My December Column – Jesus Dies on the Cross – Full Text

The crucifixion

Jesus Dies on the cross

The Way of the Cross 12 Jesus Dies on the Cross.

On the way of the cross we have been following the progress and suffering of Jesus as he made his way through Jerusalem to Calvary. We have been looking at each situation to discover what messages are contained there for us.

In this station we come to the death of Jesus. It is a scene of loss and sadness. It is also one of relief that his suffering has come to an end. His suffering has put our own pain into perspective. Is that what this station is about, relief that it is all over?

After all his suffering it comes as no surprise to us that Jesus dies. It did come as a surprise to Pontius Pilate. As we will see later, he thought the death would have come much later. It is worth looking at how the cross kills. Death on the cross was a slow process. The victim is suspended by his arms with his legs helping to support his weight. The effect of this was to restrict his breathing and as he tired more pressure on his breathing would eventually kill him. This was a slow tortuous process intended to inflict a great deal of suffering.

The crowd has gathered to watch the spectacle. Many laugh and jeer. We might find this hard to understand but it is worth remembering that public executions in this country only ended in the UK with the execution of Michael Barrett on the 26th of May 1868 outside Newgate prison. In the case of Jesus the crowd did not understand who he really was. When he cried out he was offered vinegar to drink, probably vinegar and water as a way of hydrating him and keeping him alive to extend the suffering.

How did Jesus behave in his suffering? He continued to teach us how to live. There were two thieves crucified beside him. To the thief who confessed his guilt and asked to be remembered he promised paradise. Before giving up his spirit he asked the Father to forgive his tormentors. There is a powerful message for us there. How easy is it to forgive those who we think have slighted us or hurt us? Yet here is Jesus forgiving not only criminals but the very people who have tortured and put him to death.

Pilate orders the victims’ legs to be broken to hasten their death as it was almost Passover. Breaking the legs of the victims meant they could not support their weight and the whole weight would act to restrict their breathing. The soldiers reported that Jesus had already died, much to the surprise of Pilate. Jesus was not to be ruled by death he was about to conquer death. At his death Jesus has now left his human condition, his work done. What was his final message to us?

Jesus had already taught his followers that the commandments could be summarised in two simple commandments.

 

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they got together and to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’

Matthew 34: 34, 40

 

Now in his crucifixion Jesus is revising that teaching. He goes much further. Jesus dies on the cross to save each of us. In doing so he demonstrates a love for us which is greater than love for himself. I think this is the most significant message Jesus gives us in his last act. The message is clear; Jesus’ sacrifice was to complete the Father’s plan for us. He demonstrated his love for the Father and his love for us. If we are to take up our cross as Jesus instructs us then we must love God and love our neighbour more than we love ourselves.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.’

Matthew 26: 24, 25

 

Does this mean we must all be martyrs if we are to be true Christians? That is too simplistic. It really means that our neighbour’s needs are not to be put aside until we have completely satisfied all our own needs. We can’t put off helping the hungry until we have had our lavish Christmas dinner. We might have to put off buying those nice shoes we saw in the shop window and spend the money on helping the victims of Ebola virus.

We can find lots of examples of people who put the needs of others before themselves. The medical staff who travelled to West Africa to treat Ebola victims, risking their own lives, come to mind immediately. Think of others whose lives are put at risk for the wellbeing of others. I recall watching a fire engine racing towards a block of flats and thinking, what kind of person will run into a burning building when everyone is running out? These are special people indeed.

We have example of priests and religious who give up a normal family life in the service of the rest of us. What does that mean for us? In marriage we must live not only with each other but for each other. Our lives are put at the service of our spouse and our children. Jesus dies on the cross. Our cross is to live for others, not too much to ask in comparison.

Now you might be thinking that this article is a bit serious for a Christmas edition of the paper. Surely we should be thinking of happier things at Christmas? Well, I think it is a fitting topic and I’ll tell you why.

At Christmas we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. A child’s birth is always a cause for great celebration. But, this birth is different. Jesus brings joy, not only to the family and those around but he brings joy for all mankind. This birth is more important than any other because it is the beginning of the process of our redemption. Jesus has come, not only to let mankind experience the presence of God among us but to teach us how to live with each other and to open Heaven for us.

