SURVIVAL and S A LVAT ION
By MOST REV. T.
D. ROBERTS, S. J. OF SYGDEA 1111./W many Chiistiians on Good Friday? The question is not the idle one it might be if it referred to Good Friday, 1961. In fact it refers to the first Good Friday.
Would you have been a Christian (in the sense of believing Christ's divinity) if you had been on Calvary? I'm fairly sure I would not. My reason for thinking so is that I appreciate all too well why the Apostles "did not believe".
Let us suppose you are one of the thousands of strangers in Jerusalem for the Passover. A public execution is one of the attractions for visitors, and you learn that one of the three criminals is a very unusual character. The inscription over the central cross confirms this: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews". The King wears a ghastly crown of thorns on a bleeding head.
You try to gather from thc crowd's reactions something of the criminal's record: every comment, every jeer reflects the contrast between claim and achievement. "You who were going to destroy God's temple and in three days rebuild it, now save yourself and we'll believe that you are the Son of God." But the body only writhes again and the angels he had declared to be at his disposal don't appear.
From the soldiers the same taunt: "Great King of the Jews, save yourself now."
Above all, the men who, you learn, have the biggest stake in debunking claims that threatened their own power, the priests, kept shouting: "You see, he claimed to save others; he can't save himself. He's only got to come down from the cross and we'll all believe that he's the Christ. He trusts in God; let God deliver him, is he not God's very Son?"
And then the other criminals; not one but both at first taunted him: what more natural? Alone they shared with Jesus the agony of crucifixion. They knew the story of his power and his compassion for sin and suffering: who ever needed so much the exercise of that power? If he did nothing for them or for himself, it could only be because he could not. How natural to curse him in their pain: "If you are the Christ, then save yourself and us."
WHAT was it that worked the change in the "Good Thief"? That inspired his appeal to a King about to enter His Kingdom? We have a hint in his comparison of his own life with Christ's: "We receive the due reward of our deeds; hut this man hath done no evil."
The saint just canonised by Our Lord Himself knew the good Jesus had done, knew the monstrous injustice of the legal murder, knew the power of this King todestroy his enemies and hears his prayer, repeated possibly at intervals: "Father, forgive them; they don't realize what they've done."
So a criminal becomes the first to verify the prophesy that not in power will Jesus draw hearts to Himself, but, as now, "lifted up."
So it was to be with all His Apostles save Judas. But not yet Read the story in the four Gospels of the few days after the entombment. Think how deeply they had ever shown themselves imbued with the notion of a glorious, powerful Messias: even at the last supper they quarrel on the basis of their dignity in the new Kingdom. And how should they, after Calvary not echo the human reactions of the Jewish people watching the impotence of good overcome by violent power?
Read the four Gospels carefully, and you will find disbelief, demoralisation not less in the apostolic body than in Thomas.
The women believe, yes. That is another source of pain and embarrassment to the men. For eight days Thomas held out even after his brethren had capitulated before the risen Christ. He knew how the Master had died. Only the personal sight and touch of Jesus could now satisfy Thomas.
He wants . .
AGAIN, suppose yourself on Calvary and moved by compassion for the three crucified. Wasn't that woman the mother of the Nazarene? Can't someone do something to end such pain?
Alone, the "Good Thief" had come to see Jesus as the Master of the situation: for He, Jesus, saw the plight of His murderers as far worse than His own, prayed His Father to make them see just that. To the women lamenting His fate on His way to Calvary, He had said: "Weep not for Me but for yourselves and for your children."
The only thing to be done for Jesus is to give Him what He wants, what He came for. He had willed pain, labour, death. But He had thought of His death as a man does
of a surgical operation, sacrificing one limb to win a healthy body. The body Jesus thinks of is not His physical one, but a body of countless millions of human beings, a body of which as Firstborn of all creatures, true God and true Man, Ile is Head and Heart.
WHAT He wants then is that every cell in that body should be united to Head and Heart. thinking, loving and willing as one.
Jesus never preached phrases like the "Mystical Body." Always. stories and vivid pictures. Of all these the most important is the Judge's telling us how to win acquittal and Heaven. Again. imagine yourself a stranger in Palestine listening to the Carpenter's son uttering the words recorded by St. Matthew (ch.25).
This man. disowned and hated by the official Jewish priesthood says that He is to be the judge of all human beings, highest and lowest. More even than that, every human being will be judged by his or her attitude to Himself personally, even 100.000 years before His birth! A man who talks like that is either mad or—what he claims to be.
He claims the right to come in "His majesty", all His angels serving Him; all nations before Him. He separates the good from the wicked. His the verdict on Heaven or Hell. He the ground of His verdict: "I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat; / thirsted and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you brought me home; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me." For this, the reward of Heaven. For the neglect of this, eternal separation from Him.
1DERHAPS the most profitable meditation for theologian or for child would be to weigh every commandment, every sin in this balance of the Judge's own choosing.
Here is one suggested application to the divine command most topical at the moment: Thou shalt not kill. I am not arguing here for any one solution to this moral prob lem. But if only because my desk at the moment is littered with letters from many countries with propositions for questions on war to the General Council, I do suggest this examination of conscience appropriate to Good Friday: If many at this moment are in prison (in Communist countries? Yes. In "Catholic" countries? Yes) for asking questions such as democracy gives us the legal right to ask. may we not have a moral duty to ask them? The duty was in part fulfilled by those who signed the petition published by the CATFIOLIC HERALD and by "Pax" at a time when it took courage to do so. It has taken over two years to get the reply. but this seems to grant at least the substance of our request for an expert examination preliminary to the Second Vatican Council. The promise lies in the recognition of a possible field for research in survival and salvation shared by all lovers of Christian values.
For us Catholics, intelligent search for truth in charity may be the balm for members of Christ's body tortured by war and by its cost.