Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Good Samaritan and the Cross

In the Gospel Reading for today (Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C), we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan:
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied,
“A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
‘Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk 10:25-37)

Jesus spoke the parable in answer to a conversation that He was having with one of the scholars of the Torah, who was concerned about what he ought to do to inherit eternal life.
[Incidentally, contrary to Luther’s notion of “Sola Fide”, when the man asked Jesus the question, He did NOT answer by saying: “Silly man...don’t you know that you can’t DO anything to inherit eternal are saved by faith alone”. Rather, Jesus’ response to this man is evidence that we are not saved by faith alone; but rather that we are saved by faith AND works].

After correctly answering that the way to inherit eternal life is through love of God and neighbour, the man asked Jesus “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus answered his question through the parable of the Good Samaritan; and then instructed the man to go and do the same.
As I was listening to the Gospel Reading in the Mass this morning, I looked up at the Crucifix and it occurred to me that the parable of the Good Samaritan is ultimately a parable of the Cross.

We see that it is a parable of the Cross of Christ when we realise that the man attacked by the robbers is an image of fallen mankind. W have been mortally wounded by sin and left destitute on the side of the spiritual highway to die in our trespasses and sins. But it is Christ who, like a Samaritan (despised and rejected by men – Isa 53:3), comes to our aid, heals our wounds, and pays our way with His own Blood. In this way, He shows His love for His Heavenly Father by resigning Himself to the Father’s will (Lk 22:42). In the selfsame act of obedience, He also shows His love for us – made His neighbours through the Incarnation – in that He laid down His life for us (Jn 15:13).
But Christ’s Cross is not the only one that is referred to in this parable. We see a glimpse of another cross in Jesus’ words “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). The second cross is our own, which Jesus tells to pick up daily if we want to be His disciples (Matt 16:24). In taking up our own cross every day, we show our love for God and our neighbour by denying ourselves and giving ourselves instead to God’s will, and sacrificially giving ourselves to the service of others – firstly those closest to us (our families, our fellow-parishioners, and our work colleagues); and also to others that God might place in our path every day.

So, as we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, may our desire be to imitate our Good Shepherd in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and loving our neighbour as ourselves. We do this when we unite ourselves with Him in His Crucifixion – when we die to ourselves and live for God and our neighbour.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reflections on the Rosary – Part III (The Sorrowful Mysteries)

Of all the Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries might be the hardest to write about. I think that this is partly because, as Christians, we have largely become desensitised to the reality of Christ’s Passion. We can often be guilty of over-romanticising the Passion to the point where we miss the gruesomeness and sheer agony of Our Lord’s suffering. By this I don’t only mean the physical suffering that Our Lord endured as His bloodied and beaten Body was cruelly nailed to a rugged splintery cross. As gruesome as this was, the real gruesomeness of Christ’s Passion was that we, His own creatures, in wicked rebellion murdered the Creator that gave us life.

Although we meant it for evil, God meant it for good...and in His rich mercy He turned our evil to good for by His Cross and Resurrection He has redeemed and reconciled the world to Himself, and so restored us to His Divine Life.
As we meditate on these Sorrowful Mysteries, may they remind us of the great price that was paid to wash away our sins...and the sins of the whole world.

The First Sorrowful Mystery – the Agony of Our Lord in the Garden
After instituting the perpetual memorial of the Holy Eucharist, the Lord and His disciples sang an hymn and went out to the Garden of Gethsemane on Mount Olivet (Matt 25:30).

[Interesting, the “hymn” referred to in the Gospel is the Hallel Psalms (Ps 115 – Ps 118) which are traditionally sung by Jews as part of the Passover liturgy. As Our Lord sang these Psalms, His Blessed Mother was on His mind:

“O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant,
The son of your handmaid” – Ps 116:16 (Cp Lk 1:38)]

In the Garden, Our Lord began to endure such intense spiritual suffering that He told His disciples that He was sorrowful “even to the point of death” (Mk 14:33-34). In the midst of this suffering, He prayed three times that, if it was the Father’s will, that the Cup of the Passion  pass from Him.

