The Promise of Eternal Friendship
by Fr.Richard Conrad O.P.
21 March 2008
Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. As many were astonished at him-- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men-- so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When he said to them, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go." This was to fulfil the word which he had spoken, "Of those whom thou gavest me I lost not one." Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?"
So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews seized Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas; for he was the father-in-law of Ca'iaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Ca'iaphas who had given counsel to the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. As this disciple was known to the high priest, he entered the court of the high priest along with Jesus, while Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the maid who kept the door, and brought Peter in. The maid who kept the door said to Peter, "Are not you also one of this man's disciples?" He said, "I am not." Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves; Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.
The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said." When he had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" Annas then sent him bound to Ca'iaphas the high priest.
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, "Are not you also one of his disciples?" He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed. Then they led Jesus from the house of Ca'iaphas to the praetorium. It was early. They themselves did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" They answered him, "If this man were not an evildoer, we would not have handed him over." Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law." The Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." This was to fulfil the word which Jesus had spoken to show by what death he was to die.
Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them, "I find no crime in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?" They cried out again, "Not this man, but Barab'bas!" Now Barab'bas was a robber.
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again, and said to them, "See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold the man!" When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God." When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin."
Upon this Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar." When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gab'batha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol'gotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, "Do not write, `The King of the Jews,' but, `This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be." This was to fulfil the scripture, "They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots."
So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag'dalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), "I thirst." A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth--that you also may believe. For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of him shall be broken." And again another scripture says, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced."
After this Joseph of Arimathe'a, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away his body. Nicode'mus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds' weight. They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Fr. Richard Conrad meditates on the many models scripture gives us for understanding Christ's death.
Jesus's death has saved us. But how? A single, neat explanation cannot exhaust something so awesome. Scientists use several models for an ordinary thing -- an electron or an economy -- since we cannot understand it through and through. The extraordinary event of God's death in the flesh must defy comprehension!
Isaiah's prophecy offers glimpses of the mystery. Being gentle and just, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice to undo sins. The Lord entrusted his envoy with the burden of healing our iniquity. Out of compassion for our misery, he endured punishment inflicted by fellow human beings who misjudged him as a criminal rejected by God. As the Lord's servant Jesus interceded for us who harmed him, and yielded the fruit of our friendship with God.
The Letter to the Hebrews also presents Jesus's crucifixion as intercession, as a prayer made aloud -- 'Father, forgive them' -- and by tears of compassion. Jesus has taught us to tread the right path though tried by fear and opposition, shown us how to be children of God.
The High Priest entered the inner sanctuary once a year, by himself -- and came out. Jesus the true High Priest has taken human nature through death into God's glory, irrevocably, so that in him we can make the journey.
John, too, shows us Jesus fulfilling the prophecies, and providing what the sacrifices had looked towards. He dies while the Passover lambs are killed; he fits the rules for them -- his bones are not broken, his blood is drained. All is accomplished.
The Bible begins with Adam -- The Man -- rising up against God in the garden. To counter human pride, the new Adam obediently handed himself over in a garden. When he had been humiliated, Pilate could present him to the people: 'Behold, the Man.' He was buried in a garden where, in his resurrection, he would re-fashion human nature in beauty.
At the Last Supper, while committing himself to his Passion, Jesus told his disciples that from then on they could see the Father. Jesus is his Father's perfect image, the Father's Word or 'self-expression'. This Word is spoken to us most eloquently in his Passion. That is where we see God. God the Father has a face -- the face of his crucified Son. This face regards us with forgiveness; it gazes at us with love despite the way we mar it. As Pope John Paul explained (Dives in Misericordia), in Jesus God's mercy has taken flesh -- and does us the service of asking for our mercy.
Much of this was implied by the first reading of the old Good Friday Liturgy, from Hosea 6, and the following chant from the Old Latin version of Habakkuk:
… I have desired mercy and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Lord … you will become known between two living things; when the years have drawn nigh you will be recognised…
Jesus crucified is the New Covenant, God's pledge of loyalty towards us despite our disloyalty. This pledge is made with such gentle power as to draw our loyalty in return. Jesus said that when he was lifted up from the earth he would draw all things to himself.
Jesus offered the Holy Spirit, the living water. This water would flow from his midst, as prophesied by the rock Moses struck, the temple Ezekiel saw, and the pierced one of whom Zechariah spoke. Only through Jesus's departure could the Spirit come as the Paraclete, the Counsellor to befriend us. So, once he had accomplished his Father's work, Jesus bowed his head and handed over the Spirit. In token of this, blood-and-water, living water, flowed from his side.
Jesus's death is the great expression of God's love. So it is the 'channel' for the Holy Spirit, the Divine Love in person, to come among us to work forgiveness of sins, to make us one body in Christ, to make us friends of God the Father who loyally journey to him.
Jesus's death is the promise of God's eternal friendship: the Word who was prepared to show us the Father by enduring the cross, will not refuse to show the Father clearly, in heaven, to those who want to see him, that we may truly live. The Word-become-flesh handed himself over to death, so as to hand over the Spirit. The Spirit is the divine friendship. He enfolds us now, that we may share Jesus's intercession, and give ourselves with Him.
He wills to enfold us for ever so that in, through and with Christ we can render all honour and glory to the Father, on behalf of all creation, as we gaze on our friend's face. In that vision lies perfect fulfilment.
About the Preacher: Fr. Richard Conrad is Vice-Regent of Studies at Blackfriars, Oxford, where he teaches dogmatic and sacramental theology.
This article is reproduced with the Permission of Electronic Publishing House of the English Province of the Order of Preachers,the Dominicans
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