THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS
John 18:1-19:42 – Fada Jervis KEBEI KEWI
Today is Good Friday. It is a day of solemnity. It is a day of remembrance. It is a day of penance. And it is, most of all, a day of prayer. For, on this day we mark the death of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This day is for us a holy day. It is a day when we re-enact the events that took place on that first Good Friday in order to remind ourselves of the sufferings Jesus went through for our sake. It is a day on which we read the Gospel accounts of that last journey Jesus took from the Praetorium to the hill of Calvary. We accompany him every step of the way knowing that it is our guilt that he has taken upon himself.
Today, therefore, I invite you to ponder the final words of Jesus, before his death. Scripture (the four gospels) records seven last statements, or the “Seven Last Words.” These SEVEN WORD are words of LOVE. Cf. Verse 4: Cameroon Hymnal 176: “O come and mourn with me awhile.” – Seven times he spoke seven words of love. This love of Jesus is at the center of what we are celebrating today. Note: Every verse of that song ends with the sentence: “JESUS, OUR LOVE, IS CRUCIFIED”. Love is the essence of Good Friday! (Cite the Jesus’ deliberate entry into Jerusalem, Passover Meal, and death as sign of that love.) Let us therefore, take each phrase and spend time with it, seeking the deeper spiritual meaning for your life.
- THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS
- a) “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34)
Jesus’ forgiveness of others was radical and to a degree never seen before. While hanging on the Cross and enduring the cruelty of others, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness. He forgave them in the midst of His persecution.
What’s more is that He even acknowledged that those crucifying Him were not fully responsible. They clearly did not know what they were doing. This humble acknowledgment of Jesus shows the depth of His tender mercy. It reveals He died not in anger or resentment, but in willing sacrifice.
Can you say these words? Can you call to mind the person who has hurt you and pray that the Father forgives them? Leave judgment to God and offer mercy and forgiveness.
- b) “I assure you (truly), today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43)
What a consolation it must have been for the good thief to hear these words. He must have been experiencing a certain despair in life at that moment as he, along side of Jesus, was dying on a cross. What a gift it was to be there next to the Savior of the World, sharing in the sufferings of Christ in such a real way. And this man was privileged to be among the first to receive this gift of salvation won by Jesus on the Cross.
Jesus offers us the same assurance. He offers salvation to us beginning today. And He offers it to us in the midst of our own suffering and sin. Can you hear Him offer you this gift of mercy? Can you hear Him invite you to share His gift of everlasting life? Let Him speak this invitation to you and let the eternal life of paradise begin to take hold more deeply today in your soul.
- c) “Woman, behold your son.” (Jn 19:26)
What a gift! Here, dying on the Cross, Jesus entrusted His own mother to John. And in so doing, He entrusted her to each one of us. Our unity with Jesus makes us a member of His family and, thus, sons and daughters of His own mother. Our Blessed Mother accepts this responsibility with great joy. She embraces us and holds us close.
Do you accept Jesus’ mother as your own spiritual mother? Have you fully consecrated yourself to her? Doing so will place you under her mantle of protection and love.
- d) “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?) (Mt 27:46)
Jesus was not abandoned but He allowed Himself to feel and experience this complete loss of the Father in His human nature. He felt the deep experience of despair. He allowed Himself to know and experience the effects of sin. Therefore, He knows what we go through when we despair. He knows what it feels like. And He is there with us in those temptations enabling us to press on through any despair toward total faith and trust in the Father.
- e) “I thirst.” (Jn 19:28)
What a meaningful statement. He thirsted physically at that moment for water to quench His dehydration. But more than that, He thirsted spiritually for the salvation of all of our souls. Jesus’ spirit still longs for this gift of salvation. He longs to call us His children. He thirsts for our love.
Ponder Jesus saying these words to you. “I thirst for you!” He says. It is a deep and burning thirst for your love. You satiate Jesus’ thirst by returning that love. Satiate His thirst this Good Friday by giving Him your love.
- f) “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)
These are the words we need to pray more than any. These are the words of complete surrender to God. Prayer is ultimately about one thing. It’s about surrender. It’s about trust. Say these words over and over today and let this perfect surrender of Jesus also be your surrender.
