Jesus Falls the Third Time -Full Text

Way of the Cross 9

The Third Fall

The Third Fall

The ninth station; Jesus Falls the Third Time

In this month’s column I want to look at the third fall of Jesus. Just as with the earlier falls,I can’t find any reference to the fall in the gospels. The three falls are included for a reason. They carry a message for us and we have to figure out what it is. What is the significance of this third fall?

The number three has had a mysterious significance for people since ancient times. Mathematicians list a whole range of special features of the number three. For example, according to Pythagoras and the Pythagorean School, the number 3, which they called triad, is the noblest of all digits, as it is the only number to equal the sum of all the terms below it, and the only number whose sum with those below equals the product of them and itself. Three is regarded as a magic number.

Storytellers often used this in their tales. Think of children’s stories like the three little pigs. The story repeats with the big bad wolf attacking the pigs in turn. At the third pig’s house the wolf is defeated. This pattern is repeated in other stories, even some modern films. We might expect the third fall to be the end of the story on the way of the cross. After all Jesus is now exhausted. He has lost a lot of blood and has had a night of torture and no sleep.

When Jesus falls again he knows what awaits him. There is no place to go. Why does he get up? That is the mystery here. He could easily have lain down and died there without the humiliation of the cross. Why, then,did he get up and struggle on? Jesus knew that he had to die in humiliation. He died to conquer death and save mankind, but the manner of his death had to convey a message to those who chose to follow him.

In searching for the message I’m drawn to the image of a man suffering and on the verge of death pulling himself up and pressing on to face something even worse. That’s a message which strikes home today as we face calls to change the law to allow euthanasia. Why should someone suffer when they could die in dignity? Why should they not just give up? Jesus gives the answer to that question. His life had a purpose and he could not give it up before that purpose had been served.

Each of us enjoys the great gift of life. Our lives also serve a purpose and we must keep going till we have served that purpose. Some might ask what purpose can be served by someone dying a long, lingering death? I have not been there, yet. I do remember my great aunt who lay dying in hospital for what seemed like many months. I would drive my mother and grandmother to visit her every week. Each time she seemed to get smaller and smaller. I remember the last time I saw her before she died. She lay there, skeletal, praying her rosary for the souls in purgatory. She still had a purpose

His Holiness, Pope John Paul II also saw the need to make a point about the sanctity of life. As he aged his body deteriorated and he suffered debilitating illness. Many people both in the Church and outside thought he should retire and make way for a fitter man. He decided otherwise and carried on in his vocation.

I’m sure he would have made his decision after spending a great deal of time in prayer. He was reminding us of the message Jesus gave us in the manner of his dying. Everyone has value, the poor, the sick and the dying. John Paul may have been physically wrecked but mentally he was fit to carry on.

I believe Jesus’ message to us was to show us how we must value the gift of life and the reason we have it. That is not the only message he left us.Jesus showed us something about humiliation. Nobody wants to be humiliated. None of us want to be ridiculed in public. When Jesus allowed himself to be humiliated before the mob around the cross he was sending us a message. When people humiliate you they do it for a reason. The Jewish authorities had to humiliate Jesus in public to protect themselves. They wanted to put an end to his teaching that exposed the hollowness of their own teaching. By humiliating him they hoped discourage his followers and remove the threat to their authority.

How often do we see this today when someone can’t be overcome in a debate and their opponent makes personal attacks on them? How often are people howled down in Parliament when their opponents have no answer to their questions? The message of the ninth station is clearly that we should never be afraid of being attacked or abused for our faith. In fact we should be happy when we are abused for being a follower of Christ. The abuse is not only a conformation of the correctness of our cause but it is much more.

Suffering abuse for the faith allows us to share, in a very small way,the humiliation that Jesus suffered. It also gives us an opportunity to show others that we can face up to the abuse and not give up our faith. Recent events in the Middle East have given us the example of Christians who were faced with the choice of giving up the faith or being killed. Many fled before the Isis terrorists but some gave up their lives, some beheaded in front of their children.

We are more fortunate than those poor souls, but their sacrifice should be an example to us. Where we are expected to do much less than them, surely we should be ready to stand up and be counted for the faith.

This is the purpose that the Christian has in life. Our lives are a gift and we are asked to use that gift to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God. We may all have different roles in life but we are all expected to bear witness to the Father. We can do this every day. We can do this at home and at work. We must bear witness to everyone we encounter, every day.

We bear witness by behaving as Christ would in dealing with the joys and fears, pleasures and pains that life puts before us. We show the world a better way by our reaction to the problems of the world. How do we react to those who are suffering at the hands of Isis? What do we do about the refugees from the fighting in Syria? We can make a financial contribution but, is that it? Can we walk away safe in the knowledge that we have done our bit?

The Christian calling is not a simple matter. Trying to be like Christ is setting ourselves up to fail. We will never match him. It’s not about succeeding but about how we go about failing to match our Saviour.

My September column: The Ninth Station

The ninth Station on the Way of the Cross;- Jesus Falls the Third Time.

The Third Fall

The Third Fall

Why is this significant? Why did he fall only three times? Why did he get up again?

For my thoughts on this mystery get your copy of the Scottish Catholic Observer this weekend. It’s out today. My column should be there.

If you are away on business or holiday or still have your head tucked under the blankets duvet afraid to find out the result of the referendum then the full text will appear here next week. The paper is better though with so many other interesting writers. (Should I have left out ‘other’?).

