THE GOOD FRIDAY-2019: THE PARADOX OF DIVINE FOOLISHNESS (L/19)
Anecdote: If Jesus were here today he would be “wanted” by: The Liquor Licensing Board for turning water into wine without a license; the Australian Medical Association for practicing medicine without a license; the Health Department for feeding 5,000 people in the open with none of the servers wearing hairnets or gloves; the Education Department for teaching without a certificate; the Water Police for walking on water without a life jacket; the RSPCA for driving a herd of pigs into the sea; the Australian Board of Psychiatrists for giving free advice on living a guilt-free life; the Women’s Liberation Movement for not choosing a woman disciple; the Inter-Faith Movement for condemning all other religions. Jesus has always been controversial – even when He was walking this planet. His life was a paradox to his contemporaries.
Introduction: We Christians believe in a set of paradoxes and ironies. We believe that God had to become man to save man from the bondage of sin and eternal damnation. We believe that He did so because God loved man so much (John 3:16). We also believe that the best option for God to express His love for man was through the suffering and death of His Son. On Good Friday we remember the irony of how mortal men killed an immortal God. Paradoxically, the main accusation leveled against God by His own “Chosen People” was blasphemy – God Incarnate Jesus claimed that He was God. We believe that Christ’s passion and death in a remote corner of the world has universal salvific effect on the entire human race. (“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole” (Isaiah 53:5). “God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! … We were God’s enemies, but He made us his friends through the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:8,10). According to St. Paul these paradoxes form the core of God’s ‘Foolishness.’ The Christian theology of a suffering God faces a real challenge in a Christian country where we have Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, the Jews and other religious groups claiming their own ways of salvation.
To die for the sins of all mankind knowing that man would never stop sinning is a crazy act of a fool. So, in a sense, Good Friday is “Fool’s Day.” You and I as Christians are indeed FOOLS for Christ. “We are FOOLS for Christ’s sake,” (I Cor. 4:10) The Cross was “a scandal to the Jews and as folly to the Greeks”, Saint Paul tells us in his epistle (I Cor. 1:23). For a Divine Person to leave Heaven, come to earth, take on a human nature, and most of all to willingly die for the sins of mankind is FOOLISH in the eyes of the world. The Romans and the Jewish leaders thought Jesus a Fool to ask people to “love your enemies” (Mt 5:44), to “turn the other cheek”(Mt 5:39), and to “forgive those who wrong you”(Mt 11:25). Throughout history, the followers of Christ have been labeled fools, from the martyrs who preferred death to renouncing their Faith to the defenders of the right to life of the unborn.
The following anecdotes throw some light on the foolishness of the cross. A Jewish boy, Moses, was failing all his exams in the public school until his parents decided to send him to a Catholic school. At the end of the year Moses came out on top of the class. When his parents asked him what made him change so dramatically Moses replied, “You see, the moment I walked into that new school and saw that guy hanging on the cross, I knew that the people here were serious; so I decided not to take any chances.” For little Moses, the man on the cross was there to scare little boys and not to show them how much he loves them, and that he has already paid the penalty for their sins.
It’s become fashionable these days to wear crosses, not necessarily as a sign of Faith, but as a trendy accessory. Crosses are hip now. An anecdote often shared in Christian circles tells of an encounter at a department store jewelry counter. A young woman went into a Denver jewelry store and told the clerk she wanted to purchase a gold cross on a chain to wear around her neck. The clerk turned to the display case and asked, ‘Do you want a plain one, or one with a little man on it?’ What a commentary! Jesus tied for fourth place with Lee Iacocca and referred to as a little man on a piece of jewelry.
Good Friday reminds us of the divine foolishness of suffering and surrendering of life for others. We are familiar with stories of sacrificial love. Teenager Arthur Hinkley lifted a farm tractor with his bare hands. He wasn’t a weight lifter, but his best friend, eighteen-year-old Lloyd, was pinned under a tractor. Arthur heard Lloyd screaming for help, rushed to the scene and somehow lifted the tractor enough for Lloyd to wriggle out. His love for his best friend somehow enabled him to do what would normally be impossible.
There is the real story of St. Maximillian Kolbe who offered his life in place of a fellow prisoner in Nazi Germany. His offer was accepted, and the priest died to save the man’s life.
And then there is the old story of the young soldier who had been condemned to death by Oliver Cromwell. He was to be shot at the ringing of the curfew bell. His fiancée climbed the bell tower and tied herself to the clapper of the giant bell so that it would not ring. When the bell did not ring, soldiers went to investigate and found the girl battered and bleeding from being bashed against the sides of the bell. Cromwell was so impressed by the fiancée love, he pardoned her young man.
