Good Friday is the day Christians commemorate the passion of Christ, and for those of the Western Rite Orthodoxy, that is today. I, for one, have always loved this time of year as far as the Christian/Catholic calendar goes. Perhaps because of the Lenten reflection that precedes the Easter Triduum traditions, which have a way of reflecting the essence of life – suffering and glory. I also enjoy that unlike major Christian holidays, even where there is a commercialization of Easter, you really cannot wholly take the crucifixion, death, and resurrection, and turn into something for secular consumption. I love the silence and the songs and the memory of these celebrations; I love the spirituality and connection I feel to my faith.
Jesus encountered several people in his passion. People, I think, that tell us a lot about not only the story of the passion, and the incredible intensity of the mood and emotions; but I think encounters in Jesus passion is a story about humanity. It’s a story about us.
Judas: Judas is easily the most disliked character in the passion; he is the betrayer. Till this day we use his name as a synonym for people who deceive us in this way. We often do not see ourselves as Judas; as traitors. But perhaps that is a problem. Perhaps we ought to recall the moments that we are not faithful to our convictions, to the people we love, and to ourselves. And it is a rare person that would keep the company of someone who they know is going to betray them. Can we, do we, love our enemies? And what does that mean to us?
Peter: We do not think of Peter as a betrayer but his act of denial to me has always seemed more tragic than we give it credit for. Peter was the one guy that seemed like he would ride or die for Jesus till the very end. But when push came to shove, he denied Jesus, as Jesus had told him he would. How many times have we failed to stand up and be counted when our voices were needed? How many people have we let down who needed us when it mattered the most?
Herod (Antipas): Although some Gospels do not include Herod’s appearance where he is brought in front of Jesus after the chief priests and guards have taken him into custody, I want to do so here. Herod to me represents a busy-body and silent coward. A person who just likes to know what’s going on, and feels important because of it. Yet has no intention of doing anything fruitful or good with this knowledge. Knowledge and awareness for its own sake seem more callous than ignorance sometimes. And it is easy to fall into a pattern of wanting to know, without necessarily wanting to do.
Pilate: Pilate is a man with some influence – he can “save” Jesus if he wishes. Of course Jesus reminds him that his power is not absolute and only limited to time and space. To me, Pilate has always represented a certain kind of coward in society. The person who sees evil and can change it, and does not. Pilate is easy to relate to because so many of us are just like him. We succumb to the pressures of the people, and would rather be in good standing with what is popular as opposed to what is right.
Simon, the Cyrene: Simon is one of the few men of courage in Jesus’s passion. He carries the cross of Jesus with him at a point. This act of friendship, this act of love should not be overlooked. In this act, he shows what it means to really be a friend by deed, and not just by words. We do not know much about him in the Gospel recollections and perhaps that is also a notable thing. That our acts of bravery and incredible kindness where we suffer for another, need not be acclaimed loudly. Perhaps it is these acts, in fact, that are the greatest.
Veronica: Not from Gospel, but rather from oral history, Veronica is another beautiful person in the story of the passion. Moved greatly by the pain and ugliness of what she saw when she saw Jesus, she softly and yet courageously wipes his face. There is a great goodness yet subtlety in this act that she does; there is an almost natural sentiment about it. Do we help people who are suffering when our conscience invites us to do so? Do we follow the goodness of our heart regardless of the surroundings about us?
Soldiers and Civilians Who Mock Jesus: The soldiers and civilians who mock Jesus represent a mob mentality of which we have almost all surely participated in. It is unfortunate how easily we get swept away in the emotions of a crowd and become people we cannot recognize, victimizing an individual who even when not innocent, his crime may not match our responses. We should at all times be cautious in our reaction to any one individual who seems to be the latest enemy of a community.
Daughters of Jerusalem Who Weep for Him: There is the moment where Jesus notices women in the crowd are in tears because of his passion; he tells them to weep not for him but for themselves and their children. There is a great empathy we see here with these women who weep for him, who may or may not know him and yet mourn what is being done to him. Do we find empathy in the stories of people who we do not know? Who are not like us? Do we find empathy for people when it is most difficult to do so?
The Two Thieves Who Are Crucified Alongside Him: The two thieves represent two types of people – one who knows he has done wrong and wants to be absolved from the consequences, and another who knows he has done wrong, and seeks forgiveness. Of course the interesting thing is that Jesus appears to forgive them both, even while one asks him to “use his powers” to relieve them all from their suffering. What we see here is something divine. That Jesus forgives all, and not according to our human understanding of who “deserves” it. Can we emulate that in some way?
John: Known as the disciple Jesus loved dearly, John seems like he is the quiet friend that though he may not be able to stop the evil that is being done to you, he is never far from you till the very end. We need Johns in our life in order to survive, I think. But mostly we need to learn how to be a John to the ones we love.
Mary: Now I am not a mother. And I can only imagine what it was like to watch one’s child suffer so helplessly. As someone with a good mother, I know that the pains I feel are often felt too by my mother, because that seems to be one of the burdens of being a parent. When we see other people, do we see them as someone’s child? Do we know that the pains they feel, might be felt by the person who brought them into the world? And are we able at all times, to feel compassion for a person who suffers loss?
For me a fundamental truth, the human truth in all these reflections is that we can be and sometimes are, all of these people. We are good and bad, unfaithful, and loyal; friend and foe, mockers, and people of courage. Good Friday is the story that reminds humans that pain and suffering is not unique. But also that it is not meant to be endured by one’s self – not even Jesus endured it all alone. And above all, the Good Friday story is a remembrance that pain and suffering rarely has the final say; there is a resurrection nearby.