made complaint because the pain I suffered was intense and too much. But it was all nothing compared with that of Jesus.
Here in Sierra Leone, I feel indignant when I see the socio-political condition of the country. There are more than half of the entire population living in poverty. I feel bad when I see that government officials unconcerned about the plight of the poor because of their personal interest and greed. I feel uneasy when the culture of corruption is proliferating through the entire sectors of society and all the agencies of the government. This is too much suffering. This is too much pain to bear. And yet we beg God to forgive all these government corrupt officials?
That is why our human knowledge, our language of mercy is very limited. We all experienced pain, sorrows and suffering in life. But all this pain is sanctified by Jesus when he spoke these words on the cross. We are shaken and disturbed by this word. It touches our human sensitivity in regard to many issues that confront our life within the society. Moreover, the mercy of the Father and the selfless love of Jesus are much larger, much bigger, much wider than we can think.
Sinner as I am, I would also cry to the Father to forgive me for acting against his will and for hurting other people, especially my neighbors and my friends.
The Second Last Word:
Today will be with me in paradise
Fr. Adolphe Khasa
The question I can ask myself is: What will happen to me after this life? Am I responsible what for will happen to me in the life to come? When we were catechumens, as children, they used to ask us where we would like to go after death: to heaven or to hell? They used pictures to describe what heaven looks like and what hell looks like. They are two pictures opposite to each other. Heaven or paradise looks naturally attractive while hell repulsive. Now we know that our human language cannot describe adequately what paradise looks like.
Perhaps the whole idea of paradise can be the hope of a human life better than the present life. A life which is free from any “cross”: sickness, hatred, wars… This hope rests also on a person’s free choice to start working daily on one’s future fate. God does not send people to heaven or to hell. Human beings are the ones choosing either heaven or hell through our daily actions and decisions. In fact, The Christian Bible presents to us the vision of a new heaven and a new earth where everything is just perfect. (Rev 21-22). However behind this image, there stands a long journey starting from Genesis all along until we reach this new heaven and new earth at the end. Therefore, each one of us is responsible for one’s own fate. Each of us is choosing daily either paradise or hell. We just need check our actions and habits.
The saints the Christian calendar presents to us: Saints Guido Maria Conforti, Lorenzo Ruiz, Mother Teresa, Peter Calungsod and others are shining examples of fellow brothers and sisters who have worked for paradise here on earth. Now we are sure that they are there in heaven. We are called to learn from them or better to copy them.
Now what about persons who are on sickbed (those nearing death) and those in like situations? God is so good that he opens the door to whoever knocks (Mt 7:7). Even while hanging on the cross, he continues to love. The experience of the repentant thief should jolt us all: Today you will be with me in paradise. The repentant thief made a decision by asking Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. It was granted to him.
However this is not supposed to be an excuse for us to start committing ourselves for our own salvation. Some wait until an incident happen to them before they start. Still others wait until they are at the point of death before looking for a priest. We are called to start building our own paradise here on earth. Death comes like a thief, it takes us by surprise. It can happen anywhere, at any time. What if it comes now, where will you go? Think about it!
The Third Last Word:
Woman, behold, your Son!
Fr. F.X. Sudarmanto
On the cross Jesus is dying in agony, gasping for a breath. He sees his mother, the one who comforted him throughout his childhood cuts and bruises, teases and taunts. When he was a boy he would run home to mother and instantly be wrapped in her protective, comforting mother-love.
But now as he sees her at the foot of the cross, heartbroken, weeping, inconsolable, his heart goes out to her. Rather than being consumed by an understandable concern for his own welfare, he is concerned about hers. Life will not be easy for her. “Woman, behold, your son!” “Behold, your mother!”
This poignant scene joining together Jesus, his mother and the beloved disciple reminds us that essential to Jesus’ mission was the establishment of the Church. Mary, who stands for all faithful Jews longing for salvation, is entrusted to the beloved disciple, who symbolizes the community of believers. Thus, from the longing heart of the chosen people of God, the Church is born and will thrive.
The disciple Jesus loved is the ideal disciple who remains always faithful to Jesus, even to Jesus on the cross. This disciple is given to Jesus’ mother as son. The true family of Jesus now consists of his mother, the natural family, and the beloved disciple, the family of discipleship. Here we see something about the extent of Jesus’ love. “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50 Mk 3:35).
As a missionary I learn and witness how the birth of the Church continues in this world through a family spirit and a process of discipleship. It is the conviction of St. Guido Maria Conforti that the goal of our missionary life is to make the world one single family. Now, the single family means people in every circumstance who are able to live in solidarity with each other.
It is a big challenge today. Just through the social media, we are able to capture the real picture of our world: hatred and violence, distress and suffering of people are just similar to the situation around Jesus crucified. We can hear again Jesus in these crucified people telling the mother Church and all of us his disciples to be signs of faithfulness, comforting and delivering our brothers and sisters who are crucified in our modern world.
The mission of Jesus entrusted to the mother Church and beloved disciples, which was also the dream of St. Guido Maria Conforti to make the world one single family, will come about through our missionary discipleship. It is by learning, understanding and doing the will of our heavenly Father, especially in the practical ways of building a society, living out the spirit of love and solidarity. The Church, you and I, are mother, brother, sister, disciples of Jesus, responsible to continue the mission of Jesus!