The familiar phrase “He died for us” evokes no special feeling in most of us. That is why many refused to watch the 2004 Mel
Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ with the seemingly innocent argument, “it is a full-length horror film”. Two brothers lived together in the same apartment. The elder brother was an honest, hard-working and God-fearing man and the younger a dishonest, gun-toting substance-abusing rogue. Many a night, the younger man would come back into the apartment late, drunk and with a lot of cash and the elder brother would spend hours pleading with him to mend his ways and live a decent life. But the young man would have none of it. One night the younger brother ran into the house with smoking gun and bloodstained clothes. “I killed a man,” he announced. In a few minutes police surrounded the house, and the two brothers knew there was no escape. “I did not mean to kill him,” stammered the young brother, “I don’t want to die.” By now the police men were knocking at the door. The elder brother had an idea. He exchanged his clothes with the bloodstained clothes of his killer brother. The police arrested him, tried him and condemned him to death for murder. He was killed and his younger brother lived. He died for his brother.
Naturally, we would expect the younger brother to respond with gratitude. Gratitude to his generous brother should make him turn a new leaf and never go back to a life of crime. He would be the most ungrateful idiot if he should continue living the sort of life that made his brother die. What is our reaction to the story of the Passion we just listened from the Gospel of John? It reminds us that the grace that we stand in didn’t come cheap. When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” we sense something of the terror of bearing the weight of the sin of all humanity. The paradox of the cross is that Jesus died for us even though we don’t deserve it. His death has made us God’s friends. Jesus Christ paid a huge price for our salvation. All it will cost us is our pride and self-will. Sometimes it seems to us that this is too great a price, which only indicates how far removed we are from the details of Christ’s sacrifice. We should be filled with gratitude – gratitude strong enough to make us hate sin of every shade; strong enough to make us translate our love of God into love of all God’s people.
The paradox of a clean finish. There is another paradox in the Good Friday story. When Jesus said, “It is finished”, bowed His head and gave up His spirit, it really was finished. What was finished was our salvation, plain and simple. What was finished was the devil, and his power to accuse us before God in Heaven. What was finished was the power of sin to control and rule our lives. Sin was finished. Satan was finished. Death was finished. In the midst of what looked like utter defeat, Jesus had accomplished a great victory, and because we are baptized into Him through His Church, that victory has now become our victory. What we have received through the means of Grace, beginning with Baptism, and strengthened and reinforced through God’s Word and through Holy Communion is that which Jesus finished. But the irony is that we are still sinners and sometimes not in the least worried about our sinful condition.
In fact, the crucifixion of Jesus still goes on in the lives of human beings throughout history. So, Jesus continues to be crucified in all those who are crucified in history. He is crucified in the millions who go hungry every day and in those who are subjected to inhuman working conditions. He is crucified in all those who are mutilated in war and confined to hospital beds. He is crucified in those who are marginalized in our cities and rural areas, and in those who suffer from discrimination because of their race, sex, or poverty. He is crucified in those who are persecuted because of their thirst for justice, and in those who are forced in their jobs to violate their conscience, to conceal the truth, and to act as agents for institutions that oppress the lowly. He is crucified in all those who fight without immediate success, against economic and ideological systems that generate sinful structures, structures engaging in exploitation. He is crucified in all those who are forced to live within such structures against their will.
The paradox of the cross, a symbol of violence as the symbol of our salvation. The cross is violence. But we must see how it is decidedly our violence. It is never God’s violence, in any way. Rather, the cross is our violence meeting God’s unconditional love, and forgiveness, and power of life. So the cross and its violence is precisely the answer we desperately need in order to finally give up all our failed attempts at peace through superior firepower. The cross is the answer we need to finally live with God’s power of love and life, the answer we need to finally let God lead our feet into the way of peace.
There is the story about a tyrannical teacher who used a hollow bamboo pipe to beat the children in his class in a village in South Africa. One day the teacher was sick and the children came to class and there was no one to teach them. The pipe lay on the teacher’s desk – alone and ominous. Eventually one brave girl got up and touched it – much to the horror of the other kids. She took the pipe and using a classmate’s pocketknife began cutting the pipe into pieces. Each piece she cut holes in and fashioned several small piccolos which she handed to the class and encouraged all to play the notes they could. The next day when the teacher came back to school he was outraged to find his pipe missing and confronted the kids. To his red, angry face the children stood up and began playing their mini flutes. The teacher’s hatred was instantly transformed as he saw his tool of dominion transformed into instruments of beauty and celebration. Never again did he hit a child. This is what Jesus did with his cross – transforming our hatred, ugliness and oppression into love, beauty and liberation.
“The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought but a change of mind. It is a symbol, which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God.” (JÜrgen Moltmann, “The Crucified God”)
The paradox of carrying the cross and following Jesus. To follow someone who asked us to “take up our cross” daily seems foolish. But in the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen (declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI, 2012), to be a fool for Christ is the greatest compliment the world can give. You and I are in good company. The saints before us were all fools for Christ and they practiced “Holy Folly” throughout their lives. Most of all, they embraced the Cross of Christ and were considered fools for doing so. If the world sees the sacrifice of the cross as folly, then to follow the One who was crucified, one must also be a fool. That God would love us despite our disobedience is foolish to the world. That He would send His only Son to die for our sins is even more foolish.
