Today, the universal Church joins our Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross. Still today, we fulfill the prophesy of Zechariah: “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look on him whom they have thrust through, they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and they will grieve for him as one grieves over a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10)
This pierced side of Jesus calls to mind the Rock struck in the desert by Moses to provide water for the people of Israel during their sojourn in the desert. (Numbers 20:11) As a person cannot survive long without water, no one can gain access to eternal life without the life-giving Blood poured forth from the side of the Savior.
This pierced side of Jesus also calls to mind another moment in the journey to the Promised Land of the people of Israel when they turned away from God and suffered the bites from the serpents. So the Lord instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole, and anyone who looked upon it was healed. (Numbers 21:1-9)
As the mounted serpent was the remedy for the sins of the people, it was simply a foreshadowing of the definitive healing and forgiveness yet to come through the saving death of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Just as the remedy of the bronze serpent ‘lifted up’ was necessary to enter into the Promised Land, so is it required of the believer to gaze upon and believe in the Crucified One to enter into the promised reward of eternal life.
In the passion and death of Jesus, humanity has received our sole remedy for our sin. In the passion and death of Jesus, we also have received the definitive answer to the question of whether there is a God? And whether this God is a God of love? Granted, the answer comes in a highly unexpected manner, but do we not believe that God’s ways are not our ways? (Isaiah 55:8-9)
In the outstretched arms of Jesus, we hear the cry of God: “Come to me.” “I love you.” Even in our human love, we know and learn that to express one’s love, we must make ourselves vulnerable. We must be willing to show to the one we love those parts of us that we are hesitant for anyone else to see. We must share of our self those things that we would not want any other to know. We must be willing to say those simple words that can be at times so hard to express: ‘I love you.’ On the cross, God, in the person of Jesus, has become quite vulnerable, totally exposed, bearing His heart through his pierced and open side.
We also know from our human experiences of love what it is like to love one who does not even know we exist. We know what it is like to love one who does not return our love. And, sadly, we know what it is like to be hurt by those we love, even those who claim to love us. The presence of the crucified Lord upon the cross encompasses all these realities of love.
The history of salvation is not only the story of God’s love for us, but it is also the story of God’s desire for our love in return. As much as we long for love, we also know what it is like to ‘fear’ to enter into such love. St. John Chrysostom captures this same reality in the history of God’s relationship with humanity when he says: “God has greater desire to be loved than feared.” (Sermon 108)
Indeed, the greatest expression of God’s love is the death of His only-begotten Son; a sight that is at first frightening and fearful. But let us listen further to St. John Chrysostom’s reflection upon this scene:
Also hear God asking in another way: “O my people, what have I done to you, or in what have I molested you?” Does He not say the following? ‘IF My divinity is something unknown, at least let Me be known in the flesh. Look! You see in Me your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. If you fear what is divine, why do you not love what is characteristically human? If you flee from Me as the Lord, why do you not run to Me as your Father? But perhaps the greatness of My Passion, which you brought on, confounds you. Do not be afraid. This cross is not Mine, but it is the sting of death. These nails do not inflict pain upon Me, but they deepen your love of Me. These wounds do not draw forth My groans; rather, they draw you into my Heart. The extending of My body entices you into My bosom; it does not increase My pain. As far as I am concerned, My blood does no perish, but it is something paid down in advance as a ransom for you. Therefore, come, return and at least thus have experience of Me as a Father whom you see returning good things for evils, love for injuries, such great charities for such great wounds.’
(St. John Chrysostom, Sermon 108)
God has done His part. He has expressed fully, freely, unconditionally His love for humanity. Now, He asks us to ‘give in’ to His love. Just as true, authentic love requires a full and total gift of self, so now, we are asked to make a complete gift of self in return to the Father.
The Crucified Christ not only expresses this Love of the Father for the world, but ‘teaches’ us about our requested, loving response. As Jesus did not hesitate to ‘give His all’ even to shedding His blood, so now we are asked to follow in His path of self-abnegation.
The mature, Christian response calls us to surrender to God, to give in to God, if we are going to truly live life fully, which is to live our life in Christ.