My March Column – Full Text

The Third Station

Jesus falls under the weight of his cross

The Third Station: Jesus Falls The First Time

In this station we recall the first of three falls Jesus experiences on his journey. I looked through the Gospels but there is no mention of Jesus falling by any of the evangelists. Why do we think of Jesus falling and why three times?

I suppose it is reasonable to think that Jesus, in his weakened state, must have stumbled on the way through the city. The early pilgrims who followed the path that Jesus was led along must have realised from the rough nature of the paving that Jesus would have fallen and the falls have become incorporated into the way.

There must be more to it than that. There must be a message there somewhere. Three is a peculiar number. It was thought to have special powers by early people. It is the first triangular number and is used in folklore and early stories that have become fairy tales. There are three little pigs; the wicked witch tried to kill Snowwhite three times; there were three blind mice; the list goes on.

I tried to imagine a fall. What is it like to fall? I don’t need to imagine, I have fallen, an unpleasant experience. My wife and I were in Paris for a short break a few years ago. Our coach stopped to allow us to view the Eifel Tower. I had my good camera and ran across the road to get a good spot for a picture. In my haste I didn’t notice that the kerbstones were not all at the same height and I tripped. In trying to save my camera I landed heavily on the paved surface.

I was bleeding and shocked. A fall leaves its mark. The consequences of Adam’s fall left us in the perilous state we are born into, needing salvation, needing a Saviour. The link between ‘fall’ and ‘sin’ was brought home to me recently on Ash Wednesday. The Priest said, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”. He dobbed my forehead with ashes. This is a very positive message. In the past the message was “Remember man that thou art dust and into dust you shall return.” followed by a dusty looking mark on the forehead. The faint dusty mark was a good reminder of the dust I would return to.

When I got home I went to wash my hands and was shocked to see a big black mark on my forehead. This was no pale reminder of the dust I will return to. I was marked, marked as a sinner. Friends remarked that the priest had “really got you!” It stood out and reminded me that I really am a sinner. It was a bigger shock than the fall in Paris.

I realised that this was what the third station is about. We are sinners. If we are going along to the stations of the Cross, seeing ourselves as the good folk, not like those others who don’t appear, than here we are reminded that we are not as good as we like to think. We are the sinners Jesus came to save. We are all in this together, to use a contemporary phrase; we are here as a result of Adam’s fall. It is in our nature to sin. We were created with free will and we can choose to do good or evil. All too often we do not choose good.

This first fall reminds us that Jesus was fully man and experienced all the difficulties we are open to. He understands that we sometimes find ourselves in circumstances where we are prone to fall, to fall into sin. Jesus’ capacity for understanding sinners is the truly amazing feature of his life on earth. His sympathy for sinners shocked the right minded people of the day. The fact that he spent time with sinners and even dined with them seemed to mark him out as a sinner too. When Jesus forgave sins that really marked him out as a dodgy character.

At the first fall Jesus gets up again and carries on. He must have damaged himself, falling onto a rough path with the heavy cross on his back. His struggle is now harder, more painful. We too can get up again and carry on. We have the great gift of Jesus’ forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation to help us back on the road. What is there to stop us?

Well, in my case, probably pride, shame, embarrassment or some combination thereof. How can I go to confession and come away without that feeling that a great burden has been lifted from my shoulders? I’ve given a lot of thought to that question. The best answer I can find is that we don’t often encounter complete forgiveness in our human contacts. It’s out with our normal experience. My mistake is to forget that Jesus is not simply another human. He is also God.

All too often, I think, we try to make God like one of us. We should really try it the other way round. I should be trying to be like Jesus and see things the way Jesus sees them. When was the last time I looked down on someone? Who do I see when I look at other people?

I remember an account of a school visit by my Irish colleague when I was with Missio. She had a visiting nun from Uganda, Sister Fortunata. Fortunata was a big, unstoppable woman. My colleague Jackie took Fortunata to a local, Dublin primary school to give them an idea of how the missions worked in Uganda.

Fortunata asked the children if they had ever met Jesus. They answered that, of course, they had not. Fortunata told them to turn to the person next to them and say “Hello Jesus”. She impressed on them the fact that we meet Jesus in every person we meet. This was a great teaching point but Fortunata, by her nature, had to take things further. Everybody had to be addressed as Jesus.

All that day the school was filled with “Hello Jesus”, “Jesus, I like your new haircut”, “Jesus you are looking well today”.  The school remained in that uproar ‘till long after Fortunata had gone. I heard the head teacher nearly had a breakdown.

At the time I thought Fortunata was crackers. In fact she was dead right. How often do I remember that I meet Jesus in other people, in every other person? In this station we see Jesus as a broken and bleeding man in torn clothes being taken to die a shameful death. Would I have recognised him? Do I recognise him in the unfortunates that I see every day?

I have failed in this so far, but I have also learned that my failure is only a fall and I can get up again, even though that might be difficult, and start on the road again. This time I will try to remember that the people I meet are just people like me and if I look closely enough, look beyond the clothes and the wear and tear that life has brought on them, I might be able to see the face of Jesus.


Joseph McGrath


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