As the Lord’s felt the weight of the sins of the world upon His shoulders, His agony became so intense that He sweated great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). He had not yet received His first physical blows, and already He began to pour out His Precious Blood to wash away the sins of the world.
Despite Jesus' great agony, He was resolved to relinquish His will; and He would willingly drink of the Cup that the Father had willed for Him (Matt 26:39).
Following Our Lord, we need to learn resignation to the will of God in our own suffering. When any member of the Church suffers, He suffers in Christ because the Church is the Body of Christ. Sometimes God wills that Christians suffer for Christ (Phil 1:29) because it is through our suffering that we complete the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24). And as we suffer for and in Christ, we can rest assured that He will send His angels to comfort and strengthen us (Lk 22:43).

The Second Sorrowful Mystery – the Scourging of Our Lord at the Pillar

Following His arrest, Jesus was led away to a mock trial presided over by Caiaphas, the High Priest. In his Gospel, St. Matthew was determined to account for Jesus’ innocence – the original Greek reads best in the King James Version:

“Now the chief priests and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put Him to death; but found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses...” (Matt 26:59-60 KJV)

The atrocity of the false condemnation against the innocent Jesus was compounded by the fact that He was led to for examination to Pilate – to Herod – and back to Pilate...and still no fault was found against Him. Yet, Pilate, in a play of politics, sought to appease Jesus’ accusers by having Him scourged at the Pillar.
This was not a simple whipping with a leather strap or a rod – it was a brutal lashing carried out with an instrument constructed of sharp bones, glass, and rough stones. As the victim was scourged, his flesh would literally be torn from his body, and his muscles shredded to the point of exposing his bones.

We need to understand that Jesus’ scourging wasn’t something that was only incidental to His Passion – rather, it too was redemptive; for in His scourging Our Lord suffered in His Body for the sins that we commit in our bodies. As Isaiah prophesied:

“...He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and His stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24)

As we meditate upon this Mystery, may we remember the sufferings of Our Lord in His Body, and be resolved to mortify our sensual pleasures and seek to glorify God in our bodies (Rom 8:13; 1 Cor 6:20).

The Third Sorrowful Mystery – Our Lord is Crowned with Thorns
Having endured the cruel torments of His scourging, Our Lord was led back to Pilate. But before delivering Him over to Pilate, the soldiers wished to have one last laugh at His expense. In mockery of the accusation against Him, the soldiers dressed Jesus in a scarlet robe, placed a sceptre in His hand, pressed a crown of thorns on His Head, and “bowed” before Him in adoration. Having reached the depths of depravity, they mercilessly beat Him again with the sceptre – driving the thorns deeper into His brow.
What cruel irony – the King of Glory was being mocked as if He was no king. But rather than call His own soldiers – ten thousand legions of angels – to His aid, He humbly and silently endured their mocking.

The King who deserved to be crowned with the finest gold and precious stones was instead crowned with our curse – the First Adam felt the pain of sin’s curse every time he tread upon a thorn (Gen 3:17-18); the Last Adam now felt the pain of sin’s curse upon His Brow.
Every time that we sin, it is as if we ourselves are pressing the thorny crown deeper into Our Saviour’s Holy Brow. So, may we learn by this Mystery to flee from sin; and even if this attracts the mockery of the world, may we humbly unite the ridicule we experience to the most ridiculous mockery that ever took place in human history – when Our Lord was crowned with thorns.

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery – Our Lord Carries His Cross to Calvary
“Ecce Homo – Behold the Man” was Pilate’s cry to Jesus’ accusers. Unmoved by pity at His now-mutilated Body, they demanded that He be crucified. And so Jesus, sentenced to that ignominious death, was forced to carry His cross to the place where they would finally execute Him.