‘Surrender” means God is in control. It means that we let go of our own will and choose only God’s. (Dying is a process through which every human being must pass. It comes slowly and we must accept it gracefully by our ability to abstain from certain things we indulge in – feeding habits, fashion, aging process, etc.) God pledges to accept our surrender and guide us into the perfect plan He has in mind for us.
- g) “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30)
It’s significant that He said “It is finished” as His last words. What does this mean? What is finished?
This spiritual statement from Jesus is one that affirms that His mission of the redemption of the whole world is accomplished. “It” refers to His perfect sacrifice of love offered for all of us. His death, which we commemorate today, is the perfect sacrifice which takes away the sins of all. What a gift! And what a sacrifice Jesus endured for us!
In today’s Gospel account from St John, Jesus’ very last word at the point of his death, says it all – “It is finished!” “Tetélestai” (Jn 19:30). What does Jesus mean by tetelestai? What is finished?
- “HE LOVED THEM TO THE END”
In the Gospel of yesterday, we heard the phrase: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). The word end in the Greek text is telos. This end, is the “end of loving‟ – that point of love beyond which there can be no greater love. That end of love is what we see on the Cross – the greatest ever possible love. This is perfect love as other translations of Jn 13:1 have it.
On the Cross, Jesus abolishes every old order of sacrifice – it is all ended (tetélestai), and he inaugurates a new order of sacrifice, by the priestly handing over of himself and the world to the Father, fulfilling that act of giving himself to his apostles the night before: “take my body… take my blood…” given up for you. By this sacrifice, Jesus declares: “It is finished”
We are used to seeing this sacrifice on the Cross. We ponder this sacrifice every time we look at the crucifix. But it is important to note that our over-familiarity with the Cross can tempt us to lose sight of the sacrifice. It’s easy for us to miss what Jesus actually did for us. He accomplished the act that saves us and He is now offering it to us. Let this completed act of Divine Mercy penetrate your soul. He desires to say that His sacrifice has “finished” its work in your soul.
So today, on this Good Friday, it would be good if we spend the day pondering the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice. Try to understand what it was like for God Himself to suffer and die. Contemplate what it was like for God Himself, the Creator of all things, to be put to death by those whom He created, to suffer at the hands of those whom He loved with a perfect love.
- THE CROSS
We wear crucifixes, carry them around, we have them in our churches and homes, but do we really understand this is what the cross means? The Cross is the greatest act of love the world has ever known and the supreme expression of the power of God. When people see in it weakness, we Christians find in it the power that liberates us from condemnation; when the world counts it as foolishness, we find in it the wisdom of God that saves; when people find it a scandal, we find in it the supreme act of love – our God turning against himself in order to set us free. For the Catholic, the cross has a great significance:
- a) The sign of the cross is the mark of Catholicism. We begin all prayers with the sign of the cross. We bless with the sign of the cross, etc.
- b) The crucifix is a symbol of our salvation: By the sacrifice on the cross, we have been saved. When we say the Stations of the Cross, we say “We adore you o Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
- c) The crucifix is a symbol of protection from the devil: One of the main instruments used by exorcists to cast out the devil is the crucifix. The devil runs away where there is one, because he knows that that is the sign of his defeat.
- d) The crucifix gives new meaning to human suffering: Christ says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” (Lk.9:23).
- e) The crucifix is the greatest sign of love: Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man, than to lay down his life for his friends”.
- f) The crucifix is a sign of total consecration: that is why we wear the crucifix. St Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:19-20).
- g) The crucifix is a sign of the perseverance of Our Blessed Mother Mary: It was by the cross that Jesus said to Mary and John “Mother behold thy son; son behold thy mother”. When we look at the cross we grow more and more in love for our Lady, the perfect mother.
Understanding Jesus’ sacrificial love will enable us to love as He did. It will enable us to love those who have hurt us and those who persecute us. His love is total. It is generous beyond description. Therefore, let us pray:
Lord, I know You thirst for my soul. You finished what You started by dying on the Cross for my salvation and the salvation of the world. Help me to understand Your love and to accept it into my life. Help me to forgive. Help me to invite you into my own darkness and sin. Help me to abandon all to You. I thank You, dear suffering Lord, for the gift of Your Precious Blood, poured out for the salvation of the world. Jesus, I trust in You.