April 14, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: He was crucified

See Matthew 27:33-66, Mark 15:22-47, Luke 23:33-56, John 19:17-42

The evangelists don’t go into detail about the horrors of the Crucifixion. They say simply, “They crucified him.” Their readers knew full well what this method of execution entailed and Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ doesn’t exaggerate it.

The Gospels report seven things that Jesus said while hanging on the cross. Mark’s Gospel says that it was 9 o’clock when Jesus was crucified and he died at about 3 o’clock, although John’s Gospel says that Pilate condemned Jesus to death at noon.

The first three of Jesus’ last words show that he was still thinking of others:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He was asking forgiveness not only for the soldiers who had nailed him to the cross, but also for our sins for which he was dying.

“Today, you will be with me in Paradise,” he told one of the men dying with him, thus giving hope to everyone that it is never too late to repent.

“Woman, behold your son,” he said to his mother, referring to John, and, “Behold your mother” to John. This scene has been interpreted both literally, as Jesus’ concern for his mother, and symbolically with Mary as a symbol for the Church. If Jesus was just concerned about his mother, he could have made arrangements for her at any time, not waiting until he was on the cross. Mary was given as the mother of all of us.

As Jesus hung on the cross, the mockery continued: “He saved others but can’t save himself,” and, “Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him.” How strong the temptation must have been to do exactly that!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus prayed in the opening words of Psalm 22. How accurately the psalm described what was happening: “They have pierced my hands and my feet,” and, “they divide my garments among them.”

I thirst,” he said, still echoing Psalm 22. “My throat is dried up like baked clay, my tongue cleaves to my jaws.”

“It is finished,” he said. His mission on earth was complete. He had accomplished what his Father had sent him to do. He had redeemed us by his death.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” he prayed, part of still another psalm (Ps 31:6). And lowering his head, he died.

To make sure he was dead, a soldier thrust a lance into Jesus’ side and, John’s Gospel says, “Immediately blood and water flowed out,” indicating that death really had occurred. (There might also have been a symbolic reference to the Eucharist and baptism.)

The women who had long accompanied Jesus witnessed all of this, allowing Mary and others closest to Jesus to have some measure of privacy at the foot of the cross.

Then Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea arrived to bury Jesus, while Mary Magdalene and the other women left to prepare spices and perfumed oil for his anointing. †


Local site Links: