Seven Words on the Cross
TWO THOUSAND years ago when Jesus Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary outside the city walls of Jerusalem the event marked a turning point in the history of the world. Christians believe that God incarnate suffered and died on the cross as a propitiation for the sins of all mankind. Others view it with compassion as the unmerited suffering of an exceptional individual who was innocent.
The seven utterances of Jesus from the cross, the seven `Words' as they are known are of eternal significance to those who listen to them, a heroic confrontation of evil inspiring millions the world over.
A kangaroo court convicted him. An irresponsible Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, failed to dispense justice. A belligerent religious establishment feeling threatened by his teachings had incited the fickle mob, ignorant of the truth, to bay for his blood. Jesus realised their moral blindness. Therefore his first words were intercessory: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do," a magnificent negation of revenge, pleading for those who were thoughtlessly evil, unaware of their criminality.
On either side of Jesus two malefactors were crucified for their crimes. One of them railed at him for his apparent powerlessness. The other recognised his innocence and admonished the first man. He asked Jesus to remember him when he went to heaven.
In the midst of his suffering Jesus was able to recognise the man's genuine repentance. Despite his own utter physical helplessness Jesus assured the penitent man, "Verily I say unto thee Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise," words of comfort from a victim to a fellow sufferer encouraging him.
Jesus looked down from the cross at his mother Mary mutely agonising over the sufferings of her first-born. Jesus' third utterance from the cross reached out to provide for the mother isolated in her grief.
He turned to his cousin John, his beloved disciple and established a new relationship between the two. "Woman, behold thy son, ... (and to John) behold thy mother." Out of his loneliness on the cross he was able to perceive the loneliness of Mary and provided companionship for her.
Now Jesus turned towards himself. The bitterness of the situation, the irony of it where were the countless people who had been healed and comforted by him during his ministry? made him cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It is the eternal cry of all those who see around them what W. B. Yeats described as a situation in which "the best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity." It resonates wherever there is oppression and suffering and the helpless bleed because they have no one to protect them.
The fifth utterance is a brief expression of physical agony in the heat of the afternoon sun: "I thirst." It echoes down the ages when a human being is denied the bare means of sustenance because of man's inhumanity to man.
The penultimate utterance after this great suffering is a triumphant affirmation of a task completed, the suffering undergone on behalf of all mankind, "It is finished." These words resound down the corridors of time as each martyr makes the supreme sacrifice for a cause.
The seventh utterance is one of total abandonment to God who is supreme: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Then he died. It is the affirmation of the great truth that all events are ordained by God. Man's role in the plan of God is to submit courageously to the Divine Will. As the great Italian poet Dante said, "In His Will is My Peace."
On the cross Jesus demonstrated loving discernment of human ignorance, selfless concern for a fellow sufferer, filial care, intimate relationship with God, acute deprivation, disciplined obedience to the will of God, and the unquestioning dedication of oneself to God.
The followers of Jesus believe that He rose from the dead on the third day. Instead of debating this it would be well to consider the magnificent role model on the cross who reaches out to every man and woman on this planet and teaches that the only way to peace despite our sufferings is virile obedience to the will of God.
ANAND KUMAR RAJU
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