Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. The leaders jeered at him. The soldiers mocked him. One of the criminals abused him, while the other saw a different possibility. It is striking how various people reacted to the dying of God.
The death of the vast, vast bulk of humanity passes without such reactions. We humans tend to die intimately, even if it occurs publicly. If a story is to be told of our passing, it will be our story that is told, not the story of those who experience it. It will be our deaths that might be recorded, not the reactions of those around them.
But for this man of God – and from God, and with God – his dying was marked most notably by how others experienced it, not how he did. For this death was entirely a giving over to others, and its essential story is of what it meant for them, and now for us.
The death of God is the death of the enemy of love. It was not about Jesus claiming something for himself – look at me, and what I’m doing for you. There was nothing left of him to claim for himself, for as St Paul once wrote, he had emptied himself and had become instead obedient unto death. (Phil 2.7-8) By the time of his crucifixion, Jesus had nothing left of himself to personally claim. He had given it all to those who would be the recipients of his death.
For some – perhaps most, on Calvary Hill – this death was received with difficulty. It was a challenge to their self-satisfied lives. Hence the predominance of reactions of watching and jeering, of mocking and abusing. Those surrounding the cross were agitated by this dying for it was an uncomfortable death for them. They were not indifferent; they were disturbed.
But in their own disturbed state, they revealed the extent to which his death had entered into their own lives as a piercing and exposing light. They recoiled from it and thrashed their way through it. This self-emptying was an exposure to them of their own emptiness to receiving its gift.
Though not all reacted this way. Some received the dying of Jesus as a welcoming light, and a lasting gift. “Remember me…” Here was a reaction that tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion as a revelation of what is possible in receiving his life as it was being given over. “You will be with me…” This death was not an empty death, but a gift of life.
The self-emptying death of God filled the lives of those surrounding it, one way or another.
How does it fill our lives? How do we receive Christ’s crucifixion? As a challenge to our self-selected way of life, or as a gift for living our lives? It might indeed be striking to consider how various people reacted to the dying of God. It is even more striking to ask of ourselves, honestly and humbly: How have we reacted?
The Redeemer of the world is not a King to be marvelled at in his heroic dying; he is a King to be received in his self-emptying gift. Might we dare to be like the one hanging beside him: seeking his remembrance, receiving his death, and making of him the fruit of our lives.