The Seventh Station – Jesus Falls the Second Time


Jesus Falls the Second Time

Jesus Falls the Second Time




This month I’m looking into the seventh station on the Way of the Cross. Jesus falls for the second time. The second fall should not be unexpected. Jesus was getting weaker with loss of blood. Yet a second fall brings with it the warning that this will continue. I wrote earlier about tripping on a kerbstone in Paris and the shock of the fall. The problem is when tripping becomes normal.


Last year I found myself suffering with sciatica. I thought it would go away by itself but it got worse. What can you do? I went to the doctor and he sent me for physiotherapy. I thought that was helping but found I was stumbling when I walk. It now appears I have a worn hip so I just keep taking the tablets. When I walk I sometimes find my foot doesn’t go where I meant it to go. Tripping and the consequent fall has become a feature of life now.


Jesus’ second fall is a metaphor for sin. Just like my occasional fall, falling into sin becomes a feature of life. We can think of a fall from grace or a fall into sin. Falling into sin makes sin sound like a trap and so it is. I don’t know about you but I can excuse myself by thinking that a sin is not serious or is not harming anyone. That’s the trap. Just like my problem with tripping falling into sin is a normal part of life. We need to be aware and ready for the unexpected.


Now, in sin, I’ve changed my perspective. I’m seeing things slightly differently. When my perspective is distorted my decisions get distorted too. I’ll give you an example. I’m six foot two and I can reach for things on high shelves but often get into bother because if you measure me I’m only five foot eight. I have a similar problem with cameras that don’t capture my full head of hair. I think you get the picture.


If my view of reality is distorted then my relationship with others will be too. My sin distorts my view of the world unless I realise that I am wrong and do something about it. To return to the analogy of the fall, you can’t get up unless you know you are down.


This was brought home to me recently when I read on Twitter about a woman in America who threw her children out of the window. That was disturbing, shocking. What was more disturbing were the comments added by other readers. They posted all sorts of suggestions about the sorts of torture that the woman should suffer.


The comments were based on the view that this woman is evil. Nobody suggested that she might be suffering from some psychological disorder and be in urgent need of help. Was this based upon the perception that we are good and guiltless and the woman must be evil? If so then we are in the trap of sin. None of us are without sin. Once we realise that we can look with compassion on others.


Another example I found in the news was the funeral of Fr. Kenneth Walker who was murdered trying to defend his fellow priest in Phoenix, Arizona. A group of protesters from Westboro Baptist church demonstrated with placards at the church. They are an unaffiliated church and have been demonstrating at the funerals of service personnel who died in Afghanistan. They claim that these things are God’s punishment.


I suppose that’s an old idea of God. It’s a picture of a vengeful God who is watching out for us to fall into sin and take revenge on us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus came to save us, not condemn us. The sufferings and falls we contemplate in the Way of The Cross are how Jesus took the punishment for our sins. God is always ready to forgive. We just need to turn back to Him.


How often have you heard people talk about Catholic guilt? The story goes that we are brought up in an atmosphere of sin and guilt. This causes all sorts of psychological problems that are only solved when you give up religion. Of course it’s all nonsense. Being aware of sin and the effects of sin on our lives gives us the opportunity to change and improve life. As Catholics we have the sacraments to help us be reconciled with Jesus and rid ourselves of any burden we feel.


If we are forgiven, free of sin, then we are in a position to treat others in the same way. We should be able to “forgive those who trespass against us”. How much evil in the world is committed because of perceived wrongs others have done to us? There are wars in Africa and the Middle East caused by real and imagined wrongs. How much better the world could be if we were more ready to forgive.


We can look to South Africa for a great example of this. The black people in that country had faced oppression under the Apartheid regime for decades. Families had suffered great injustice and brutality. When the regime fell there could have been terrible bloodletting as people took revenge. Instead there was a system of Truth and Reconciliation. People could own up to what they had done and were forgiven. The bloodbath was avoided.


So how do we get out of the trap? It’s not easy. You know the story about the man who took a shortcut on his way home from the pub. He cut through the cemetery and fell into a grave dug for a funeral next morning. Try as he might he could not get out so he sat down to wait for morning. Soon another reveller fell into the same grave and tried to climb out. The first man tapped him on the shoulder and said “You’ll never get out.”. But he did with one jump.


Who can give us the tap on the shoulder? Who can help us out of the trap? Obviously Jesus is the one to turn to. In Jesus we can find the compassion we need to help us. We can find him in the sacrament of reconciliation. Some of us find that very difficult. We can’t shrug off the feeling of guilt and can’t bring ourselves to take that step into the confessional. In this second fall we see Jesus, in his agony, get up and take an even more difficult step. He encourages us to do the same.


I had a friend who had been away from the Church for years. After attending the funerals of two lifelong friends in succession he decided it was time to set things to rights. He told me he went to confession, ready for a hard time from the priest. He was surprised to find that rather than a hard time he was welcomed back and his sins forgiven. There was a visible change in him. He was a happier man in his dealings with everyone.


When we see Jesus get up from his second fall in the seventh station we should be reminded that no fall is too great for his compassion. No matter how far we fall or think we have fallen Jesus is there to help us up again. So let’s forget about guilt and concentrate on forgiveness. Jesus is ready to forgive us and we must be ready to forgive one another.


Joseph McGrath

When Falling Becomes a Habit

My monthly column should be bublished early this month. I’m told it will be in this weeks issue of The Scottish Catholic Observer. It deals with the seventh Station on The Way of The Cross, Jesus falls the second time. Is this about falling over? What could it really be about? Does it have any meaning for you and me?

Get your copy of the paper this weekend. If you are off to Turkey or some other exotic place you can get the full text here next week.