By Mike Short
“He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will” (Luke 23:18).
While recently praying through the Passion narratives I was pulled in by this quote from Luke’s Gospel. It is referring to Pilate releasing and excusing Barabbas, a murderer, in order to appease the crowd. What jumped out at me when I read that line was how quick we all are to excuse our own attachments, distractions, and sin, even murder, rather than surrender to Jesus.
Just 9 verses later we see Jesus making excuses for us and reconciling us with the Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The great Triduum is upon us once again and it’s a unique time in the liturgical year in which we can ponder the great love that God has for each of us. The God whom out of love for us sent His Eternal Son who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. All so we could share in His abundant life and joy.
Jesus, while hanging on the cross, in a particular way, shows us what genuine love is and how we are meant to share in His divine plan. The crucified Christ shows us that genuine love is a free, total, faithful, and fruitful love.
I’d like to unpack how this is communicated through the suffering that He endured for us, and how we often come up with excuses in order to hold on to our attachments and selfish inclinations instead of surrendering to The One true genuine love. We can use this as a litmus test to reveal if our actions match up with what genuine love truly looks like, or rather if we are buying into a counterfeit love.
“I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10: 17-18).
Christ shows us that genuine love has to be free. He was not coerced, manipulated, or even intimidated. He tells us he freely gave His “back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting” (Isiah 50: 4-7).
How often do our actions lack true freedom? We can easily mistake our slavery to attachments and sin as freedom, because we have re-defined freedom to mean doing whatever we want, whenever we want, with whomever we want.
However, Christ shows us a stark difference in the kind of freedom that genuine love possesses. If we think we are free from attachments such as alcohol, money, control, or status, then let us test our freedom and deny ourselves. Only then can the power our attachments be revealed. If we’re unable to say no, then our yes means nothing. The Good News is that we are meant for true freedom, the kind that will allow us to lay down our life for a friend.
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts” (Romans 5:5).
Without reserve, Jesus poured Himself out totally for you and me… by name. As men we tend to compartmentalize our lives, which can be a good attribute in some cases, but other times it prevents us from giving ourselves completely to others. Our different compartments include our physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial lives, just to name a few.
We often withhold one or more of these parts of our lives from our wives and children which results in a coldness and distance in our most precious relationships. If we never looked upon a crucifix, then we could easily forget that Jesus shows us that genuine love is to be a total, self-donating love. Upon the cross He did not withhold anything, his love was complete. This is our model for how we are to give ourselves to our family and neighbor- holding nothing back.
“I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
In the face of suffering, or any discomfort for that matter, we often find ourselves running the other way and avoiding the scourge at all cost. Jesus shows us a different way to love, a love that is faithful, even to the end.
While his flesh hung from his broken body, Jesus persevered and mounted the cross. He opened his hands to allow the steel to tear through. Not once did he have a change of heart or yell “Enough!” He instead continued to empty himself and endured the greatest suffering hanging on a tree by the hands of men whom received their very breath from him.
Had He not been faithful, had He run the other way as we often do, or instead sent legions of angels to wreak havoc on His enemies, then He would not have been able to show us something we are capable of. Faithful love.
Opportunities for us to take on Christ’s faithful love abound, but we all too often fall for the counterfeit. Instead of being present to our children and wife, we opt for mindless entertainment. Whenever our finances get tight, we lose our job, or get a bad diagnosis; our inclination is to blame others, even God. But Christ shows us on the cross that He is faithful to us, and He will give us real power in these moments to withstand the greatest temptation.
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
There are many paradoxes of the Christian life, things that may seem contrary to our good. However, Jesus shows us on the cross that if we are to obtain life, real joyful Eternal life, then we must first die to self.
Without the reminder of the cross, we might fall for the counterfeit of selfish love. We may entertain a desire for an “abundant” life filled with money, power, and pleasure. If only I had this or that position, or a certain amount of money, then I would finally be able to truly live.
This is the lie that we all fall for… it’s in the air we breathe. We all know through our experience that these things never fully satisfy. But Our Lord on the cross shows us that if we want new life, to be a resurrected people, then we must give Him our lives. We must echo David and say “A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit” (Psalm 51:12).
We live in a unique time in a post-Christian culture in America. I believe we’ll be given the same opportunities to help others encounter Christ as first century Christians did. Pagans during that time encountered Christ in His disciples precisely through the way that they loved. “All men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We should all keep a crucifix nearby, so that we can be reminded of the gift of genuine love that Jesus poured out for us.
The Church, in her wisdom, tells us “Man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, [and he] cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Gaudium et Spes 24).
Brothers, let us conform our lives to the crucifix and love radically just as Jesus has loved us.