The paradox of suffering and its acceptance: 1) There is the story of a man who was chained to a bed and beaten as a child. He now lives alone in a single room, aligning his shoes perfectly and setting each object in its appointed place every day. He has no friends other than his sense of order. 2) There is another man who was in Auschwitz as a child and stood by as his mother and father were killed. He now devotes himself to making money and living what he perceives as the “good life.” “I’ve suffered enough,” he says. “I have a right to try to claim some happiness.” 3) There is a woman who was taken, blindfolded, at eighteen, to a dingy hotel room in a distant city to have a bloody, scraping, kitchen-table abortion. She dedicated her life to working with cancer patients, perhaps as atonement for some perceived guilt, perhaps because she understood some broader dimension of suffering. Some people respond to their suffering – their crosses by insulating themselves further. But some, like the lady in the cancer ward respond differently. She did not deny her pain. She did not run from it. She accepted it, embraced it, and saw how it made her one with others who knew pain and suffering. Because she had felt death inside her, she chose to share herself with others who were feeling death inside themselves.
Two images come to mind. In the concentration Camp in Dachau, there is a photograph of a mother with her little child. Both of them have been condemned to the gas chamber. The mother knows this, while the child is not aware of her destiny. The mother’s face is full of anxiety and fear. Her eyes look vague and her face looks gaunt. The child is sensing her mother’s state of mind and she clings to her very tightly. The mother’s hand is over the eyes of her child as if to say, “Don’t look, I will take care of you, I will hold you close to me, I am here.”
The second image appeared in one of our national newspapers. It showed a young boy who was deeply burnt and who lost both of his arms after a bombing raid in Baghdad. He is lying in bed, totally bandaged. His mouth is half opened, probably he is moaning, and his eyes stare in the open space. He is confused, lost, afraid and feeling alone. Next to him is a doctor with his hand on the boy’s head. This gesture is telling the boy, “Don’t be afraid, I know it hurts, but I am here, I will take care of you.”
Good Friday is the day when Jesus is reminding us that he is constantly putting his hands on our heads when we are physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually in pain, and saying, “I know you are hurting, I know you are puzzled. I know that you feel like panicking. Courage, you are not alone. Do not give up. You will grow through this. Come on let us keep going. I am with you and I will not leave you”. Thank you, Jesus for your constant care and presence.
The paradox that we are the crucifiers, but we don’t admit it. So, this holy day is about us as we are present in all the different characters of the Passion story, precisely because we can identify with all the characters in the Passion story, in all their confusion and frailty, their treachery and powerlessness and fear. We call this day “good” only because of ourselves. We are to die with Him on this day. Yet, He has spared us from knowing fully about all that He suffered. Christ died to save the living soul within us that holds His love, His grace, His mercy, and His passion. On this day of remembrance, mourning, and grief, are we not going to remember, mourn, and grieve? Sadly, most people they will not remember, they will not mourn, and they will not grieve. “It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear the story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.” (Dorothy Sayers). However, when we truly love someone with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might and that person suffers then we suffer with him or her. Jesus suffered as no other person suffered. And we do love Him with as much of our heart, soul, and might as we presently have. So today we want to tell Jesus three things: we want to tell him how sorry we are for our sins; we want to tell him how much we love him and how thankful we are for his death on the cross; and we want to tell him that we want to follow him as his friends from now on.
The paradox we adore as Jesus, Our Lord and Savior
He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life.
Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water.
Jesus was weary, yet He is our rest.
Jesus paid tribute, yet He is the King.
Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons.
Jesus wept, yet He wipes away our tears.
Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world.
Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd.
Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.
Concluding anecdote: The wrong guy: Determined to avenge the assault on their fourteen-year-old girlfriend, ten young people raced away from the hospital with a description of her assailant: an Hispanic man driving a red vehicle. Then by deception, the group of vigilantes lured young Leonel Cifuenies, a young Guatemalan driving a red truck, to a secluded spot outside of Carthage, Missouri and beat him with baseball bats, rocks, and clubs. The confused man played dead so the torture would stop. While being beat, Cifuenies spoke to his assailants in broken English, “Hey, guys, what happened? I don’t know you, you don’t know me. I didn’t do anything. “At the same hour, The Jasper County Sheriff’s Department had apprehended Francisco Vega, who would later be charged with the crime. The mob nearly killed the wrong guy. What a haunting reminder that Jesus too, was the wrong guy. “Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Anecdote: “A few years ago Fast Lane magazine conducted a survey to find out whose lives its readers would most like to emulate. Lt. Colonel Oliver North placed first. President Ronald Reagan placed second. Clint Eastwood was third. Fourth place was a tie between Lee Iacocca and Jesus Christ. What a commentary! (L/19)
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No 23-B) by Fr. Tony: email@example.com
Visit my website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.