The Fourth Last Word:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”
Fr. Martin Ali Keke
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” Suffering is one of the mysteries of human life. Why do human beings suffer? Why does God seem to be silent when those he created out of love suffer? All these questions are really complex. They become more complex when it is Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, through whom we are sons and daughters of God, who seems to be forgotten by his Father.
Had God forgotten Jesus when they hang him on the cross? Our answer can be negative because Jesus overcame death, he rose from the dead. That can help us to understand that God did not forsake his beloved Son. Then, why God did not answer Jesus in that critical moment? According to Saint Paul, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co 5: 21).
Jesus suffered in order to justify us, to save us. Everybody abandoned him, both his enemies and his apostles whom he called friends. He even felt forsaken by his Father. During this Holy Week, let us ask the Lord Jesus, who saved us through his suffering, to forgive us.
In fact, very often we abandon him when we reject suffering people. Let us also remember that suffering is part of human life and it remains for us a mystery. Then when we suffer, let us not lose hope in the Lord Jesus who suffered for our sake.
The Fifth Last Word
“I am thirsty”
Fr. Marsel Rantetaruk
The entrusting of his mother to the beloved disciples is the final work Jesus performs; his mission of salvation is assured as believing Israel is merged with the community of the beloved disciple. The church will be born at the moment of Jesus’ death. After this Jesus knows that all was now come to the end. A final word is spoken: “I am thirsty”. This is indeed a unique Johannine touch. In Mark and Matthew Jesus is offered a sponge filled with vinegar after he cries out the words of Psalm 22. In Luke the offer of vinegar is clearly designated as an act of mockery on the part of the Roman soldiers. But in none of these instances does Jesus cry out because of thirst nor does he drink the vinegar offered to him.
Jesus is conscious that the moment of death is at hand, and therefore he deliberately cries out: “I am thirsty”. This act, the evangelist emphasizes, is done “in order to fulfill the scripture”. This probably refers to such text as Psalm 69:21 which speaks of the vinegar – “they gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”- and Psalm 22:16 which describes the thirst of the suffering just man – “my mouth is dried up like a potsherd (?), and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”
However, John’s incident goes beyond the traditional note of scriptural fulfillment. In fact the word used is not “fulfill” but “complete” the Scriptures. With his cry of thirst and the drinking of the vinegar Jesus “completes” the Scriptures. Completing the work of the Father- giving his life out of love for the world and thus returning in exaltation to God- this was “food” Jesus ate (4:34) and the “cup” he would drink (18:11). This was the driving force of Jesus’ mission. Therefore the cry of thirst that echoes over Golgotha is no longer a cry of torment- as the onlookers wrongly suppose- but a final act of commitment. Jesus thirsts for God and he thirsts out of love for “his own in this world”. Thus the radical thirst of Jesus completes all of the sacred promises of the Scriptures and brings the mission of Jesus to its summit.
The Sixth Last Word
“It is finished”
Fr. Marsel Rantetaruk
Jesus meets death with the same deliberation and majestic calm. There is no cry of dereliction (neglected) and no final mockery. Jesus is in full control even as his life ends. Now at the moment of death the great “work” of Jesus was about to be completed. One final word is spoken, a word in perfect harmony with the tone of the entire Johannine Passion story: “It is finished (tetelestai)”. The verb brings the life of Jesus to its goal. He has completed his work and returned to God.
The death of Jesus is at once a moment of exaltation in returning to his Father and a self-sacrificing act of friendship love for “his own”. Mounted on his cross-throne, Jesus has brought this great work to completion. Jesus dies with majestic assurance. The mission of redemptive love that brought the Word to flesh and animated his signs and life-giving words now reaches its summit and completion at the instant of death.
At first glance, it is obvious. Jesus’ work is done; he is now history. But, our personal history is always unfinished and subject to transformation at the hands of others. Jesus’ work is objective in its “facticity,”(actuality?) but the moment the disciples began sharing stories about the Teacher, Healer, and Savior, new histories began. Jesus’ ministry lives on in resurrection moments when the words and wisdom he spoke transform us and when his Spirit moves through our spirits, initiating a new creation and making a pathway within the wilderness of experience.
The words “it is finished” can be a relief. They can suggest that our suffering has finally ended and we will now enter into the rest of the saints. Even here, our death remains unfinished for we live on in memory, DNA, spiritual impact, and grief. Our lives may perish but they live forever more in God’s memory and the ongoing history of the universe.
The Seventh Last Word
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”
Fr. Marsel Rantetaruk
Jesus’ last words are a prayer shouted into the dark heaven: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. The words are taken from Psalm 31, one of the Bible’s most eloquent prayers that swings in mood from anguish to thanksgiving. Luke the Evangelist made only small change in citing the Psalm with the addition of the address “Father”. Three times in Luke’s passion narrative Jesus addressed his Father in prayer, entrusting his life to God’s will on the Mount of Olives, pleading for forgiveness on behalf of his enemies and now, at the moment of death. Luke clearly states that the spirit of trust in a faithful God accompanies Jesus in death: “And having said this, he expired” (v.46b)
Even though the powers of darkness seem triumphant, Jesus dies confidently, entrusting his spirit into the hands of his Father. The power of darkness has been defeated by Jesus’ trust in faithful God. Jesus was fully committed to God’s will and had set his face toward Jerusalem, remained faithful to the end. Jesus’ exodus was completed and he would return to God in order to lavish on the world the Spirit of forgiveness and salvation.
In so portraying Jesus’ death, Luke created a model of a heroic Christian death. Even in the agony of death, He witnesses to God’s life-giving and sustaining power.