There is only a line difference between a mediocre and a historical speech. Martin Luther King had the “I have a Dream”, Ronald Reagan had “Tear down this wall!” and each newly inaugurated US president has the “So help me God.” That line, whatever it may be, echoes down through the ages. Eloquent speakers as I just named, and many others, stand erect with their feet above their audience and eagerly deliver a message that would make a lasting impact. It is the same play in churches, when preachers stand before the congregation to deliver an edifying message in the hopes of nourishing the soul. There is one man, however, a true Man, who delivered a message that neither inspires nor stands out. The message does not have one line that stands out, but seven—a number expressing multitude. It is a message that is remembered every Friday before Easter, delivered by Jesus Christ the Messiah, as He was hanging up on the Cross which became His pulpit. Unlike many leaders and eloquent speakers who stood erect before their audience, Our Blessed Lord stooped low and bowed before the Sins of the world as the means to transform it and, therefore, save. On His lowly yet glorious pulpit, He delivered the seven last words to those whose eyes and ears are open for their soul to be saved. The Seven Last Words bear messages that cannot be found in the mouths of men and women alike, but only in the Word Himself. The Seven Last Words were heavenly messages our Blessed Lord preached to us that bring not inspiration, but salvation.
The First Word: Forgiveness
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” – Luke 23:34
Because of our sinfulness, the world is in a perpetual road to war and unrest, brokenness and destruction. Offenses come in large sized boxes as well as in microscopic sizes. In the microscopic sizes, we often encounter people who make our lives difficult, by the way they treat us or talk to us, or the lack thereof. It is natural to love back those who love us and agree with us all the time and, yet, hate those who offend us. The crucifixion is the most horrible thing that can happen to someone at the time of Jesus, under the authority of the Romans. The crucifixion was such a dreaded punishment, that those who were crucified at that time howled in distress, saying that they wish they never lived, cursing their mothers and themselves for being able to live, only to go through the horrors of the cross. It does feel like a cross when others offend and make our lives so hard to bear. Naturally, we curse those people, we are eager for revenge. Sometimes, we curse ourselves for going through such a tremendous cross, wishing that we never lived if such difficulty is what life offers us. It’s easy to live in joy when things are going well, and in sorrow and hatred when they don’t. Yet, our Blessed Lord knew well the power of repetition. Once He preached about our Enemies and the difficulty they constantly bring in our lives, as He said, “Love your Enemies, and pray for those we persecute you.” And again, a moment after the executioners brought Him down to His glorious pulpit, He preached about our Enemies once again, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”. The Father’s grace does not discriminate, and so the Son—the High Priest, the Savior of the World, the spotless Lamb, the spotless Victim—administered the grace accordingly, to followers and enemies alike. Forgiveness is such a powerful grace that, not only does it heal but transforms. Forgiveness does not heal the offender’s transgression, but transforms the offender into a new person, so that he or she may be fit for the Kingdom of God. All of us are potentially offenders to others just as we are offenders to our God. Yet, out of great love, the Father still desires all of us to be admitted into His heavenly Kingdom and so the Son made sure that we are all fit. On one hand, He offers forgiveness. On the other hand, we have the freedom to respond to it and share it to others. From His pulpit, the Messiah gives away forgiveness to all just as a person gives away a bag of candies to a crow of children. Yet, because of our freedom, forgiveness can fall under different soil as the Messiah explained in a parable.
The Second Word: Christ did not come to heal.
