April 10, 2009


Jesus’ seven last words

If you were unable to get to Good Friday services today, we hope you will spend some time meditating on Jesus’ crucifixion.

We suggest you read Chapters 18 and 19 of John’s Gospel, which was read during today’s services. Or perhaps you could pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, make the Way of the Cross, or meditate on Jesus’ last seven words.

They weren’t just seven words, but seven things that the Gospel writers quoted Jesus as saying as he hung on the cross. We’re not sure exactly how long he hung on the cross. Mark’s Gospel says, “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him” (Mk 15:25) while John’s Gospel says “it was about noon” (Jn 19:14) when Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.

None of the four evangelists quoted all the words we think of as Jesus’ last words, but those they considered, for their own reasons, as the most important.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34): Jesus asked forgiveness for the soldiers who had nailed him to the cross. They were carrying out their orders, not knowing who Jesus was. Indeed, they were instrumental in carrying out our redemption.

“Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43) he told one of the criminals dying with him after the man said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). This is a lesson to us that it is never too late to repent.

“Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19:26), Jesus said to his mother, referring to John, and, “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27) 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 only 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 us all.

As Jesus hung on the cross, the mockery by those passing by continued: “He saved others but can’t save himself,” and, “Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Mt 27:42). How strong the temptation must have been to do exactly that! But Jesus had said earlier, at the time of his arrest, “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53).

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46 and Mk 15:34): These are the opening words of Psalm 22 and Jesus probably prayed the entire psalm. How accurately the psalm described what was happening: “All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and leer” (Ps 22:8), “They tear holes in my hands and feet” (Ps 22:17), “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Ps. 22:19).

“I thirst” (Jn 19:28), Jesus said, perhaps still echoing Psalm 22: “My throat is dried up like baked clay, my tongue cleaves to my jaws” (Ps 22:16).

“It is finished” (Jn 19:30), he said, perhaps the most important of his seven last words. His mission on Earth was complete. He had accomplished what his Father had sent him to do—restore the harmony with God that had existed before sin disrupted it.

No mere human, no matter how holy, could take on the sins of all humanity and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. Only Jesus could do so, because only he was both God and man. He redeemed us by his death.

In that way, he showed his love for us. As St. Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). And St. John’s Gospel tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

Therefore, Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46), part of still another psalm (31:6). And lowering his head, he died.

—John F. Fink

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