The Nativity and the crucifixion are the beginning and end of Jesus’ time on earth. Without the Nativity there could be no salvation and without Calvary the Nativity would be insignificant. While we are enjoying our Christmas celebrations and visiting the child in the manger let us remember that this child came to change the world. His coming is a threat to many and a promise of salvation for all. He presents us with a choice; indulge yourself in the pleasures of this world or join with me in changing the world for ever.

It is tempting to just sing the carols, send the cards and wish each other ‘Happy Christmas’. It is surely a time for great joy and celebration. We will all be giving and receiving gifts but are we prepared to go further and take up Christ’s challenge and give up our lives?

Happy Christmas

Joseph McGrath

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Jesus is Nailed to the Cross – Full Text

A crucifix

The large crucifix in Nigeria

The 11th Station Jesus is nailed to the cross

 

In this series of articles I’m taking the Way of the Cross and pondering on what each station is saying to us. I must stress that these are personal thoughts and if they seem a bit strange then that’s about me rather than the Church. The eleventh station recalls that Jesus was nailed to the cross. We are all familiar with this.

I grew up in a house with a crucifix on the wall. My rosaries have a small crucifix on the end. Jesus nailed to a cross has been the wallpaper of my life. Every church I visit has at least one crucifix. Some are small and some are large they are all works of art. I expect to see a crucifix on a church, a classroom wall, in a home. It is just a familiar item.

A few years ago I read an article by a woman who had gone into a church and was shocked by the sight of a man nailed to a cross – a crucifix. What sort of people are these who have horrible things like that in their churches? I was shocked at her reaction. Had she never seen a crucifix? Where was she coming from?

In my Missio life I was on a visit to Nigeria and stayed for a few days in a parish in Lafia. I wandered into the church where the ladies were preparing for the harvest festival mass. The crucifix on the wall behind the altar (see the picture) was the biggest I have ever seen. It dwarfed everything and everyone. I literally fell on my knees. Now it was my turn to be shocked. I’m not sure why, perhaps it was the sheer size of the crucifix, but the thought in my head was, “What have I done?”

Now I’m sure you learned the same thing as I did at school; Jesus died on the cross for my sins. That is disturbing but this giant crucifix brought home to me the enormity of what happened. No other crucifix I have seen has had this effect on me. How do I deal with this? As usual I’ve pushed it to the back of my mind to pretend it is not there; but it is there and will not go away.

Peter Howson is an artist I have admired for some time. He paints picture that do not flatter but point the finger. He completed his “Saint John Ogilvie” for the refurbished cathedral on Clyde street and there was an exhibition of some of his preparatory sketches and paintings in the adjacent offices. I went along, eager to see how he had come to his final work.

The whole exhibition was very moving. One sketch in particular caught me. It was the face of Christ, crowned with thorns and terrified! This was not the quiet suffering face of Christ I had seen in many works of art. This was the face of a man about to go through an extremely brutal experience. He was about to be nailed to the cross. This image made me stop in my tracks. It was the first picture I have seen that conveyed the true horror of what Jesus underwent; and he did it for me.

Suffering is not something we are unaware of. If you are clumsy like me then you you suffer lots of minor accidents. Have you ever hit your finger with a hammer? I’m not trying to promote this as a hobby. It is very painful and produces all sorts of words your children should never hear. I have done this many times; take it from me, it is not to be recommended. It is even worse to puncture yourself. Getting a cut in the kitchen or even pricking yourself with a needle cause pain but it passes and soon heals.

Have you ever stapled your finger? That’s altogether different. It hurts on the way in and it is really painful on the way out. That’s because, unlike the needle or the kitchen knife, the edge of the staple is ragged. When they nailed Jesus to the cross they didn’t have the smooth, regular, machine made nails we are familiar with. In those days nails were made by hand by a blacksmith wielding a hammer. The nails were bashed out of bars of iron. There was nothing delicate about these rough-hewn pegs.

Jesus was held down and the nails were bashed through him into the wood. Most of the old paintings show the nails piercing his hands but more recent commentators have decided that it is more likely that the nails pierced his wrists. I don’t know if it makes a difference which one it was. In both cases the nails must have shattered bone and muscle. It is really too horrible to contemplate.

A few years ago, in 2004 to be exact, Mel Gibson directed a film called ‘The Passion of the Christ’. It re-enacted the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life. The Passion of the Christ is the highest grossing R-rated film in United States history, and the highest grossing non-English-language film of all time. It caused outrage. Some critics called it obscene. It was shown on television a few years ago and I decided to watch. I gave up watching at the scourging at the pillar. It was obscenr because it was depicting that was too horrible to watch.

Some complained that it was blaming the Jews for killing Jesus. Some complained that the extreme violence obscured the message. I don’t agree with either complaint. The film made me feel that I have caused this horror because Jesus died for my sins. The violence is part of the message. We find it difficult to deal with the violence because it reflects on us.

This year and especially during the month of November we have been looking back to the First World War. Our televisions have shown us the slaughter that both sides inflicted on each other. We have paid tribute to those who died for their country. We have solemn parades and use the poppy as a symbol of the blood let on Flanders fields. Yet we fail to look at the real horror. This was a war where new weapons were devised to kill more man more quickly.

Soldiers were killed by poison gas; flamethrowers were introduced to exterminate whole trenches of men. Machine guns provided mechanised killing. Aircraft were used to bomb civilians for the first time and battleships shelled towns on the east coast. Things only got worse from then on. Today we have weapons that can exterminate continents. We use advances in technology to bring the horrors of war to any place on the world, to any people and we can do it without leaving the office.

What is the significance of Jesus being nailed to the cross? Is Jesus showing us how we use cruelty and violence to get our own way? It was a warning to us. He showed us that it is in our human nature to be cruel. Despite the gifts of intelligence and science we have been given we can usually find a way to misuse them.

Why do I prefer the small crucifix on my rosaries to the large on that church wall in Nigeria? Well I suppose I find it hard to face up to the fact that it was my fault.

 

Joseph McGrath

This is a Difficult Business

I recently joined the Labour Party. I got my official Party card yesterday. I suppose that makes me a card carrying Party member, if I actually carry the card. Why did I do this? Am I a political animal with my sights set on taking power in some local council or even reaching the heights of political power? Well, no I’m not and I’ve avoided joining a political party all my life. I have always voted Labour and I’ve never made any secret of that. I have been put off the Nationalist cause all my life for some strange reasons, the Tories are, in my opinion, an abomination and the Libs (Dem or otherwise) I find mediocre and not to be trusted.

Some might expect me to have Nationalist sympathies and in some contexts I have. My grandfather smuggled guns for Michael Collins and faught in the Irish Civil War. He put me off Nationalism. He was willing to die for Ireland’s freedom but told me he didn’t go there to kill Irishmen. The Irish Troubles which resulted in the Ireland we have today were necessary and, perhaps, inevitable. What happened after the handover still hangs over Ireland like an enormous skeleton in the cupboard. There are beautiful places in Ireland which have an uneasy feel about them. Bad things happened there; things that had nothing to do with Ireland’s freedom.

I find myself more of an internationalist. I think that people all over the world are basically the same. We all need the same basic things to survive. Some people are terribly disadvantaged. Africa is an extreme example of this . It has wonderful natural resources but has been plagued by a history of colonialism. Europe is now plagued by people flooding in from Africa, looking for a better life. Who can blame them? People from Scotland have moved to all parts of the world with the same aim in mind. Surely what we need is a world where all people have the basic necessities of life.

I’ve visited people who live in mud huts and send beautifully dressed children to school, clean and tidy. I’ve visited people who spend most of their day finding clean water or firewood to prepare food for their children. We are all linked together. We can not ignore the plight of others either out of love for our fellow man or fear of how they will affect us. Nationalism runs contrary to this. It is all about what we can have for ourselves. It is dressed up in the clothes of Scottish history, heroes and battles but that is all smoke and mirrors. It’s all about greed.

My difficulty now is having a vote in the contest for Leader and depute of the Scottish Labour Party. I’m new to all this and I don’t really know the people involved. They all seem to be good people and I would find myself on their side. So who do I vote for? In the end I voted for Neil Findlay and Kety Clark. Why?

Well, it all came down to their history. Both candidated have worked in other fields befor entering politics. Personally, I think that we have too many politicians who have never been outside the world of politics and I thought it was time we had people who knew something of the outside world actually running it. It was difficult because I like all the candidates but that’s how my votes have been cast. I wish all the candidates well and hope for nothing les than a Labour government in Westminster and the SNP having to face up to the truth about their administration in Holyrood. I also have a Euromillions ticket running on Friday.