“I promise you, on this Day, you will be with me in Paradise” – Luke 23:43
“Life’s great scandal is pain”, as Venerable Archbishop Sheen puts it. Beasts and men alike know too well the cruelty pain can inflict to them at many levels. Pain can be inflicted at a physical level, mental level, and spiritual level. Nevertheless, it is something that is naturally avoided unlike pleasure, which naturally pursued. This is the concept of pain, and we do not need to go too far from the cross to find an example. On Golgatha, we find two thieves crucified next to our Blessed Lord – one on His left and one on His right. Both of them, as many Jews and non-Romans crucified before them, blasphemed as the effect of the torture of the cross. However, they went on separate ways in the end. The two thieves revealed a very important thing about pain: pain is a polarizing experience. The one on the left wanted to be delivered from the pain of the cross. He demanded to be healed, and said to our Blessed Lord to take Himself down if He is the Son of God. He has the power to do so, the thief on the left knew. The thief on the left find it puzzling why someone would endure pain powerlessly even if He has the power to avoid it. Very human the thief on the left is. And human too is the thief on the right, but He had a superhuman encounter with our Lord. The thief on the right said to the other “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what deserved for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41, NRSV). While the natural response to pain is to avoid it and condemn it when it wraps its pointy finger around our hearts—as the thief on the left did, the alternative response is to go to pain’s dwelling place and see a true, full glimpse of our soul. When we do that, we soul our limits, our imperfections. The two thieves must have been Jewish rebels, using violence to overthrow the Romans in Judea. The thief on the right might have finally seen the true state of his soul, filled with anger, envy, and pride. While he did not find justice for his fellowmen oppressed by the Romans, he found justice in himself, a justice found within. He found repentance. He heard the words of the Man next to him echoing all the way from Galilee: “The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe in the Gospel!” Repent and believe in the Gospel the thief on the right did. Therefore, He responded to the saving message of the Man next to Him saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Luke 23:42), and so the King of all nations in the midst of him—with nails on His hands as His scepter, crown of thorns as His diadem, and the cross as His glorious throne told Him the good news “To this day, you will be with me in Paradise”. The Messiah did not come to the world to heal it, but to transform it. His work was to spread His world to all—Jews and Gentiles alike. The healing takes place through our own hearts and freedom. Athletes know too well that winning is not given to them. They have to earn it through the pain of hard-work and sacrifice. Similarly, healing is not given to us. We have to give room for it in us through faith which an act of self-emptying and repentance, so that our relationship with Him may be transformed anew, just like the relationship between our Blessed Lord and the thief on the right, and be called fit for paradise. Our Blessed Lord, hanging on in His heavenly pulpit, looks over our repentant hearts and waits for us to tell Him to take us into the paradise.
The Third Word: Motherly Accompaniment
“Mother, this is your Son. Son, this is your Mother.” – John 19:26
Our Blessed Lord has gone through what all people during His time dreaded to go through: the pain of the cross. By noon time, He is hanging on it. Many people would have hid their faces in shame, or render their last breathe out of hopelessness. It is such a shame to have someone’s torture displayed before a crowd who also never want to see such a horrible thing, especially when one of the people in that crowd is your mother. Such is the case for our Blessed Lord. Hanging on the cross, He looked down to His Mother, quietly standing before His feet, and said to Her: “Mother, this is your Son. Son, this is your Mother.” These words are a presentation of our Blessed Mother to those who follow our Blessed Lord. Jesus Christ did not promise an easy life to those who follow Him. In fact, He assured them that they will go through what He is going through at the present moment. His followers would also have to bear and endure their crosses. However, by addressing His mother, He is actually telling His followers that they will not be alone in the journey back to paradise. The Blessed Mother will be with them, nourishing them with obedience, trust, and humility to the Divine Plan of God. One of the greatest misconception about Christianity is that it is a purely patriarchal religion. This is false simply because of the Divine Role that Mother Mary has for a religion that started on the cross, the worst thing this world can offer to us. The truth is, however, is that we have our own crosses. Life is not fun and easy for us when we start living it. And no one knew this better than our Blessed Lord on the cross. We offer resistance to those that weigh us down. Our Blessed Lord tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in the Father. Believe also in me” (John 14:1, NASB). In other words, He is urging us to believe in Him and what He is doing. There is nothing to be afraid about the worst things this world can give us, for there is our Mother who comforts and nourishes us.
