The following anonymous poem sums up well the spirit of today’s liturgy:
I drove by a hitchhiker on the road. I had a lot of good reasons not to pick him up. First of all, I'd be late for my appointment. Secondly, I feared for my safety. How could I be sure he wouldn't rob, beat or even kill me? I had a lot of good reasons to keep on driving.
While I was walking down the street, a homeless man asked me for change. I had a lot of good reasons for not giving him any. How did I know he wouldn't go spend it on booze and drugs? And, wouldn't I be enabling him to stay dependent on charity rather than lift himself out of poverty through hard work? So, I politely claimed to have no change and kept on walking.
Jesus had a lot of good reasons not to die for me. I am selfish, insincere and ungrateful. I've spent most of my life not paying attention to Him. He had a lot of good reasons to let the cup of suffering pass Him by. However, out of love, He stretched His arms out on the cross and gave His life that I might live.
Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for me. How can I now drive or walk past my neighbors when they need me? How can I not, out of love, do for others what Jesus so generously did for me?
When we consider with what love Jesus accepted death and that He did it for our sake, we can do nothing but stand in awe at the foot of the cross. What tremendous love Jesus showed to endure the torments, the ridicule and the humiliation of His death on the cross. How was He able to endure it all? He was able to endure it because of His love. It was because of His love for you and me that He accepted His Heavenly Father’s will and refused to let the cup of suffering pass Him by.
Human history has never witnessed such a display of love. We may marvel at it. We may question how such love is possible. But we cannot just look the other way. None of us can be indifferent before such brutality. As we stand in the shadow of the cross, we must make a decision. Will we follow the way of love that Jesus marked out for us, or will we go our own way? Will we practice love marked by suffering or follow the path of pleasure instead?
There is a reason that, even after the resurrection, we Catholics continue to portray Christ on the cross. It is because Jesus is still suffering. It is true that He eventually died and rose again. But He continues to suffer in the least among us. As He tells us in the gospel of Matthew, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.” And so, when we drive past the man hitchhiking on the highway, we are driving past Jesus. When we ignore the homeless person on the street, we are ignoring Jesus. Our Lord is still suffering and still dying. Today He looks to us to bring Him some comfort, to wipe the blood off His face as Veronica did and to help Him carry His cross as Simon of Cyrene did. What will our answer be? Can we fail to comfort our Lord suffering in the poorest among us when He did not fail to suffer for us? Can we refuse companionship for the lonely or bread for the hungry when He did not refuse to offer us forgiveness in our sinfulness and hope in our despair?
As ghastly and as demanding as the cross is, we do not need to run from it. As horrible as it may appear to us, it is our hope of salvation. We must embrace it and cling to it as our only hope. We must practice the way of love it teaches us so that we can turn our selfish and materialistic society around. It all begins with following the way of the cross which is the path of freedom, justice and peace.
We can never forget, even as we reflect on all that Jesus suffered to save us, that the cross is just the path, it is not the destination. We must always keep our eyes fixed on the resurrection, the eternal life which is ours once we have died to sin, selfishness, greed and hatred. Jesus made that possible for us, as well, leading the way. So, even as we embrace the cross, we hold our heads up high knowing that the resurrected life is about to dawn on us. This faith gives us confidence to work for a just world, to lift up the disenfranchised and ease the burden of the poor without growing weary or discouraged. Jesus has assured us of the victory if we surrender to Him and follow Him through the dark night into the glorious day.