She was a Hindu; but all the same, an active member of the Students’ Christian Movement. Then the shocking news came that she was diagnosed with cancer. She was admitted in a hospital. When we went to see her, I expected her to be very bitter. At such a young age to get such a sickness!
But when we met her, she was very cheerful. It was evident from the lines on her forehead that she was undergoing a lot of pain. But still, she appeared to be well composed as if she had taken it all on her stride. At last I mustered enough courage to ask her, “Geetha, how do you cope with such pain and suffering? Are you not bitter with God?” She smiled and said, “No”. Then she looked over our heads to the wall opposite to her. There was a crucifix. Pointing to that she said, “In my pain I look at that cross and think of all that pain Jesus suffered for me. Then my pain matters no more”.
We are so used to the cross of Jesus that we take it for granted. We don’t wait for a minute to think what Jesus must have undergone or what this could mean for us. For us, Good Friday is often a waiting for the celebration of Easter. But isn’t there something more to the meaning of Good Friday? Was all that suffering - passion - significant only in the context of the resurrection?
Many have looked at the cross of Christ as something inevitable because it gives a new meaning and significance to all human struggles against oppression and injustice. This is why when Mahatma Gandhi went to Vatican and saw a portrait of the crucifixion and could not take his eyes off it, wrote later, “It was not without a wrench that I could tear myself away from that scene of living tragedy. I saw there at once that nations, like individuals, could only be made through the agony of the cross, and in no other way”. And we know that Gandhiji had his own share of the cross.
Church has always considered the suffering of Christ as salvific. This is why right from the early ages, there was no effort by the church to downplay the fact that its founder had a humiliating death on the cross. During the way of the cross, we say, “We adore you O Christ because by your Holy Cross you redeemed the world”. Even the gospels are full of references to cross and suffering. It is what Christ offers to those who follow him, because it is the path to salvation.
Fr James Keller, the founder of the Christophers Movement, narrates an incident he witnessed when he was a chaplain in the US army. He went to bury a soldier who died while trying to save a companion. After the funeral was over and everybody departed, the man who was saved by the dead soldier lingered on. The chaplain was curious. He observed from far what was going on. When all the others were out of sight, this man took out a pen and scribbled something on a piece of paper, stuck it on the cross that stood at the head of the tomb of his friend, prayed for a while and left. The chaplain came back o see what was o the paper. It read, “Thanks Joe; you did it for me. I will never forget it”. This is something that we should all do when we stand in front of the crucifix. Look at Jesus on the cross and say to him, “Thanks Jesus, you did it for me. I will never forget it”.
Why did Jesus have to suffer? Even in pure human terms we can look at it this way.
1. Those who stand for truth and justice and fight against oppression and injustice always have to suffer. All those great leaders of history who made a difference in the lives of the people, like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, and Abraham Lincoln, all had to face a violent death. It is not the story only of the past. The deaths of Fr A.T. Thomas, Sr Rani Maria and Arch Bishop Oscar Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador are living and shining examples of this fact. Jesus fought against a culture of legalism and criticised those in power and influence. So his death.
2. Violence and pain are undeniable factors of human existence. We are dumbfounded on the face of the suffering of the innocent. If Jesus wanted to comfort these millions, what better way than being one of them, to be the innocent who suffers the utmost violence with the greatest composure? Now anyone who is in suffering can look up to Jesus and relate his/ her suffering with Jesus’ own.
3. There is no gain without pain. This is another human experience. To become a great sportsman, you have to kill yourself regularly on the play ground. If you want a high success in an exam, you have to sit up late at night and study. Jesus walked up to the throne of glory through no easy steps. His ultimate success was the result of so much suffering.
So we have somebody to look up to in our pain and suffering. Somebody who went through a lot of suffering unjustly, but with no complaints. And somebody, who even in the midst of all that pain, prayed for those who were causing him all that pain. Wasn’t this the greatest of all the miracles of Jesus?
We are often blind to the suffering of Jesus as we fail to see him as fully human. Look at this man who was rejected by his own people; condemned by an administration which was convinced of his innocence, but gave in to the demands of some religious fanatics; betrayed and denied by his own disciples and friends; and unceremoniously led to the death of a criminal outside the city. And all the time he knew hat he was going through this for the benefit of the same people who were doing this. No one can go through a greater suffering.
As we look at the cross today, let us acknowledge that if people have something to look up to in their suffering, if they can still smile in all their pain, it is because of this man up there on the cross. And surely he is one with our struggles, our sufferings even today. And let us tell him, “Thanks Jesus, you did it for me. I will never forget this.”