The heavy beam upon His shredded back would have been a source of intense agony. The pain and blood loss were almost too much for Him to bear, so much so that He fell three times on the way to Golgotha.
Not wanting Him to die before His execution, the Roman soldiers commanded a man called Simon, from the region of Cyrene, to carry the cross for Jesus. Little did Simon know that, in this way, he was playing a part in the redemption of the world.

To this day, Our Lord desires that we be His co-workers in the work of redemption by calling us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matt 16:24). Whatever suffering we bear as Christians, we must bear it united to Our Lord – remembering always that our suffering has redemptive value.
Moreover, as we carry the cross with Christ, we can be assured that it will change us. Simon of Cyrene had come to Jerusalem as a pilgrim unaware of who Jesus was. But after he carried Jesus’ cross, he was changed and forever united with Him. He became a man who taught his own children the Way of Christ so that they themselves became recognised as eminent Christians in the Church in Rome (see Mk 15:21; Rom 16:13). This should be the desire of every Christian parent – that their children grow up loving and serving the Lord with everything that they are. And a sure way to do this is by teaching them the Most Holy Rosary, because as we take our children to Mary, she will unfailingly point them to Jesus.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery – the Crucifixion of Our Lord
We come finally to the climax of Our Lord’s Passion. Atop Mount Calvary, nails are driven through the Precious Hands and Feet of the Lord Jesus to fasten His mutilated Body to the cross...which is then bone-jarringly dropped into a hole. Despite the soldiers’ fear that Jesus might die on the Via Dolorosa, the Lord continued to suffer for six more agonising hours as He hung on that cross.
Through the Cross we learn the meaning of forgiveness – not only because it is the Instrument of the forgiveness of our own sins; but we also learn by the Lord’s example to forgive those who have wrongfully abused us (Lk 23:34).

Through the Cross we also learn the meaning of love – for it was at the height of His suffering that Our Blessed Lord gave us His Mother to be our Mother. Despite His torment and imminent death, He wanted His disciples to know that they were not left alone. He had already promised them the Holy Spirit to comfort them...but as He hung on the Cross, He also lovingly gave them a Mother to comfort them in their distress – since nothing is able to console a hurting child better than a mother’s loving embrace.
Mary’s acceptance of this role tells us much about her sacrificial love – despite the pain that she was experiencing at the loss of her Child, she willingly accepted His call for her to be a Mother for all those He was redeeming by His Passion.

After six gruelling hours on the Cross, the Lord gave up the ghost and commended His spirit into the hands of the Father (Lk 23:46). His limp Body was taken down from the Cross and laid in the arms of the Blessed Virgin. As at His Birth, so at His death – ever close to the breast of His Blessed Mother.
And so let us never fear to approach our Blessed Mother to lean upon her for comfort, because when we do, we lie in the arms of her who so lovingly held our Saviour at the beginning and end of His earthly life.

Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary
As much as the Sorrowful Mysteries are about Christ, they are also about Mary. This is not only because Jesus and Mary cannot be separated; but also if you consider Mary’s role in the Lord’s Passion.

A mother bears no pain as intense as that of watching her child suffer. Any mother witnessing brutality against her child would be completely justified in the most vehement of protests. How much more intense would this protest be if she knew that her child was innocent of any wrong-doing deserving of such brutality?
Mary knew that her Child was not only innocent; no...she knew that He was Innocence Incarnate. The silence of the Blessed Mother in the Lord’s Passion is deafening because it is in her silent resignation to her Son’s suffering that she boldly proclaims her loving obedience to the will of her Heavenly Father.

If we want to imitate Our Blessed Lord in His Passion, we could do no better than to seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. And what better way to do this than in the recitation of the Rosary, in which we really do take up our cross and follow Christ.

For related posts on this topic, click the links below:

Reflections on the Rosary - Introduction

Reflections on the Rosary - Part II (The Luminous Mysteries)

Reflections on the Rosary - Part IV (The Glorious Mysteries)