The story of Christ’s suffering, death and Resurrection is one I have heard countless times. Each year since I was old enough to comprehend the words I have heard the Passion retold during Holy Week. Then, too, numerous Scripture readings throughout the year refer either directly or indirectly to these events that form the basis of our faith. We believe that Jesus, fully human and fully divine, is the Son of God who was born of woman and allowed himself to be crucified so that he could make of himself a perfect offering to atone for the sins of all mankind, you and me included.
I have always believed this story, although it was not until recently that I understood the fullness of Church teaching about it, and even today I cannot claim that I completely appreciate Christ’s sacrifice. Many years ago, rebelling against the religion of my forefathers, I pointed out with much defiance that I never asked Jesus to die for me. I didn’t realize then that the love with which our Savior acted was so great that he gave himself even for ungrateful people like me in hopes that we would turn to him and accept the gift he so freely offers.
Each Sunday when I recite the Creed and every time I pray the rosary I say Jesus suffered and was crucified, but these words sanitize the torture he endured. Intellectually I understand that, having been brutally whipped, with thorns pressed into his flesh, and having fallen three times while carrying a cross much too heavy to bear, he would have been bloody and bruised even before the nails were driven into his hands and feet, but when I gaze upon any easily available crucifix I see a man with unblemished flesh and at most a few dabs of paint to represent blood.
For all the years I have practiced the faith, the superficiality with which I accepted Our Lord’s passion never struck me. That changed last week as I came to the end of “The Navarre Bible St. Matthew’s Gospel.” This version contains extensive commentary that was for me very instructive. I learned, for example, that the word translated as “fool” in Matthew 5:22 is actually a term of utter contempt, which explains why calling someone by that name can result in damnation for the speaker.
But what struck me the most from the book was this commentary on the Passion: “Our Lord’s desire to atone was so great that there was no part of his body that he did not permit to be inflicted with pain – his hands and feet pierced by the nails; his head torn by the crown of thorns; his face battered and spat upon; his back pitted by the terrible scourging he received; his chest pierced by the lance; finally, his arms and legs utterly exhausted by such pain and weariness that he dies. ...”
This was the suffering undertaken by an innocent man who could have called down a host of angels to defend him, but instead he allowed all this to be inflicted upon his flesh, just as he permitted the torment of his spirit as his closest friends abandoned him, as his own people who only days before had hailed him with shouts of “hosanna” now called for his death, as the crowd mocked him. All of this was willingly undergone by one man so that salvation could be offered to every unworthy soul, me included.
Contemplating the Passion of Our Lord after all these years as if for the first time, I am appalled by the brutality imposed upon the victim and overwhelmed by his love, especially because from the depths of his sacrifice he asks for forgiveness for those who afflicted him, and in that call is included a plea for the pardoning for my sins.
In the face of that love, all I can do is fall to my knees, ashamed that only now do I acknowledge his sacrifice, but also thankful for his gift and full of praise for his glory.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.