Heb 4,14-16; 5,7-9
The biblical readings introduce us today to the contemplation of the mystery of Christ, Servant of the Lord and true Paschal Lamb that dies on the cross for the salvation of the world.
The first reading (Is 52,13-53,12) is the last of the songs of the Servant of the Lord in the book of Isaiah. The text is complex in its structure, in its language and in its historical identification of the person. At the beginning, God himself speaks of his “servant” as someone that has reached a point of physical disfiguration, because of sorrow, that “he no longer looked like a man” (Is 52,14). Quickly, he announces afterwards that this same servant will be glorified and recognized by nations and kings that will be filled with surprise before such a fact (Is 52,15). Only in the central part of the canticle (Is 53,1-10) his sufferings are related: has been despised and rejected by men (vv. 2-3); they submitted him to an unfair judgement that he accepts without violence as a lamb led to the slaughter, like a lamb that does not open his mouth before the shearers (v.7). The new aspect of the text is that it affirms that the cause of humiliation and condemnation of the servant are not his own faults, but those of all those who are judging him (v. 4.5.9). And even more paradoxically, is the fact that his death will not only bring rehabilitation to himself, that has been unjustly “cut off from the land of the living” (v.8), but also to those that had condemned him (vv. 10-12). This does not only form part of divine plans (v.10), but he himself voluntarily has submitted himself silently (v.7), has offered his life as expiation (v.10-11), and has born the sin of many and interceded for sinners (v.12).
The servant incarnates the redeeming value of suffering. It is most likely, in harmony with the traditional Hebrew interpretation, that the Servant’s tribulations refer to the living tests that the poorest and most innocent part of Israel suffered by the power of the world’s powerful during the exile and that by fidelity collaborated mysteriously in the plans of God for the world. It is an interpretation that has a great value, thus it reminds us of the value that the peoples’ suffering can have for the redemption of all and helps us to amplify the horizon of the passion of Christ to all of the Church, his total body. Certainly, this text influenced strongly the redaction of the Lord’s passion accounts in the New Testament. For the evangelists, the oracle of Isaiah is seen clearly only with the event of the passion and death of Jesus for the redemption of all. As much of an individual as a communal interpretation point out the same mystery of the redeeming value of the suffering of the just and of sacrificial love within the plans of God. The text is, without a doubt, a culminating moment of the revelation of the Old Testament: life, death and the return to life of the Servant has come to be the means for the forgiveness of the sins of all. Abandoned in the hands of God and renouncing returning evil to those that mistreated him, the Servant obtains that which all of the ritual sacrifices of Israel could not obtain. All that the prophet has said of the Servant we confess fully only of Christ, our Savior, Suffering Servant that with his life, death and resurrection has freed us from our sins.
The second reading (Heb 4,14-16; 5,7-9) presents us Jesus as true High Priest under a double perspective. On one hand, he is the Son of God, priest par excellence, “great,” that has penetrated definitively in God’s world, “the heavens,” of where the invitation is derived to persevere in the profession of faith (Heb 4,14). On the other hand, the full human condition of this high priest is insisted upon, that “has been put to the test in exactly the same way as ourselves, apart from sin,” from which the exhortation is derived to draw near with great confidence to God to obtain mercy and strength in the moment of testing (Heb 4,15). Christ, in effect, has immersed himself fully in the human condition. In spite of being Son, he did not stop bearing suffering, but in the midst of pain and humiliation “learned”, that is to say, lived and acted, his extreme fidelity and obedience, which were found in his prayer, his source and fundamental expression, coming to reach supreme perfection of the resurrection and becoming source of salvation for all men and women (Heb 5,7-9).
In the gospel, (Jn 18,1-19,42) John offers us a singular perspective of the passion and death of Jesus. It is he himself that carries the cross (19,17), in harmony with that which the gospel has affirmed: “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own free will” (10,18). At the cross of Jesus appears congregated symbolically the Church (19,25-27) above all in the person of “his Mother” and of “the disciple that Jesus loved.” They are real persons, but they interest the evangelist principally not in their historical identity, but as “corporate personalities,” at a symbolic level. His Mother is the figure of Zion, the greatest of God’s people (cf. Is 66,8-9 where Zion-Jerusalem appears generating her children). And the disciple is the figure of the believer, “the disciple that Jesus loved.” At the foot of the cross, the new family of Jesus is born, “his Mother and his brothers,” “those that do the will of the Father” (cf. Mk 3,31-35). The disciple welcomes the Mother of Jesus as something of his own: “and from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (literally in Greek: en ta idia, that is more that “into his home”). The Mother of the Lord goes on to become part of the most precious treasure of the believing disciple.
In the synoptics, they draw near to Jesus with a sponge on a stick. In John, with a “hyssop” (19,29) that recalls Ex 12,22 where with a hyssop the blood of the Lamb was sprinkled on the Israelites’ houses. Besides, he was sentenced to death on the sixth hour of Preparation Day (19,14), the same hour that in the evening of the Passover the priests began to cut the throat of the paschal lambs in the Temple. Besides, they did not break any bone (cf. Ex 12,10). He does not die like in the synoptics. It is a solemn death: “and bowing his head he gave up his spirit” (19,30). This phrase has a double meaning. He hands over his life to the Father. But also, gave up his spirit, source of life, that will take carry us to the whole truth (cf. 16,13). For John here, on the cross, occurs the glorification of Jesus. It is not necessary to wait for Pentecost, like in Luke. On the cross Jesus is glorified and pours forth the Spirit that before was not “thus Jesus still had not been glorified” (Jn 7,39). The Spirit is given to those that symbolize and form the Church, his Mother and beloved disciple.
Differing from the synoptics, special cosmic signs do not occur upon Jesus dying. Everything is centered on his glorified body as true sanctuary (cf. Jn 2,21: “he was speaking of the sanctuary of his body”). For his reason, from his body flow “blood and water” (19,34) that, in the first place, allude to the passing of Jesus from this world (blood) to the Father by way of glorification (water) (cf. 12,23; 13,1). But also, it is necessary to see here an allusion to those two realities by which the glorified Christ gives the Spirit to the Community: baptism (“to be born of water and spirit”: Jn 3) and the Eucharist (“whoever does not eat my flesh and drink my blood”: Jn 6). As John had already announced: “from his heart will flow rivers of living water” (7,38) vivifying “all those that might believe in him,” forming the community at the foot of the cross.