Friday, March 25, 2016

Homily for Good Friday

Homily for
Good Friday
March 25, 2016
John 18-19
Christian Brothers, St. Joseph’s Home, New Rochelle

Who are you?  If you had been in Jerusalem in April 30 A.D., what part would you have played?
The Crucifixion, by Andrea Mantegna, 1457
Judas betrayed Jesus to his enemies.  He did it for what he loved most in life: money.  St. John portrays Judas as a materialist, one of those people who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  He sold out his friend because he thought it was to his own advantage.

Peter, on the other hand, was not a calculator.  He was quick and emotional, impetuous rather than reflective.  He said or did the 1st thing that came into his head:  defending Jesus out of earnest love in Jesus’ presence; denying Jesus out of fear in Jesus’ absence.  Peter was good-hearted but weak.

Annas and Caiaphas and the other Jewish leaders were concerned about their people, concerned lest the Romans impose a still harsher rule.  They were concerned for the purity of the faith.  But their religious and national zeal led them to an “ends justifies the means” policy.  They decided that Jesus was a threat to the whole nation and they had to get rid of him at any cost.  Their motto may have been “Do whatever it takes.”  To them Jesus’ innocence was irrelevant.  So they corrupted their worthy goals of religious and national freedom.

“Another disciple,” an anonymous one, followed Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard.  This man ran a certain risk to be near Jesus.  Whatever he did was so quiet and self-effacing that we don’t even know his name, only that it was important for him to “follow Jesus closely” and to help others, like Peter.  If this was the beloved disciple, as is often supposed, this was his 1st step being close enuf to Jesus to the end to lend him moral support.

Pilate was a man of the world, an ambitious man, a politician.   He saw clearly enuf what was right but was unwilling to risk doing it.  He was personally opposed to killing an innocent man but unwilling to impose his belief on others, tho the decision and the responsibility were clearly his.

St. John is vague about the crowd that gathers before Pilate’s court.  Were they just the priests and scribes who had long opposed to Jesus?  Or were they some of the general population of Jerusalem?  Or were some of them pilgrims who’d come to the city for the feast?  Whatever their identity, we get the impression that they were a mindless rabble, a mob; they were carried along by the opinion of the moment, by a few catchy slogans.  Did they really know Jesus?  Did they know what they were shouting about?

The soldiers who executed Jesus couldn’t have cared less about him or the 2 criminals.  Executions and such unpleasant business were just part of their job.  They were only following orders.  Would it have made any difference to them if they had realized that Jesus was an innocent man falsely accused and falsely condemned?

Three or four woman and one man, all disciples, stood by Jesus to the end, silent and powerless, but reliable and faithful.  They didn’t care what people thought.  Their presence was Jesus’ only support in his dying hours.

Finally, two more disciples appeared, Joseph and Nicodemus.  Both men had already struggled with their fear of being identified as Jesus’ friends, for they were prominent men and could have lost reputation, influence, or more.  But they came forward with a certain boldness to do a last service for Jesus, no longer caring about popular opinion.  They were practical disciples who saw something needed to be done in Jesus’ name, and they did it.

Some of these varied characters are similar, some very different.  We see in them courage and cowardice, ignorance and loyalty, avarice and service, generosity and corruption.  Those qualities, motives, and attitudes determine how closely we follow Jesus, whether we stand with him, whether we do what’s right or even care what’s right.  The vital question is not what part we might have played in Jerusalem in April of 30 A.D., but what part we play now.

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