Friday, March 29
Mk 15:21-47


We are at the height of the story of salvation within the liturgy of the Easter triduum. We invite you to take the time to deepen and pray about these verses of the Word. The reading of Mark’s passages during these solemn days focuses on the location of events which are immersed in Creation, an olive grove, a mount and a garden. Today we find ourselves on Mount  Golgotha, a place of torture and death. We stand before the most important narrative in the entire gospel. Here, on this Mount outside Jerusalem, we have the opportunity to encounter the face of God. Yesterday, in the olive grove, Jesus taught us how to pray. Today he teaches us how to live.

“Recounting”, or re-telling the story today is an impossible task, so we will only give you a few insights with an invitation to slow down, to put the brakes on today and dwell on each verse. Each passage deserves a day, if not a week, of silent meditation. In each verse, we find explanations of Scripture, the prophets, the law, Paul’s letters, the apocalypse, patristics, medieval theology, the magisterium of the church and Laudato Si’. Here we encounter Creation as it speaks to us of this death, of the darkening sky, the veil of the temple – made by human hands – being torn apart. It is up to us to choose to fix our gaze on the glory of God, manifested today in this torn body hanging from the cross, just as the centurion does, and in so doing, is saved. Or else we can do as the high priests, the Pharisees, the evildoers who were crucified with him and the crowd do, who scoff at that torn body on the cross yet are nevertheless saved because of God’s mercy.

They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, to bear His cross the scene opens with an immigrant, a poor man’, from Libya in Africa who was returning from the fields. He is one of those who carry crosses or help carry them, who are never rich or powerful, but always looked down on with a look of inferiority. This man, despite himself, becomes one of the protagonists of the scene. He is not Simon, the disciple on whom He would later found the church, but yet another Simon. This Simon is an unwilling disciple, yet one who will go on to follow the Christian way and in fact  along with his sons and wife Evodia is mentioned both in the letter to the Romans and in Mark’s Gospel as the father of Alexander and Rufus.

When suffering, we almost always look for some form of  anesthetic, “They gave him wine drugged with myrrh,” but He takes none. The scene where they strip Him of his clothes is both heartbreaking and humiliating and then they “divided his garments by casting lots for them.” The majesty of God is in owning nothing of his own. “With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left” The cross is the tree that towers over this Mount, reminding us of the tree of life rejected by Adam (whose skull is often depicted at the foot of the cross). Jesus climbs this tree of death to spill His blood on the skull, which represents the death of each of us, in order to give life. His blood irrigates the soil like the blood of many eco-martyrs who fight for social and environmental justice. The blood of martyrs is like a seed for all Christians, as Tertullian says. In this moment in Christ’s glory, there are two thugs “one on the right and the other on the left” in the  very places where   James and John so anxiously desired to be. How we need to learn to pray!  Keeping Jesus in our midst, among our miseries, in solidarity with all humanity represented on the right and on the left: those who are criminals and those who are convinced that they are not.

How much we, Christians and citizens of the world, have to learn from this prophetic image! Only when we understand that real politics is not about occupying positions of power or defending that power with crusades and political parties, but it’s about putting the “least of the least” in first place, truly listening to the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth, can we truly hope for a better world. How important it is for Christians to strive for prophetic politics! If our king is Jesus crucified, then truly there is hope. It is a sure hope, because in a world made up of a minority of kings who nurture wars, abuse of power and corruption, the story of humanity has also known human rights, solidarity, integral ecology, built by so many kings who choose, silently every day, to put themselves at the service of others.

Those passing by reviled him,“and “Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves” and again “Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.”  There is a unanimous chorus of criticism and insults thrown at this God who displays his majesty from the wood of the cross. How timely is this word, how much criticism of this God who accepts suffering and who takes on our crosses?

At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” Creation speaks to us every day. But today everything takes on a special meaning. We are in a night that begins in the Garden of the oil press in Jerusalem which has been marked by trials and outrages, by the confusion on the street, by the Mount of the Skull. We are in the sixth hour, the hour when the sun is at its highest point, the hour of greatest light but also the hour of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Sin as in the moment when Creation breaks away from the Creator and when Adam and Eve hide themselves. Darkness hides from the strongest light. On Mount Golgotha the end of the world takes place. The world of sin ends. We do not have to wait for another end of the world. In the Gospels it is already described here, with this eclipse.

Eloì, Eloì, lemà sabactàni?” meaning, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These last words, not understood by us humans, are followed by “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.” We invite you to dedicate not one minute but ten minutes of silence today as you read this reflection. Maybe even an hour of silence while contemplating this “spectacle,” giving it the time it deserves.

Let us remain in silence before this image.

(Crucifixion, Giotto and collaborators,1308-1310 lower basilica of Assisi)

He emitted the spirit. God also expired. Life is both inhaling and exhaling. To be terrified of death is to be insatiable. Very often we want to inhale even to the point of bursting. We keep the planet’s resources, our relationships, our well-being, our very lives to ourselves for fear of losing them. God, who created everything by an action of kenosis,  by stripping himself of his infinity to make room for finite things, now in the stripping of the cross gives us a new Creation. A rebirth, without veils. God reveals himself to us. Expiring.

The passage closes, mirroring how it opened, with those who witnessed the show: power, symbolized by the centurion, and the crowds, that is, the people. The religious people of the time disappear in the narrative, their presence lost within the events of this new Creation. A new world, a new Creation, begins, “The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.” The veil that hides the Holy of Holies is torn in two and God “reveals himself,” shows His face. The waters break; it is a painful birth. In Matthew’s gospel it is highlighted as well that Mother Earth is torn apart with earthquakes, the Son is born, who “crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father.” Born into the pain and sin of the world. We are convinced (with the way we compartmentalize things) that we are witnessing a death scene. Instead, it is a birth.

“When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” This is a sentence that comes from observing and contemplating this cross. The Centurion says this, who by trade exercised power and death. We are God’s tormentors and yet it is we who can recognize Him in the face of those who suffer.

St. Francis, in the wonderful paraphrase to the Our Father, reminds us that: “And lead us not into temptation: hidden or manifest, sudden or insistent. But deliver us from evil: past, present and future.” (FF 274). Let us thank the Lord for the immense gift of His life for us, and for teaching us that there is an alternative way to evil. Let us pray on this day of silence that this new Creation may be a seed of conversion for us.

Laudato Si’!