The Fourth Word: The first Atheist was the One who was sent
“My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” – Matthew 27:46
Rejection is the least we long for when it comes to dealing with others. There is this popular understanding of God as one cosmic, supernatural entity who is supposed to provide all that we need, and when we call that need “blessings”. Atheists have this conception deeply rooted in their minds. They have constructed a thought process against God which goes like this: If one of two opposites be infinite, wouldn’t the infinite eliminate the other? And so if God is infinitely good, wouldn’t His existence eliminate evil? Yet, there is evil; we witness it before our eyes, when we see on TV reports on countless murders, acts of terrorism, and acts of deception by politicians. Therefore, there is no God that is powerfully good. The very idea of rejection is the fabric which their identity as Atheist is made of. They have experienced tremendous deprivation of divine goodness and that is why they think there is no such thing as God. Whether they are conscious of it or not, they go through such tremendous pain which they call “rejection” and respond back to it with rejection. They are angry with the idea of God that they reject it, but their rejection doesn’t suffice to the claim that God doesn’t exist. In fact, their rejection strongly indicates that God does exist. The problem, however, is the question of whether God is actually good or, in fact, evil. Rejection is a scissor which cuts ties, including relational ties. Our original parents Adam and Eve received that scissor as they chose to eat that forbidden apple. Since then, we have borne in our hearts that scissor, and that scissor is what keeps us sinful. Sin is cutting ties with our Divine Lord. In response, what did God do? Did He just leave us on our own? If He is an evil God, He would’ve abandoned us, as what Atheists would believe. If He is all good, isn’t it His duty to reach us back to us? Christianity proclaims that the latter is true. If there is anyone who knows rejection best, it will be the Christian God, the Father who sent His son to the world to transform our divine relationship with Him anew. The Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, knew that He would experience rejection from his birth all the way to His death. When He was born, He was rejected a comfortable place to stay. When He died, there are many who rejected Him: His apostles, especially Peter; the trees, whose branch yielded the cross and the hammer; roses whose stems became His crown of thorns; and the Heavenly Father who has the power to deliver Him from all the pain He went through. All during the time of His passion, Jesus Christ never experienced the consolation of His Father. He experienced rejection, and so He cried out along with many Atheists cry out deep within their hearts “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” If He is truly the Son of God who created all Heaven and Earth, why would He say such a thing? The Messiah came to this world with a bag of infinite grace in His heart, and His work is to spread the good news to all, Jews and Gentiles, followers and enemies, believers and Atheists alike, with the hopes that we exercise our freedom to fully receive the gospel. Our Blessed Lord lived in this world as both true God and Man. As true Man, He associated Himself with the transgressors and as true God, He lifted up our transgressions to the Heavenly Father in exchange for forgiveness—an act of rekindling the Divine Romance between God and Mankind. Jesus Christ associated Himself with the cry of the Atheist. If He wasn’t true Man, He wouldn’t be able to fully relate to the Atheist. And if He wasn’t true God, the Atheists wouldn’t be able to have a place in the work of redemption. As the High Priest, He sanctified the Atheists through the words He uttered, so that Atheists can be like the thief on His right.
The Fifth Word: The Divine yearning for Human love
“I thirst” – John 19:28
Our Blessed Lord, who told the woman at the well that He is the living water that shall never leave anyone thirsty again, utters the words on the cross as if He revokes what He proclaimed to the woman at the well: “I thirst”. Why would the fountain of life, the source of all nourishment would say such a thing? These words may shed light to the true humanity of Jesus Christ as the results of the physical torment inflicted by the cross. At the same time, these words may also shed light to the divinity of Christ, expressing the divine longing of God for our love. At this point, the Son of God have endured betrayal, scourging, rejection, mockery, pain, and soon death, all of the worst things Mankind can give to one another. As a response, God said He thirst for the water of goodness that comes out of the hearts of men and women. He has withstood the evil of mankind due to sin. The Messiah affirms the freedom of mankind, where He probably has said: “I have endured the worst things you can do to one another”, just less than a day after He commanded us to “love one another”, the best thing mankind can do to one another. “Now, give me your goodness as much as you gave your evil to me, for I will love you either way.” The Divine Lover waits day after day, night after night, rain or shine for us to give our Love to Him. He waits for that which He longs for, which is our hearts in totality. Just as a man waits for the woman he pursues to give herself to him, so, too, God waits for us to give our hearts to Him without reservations.
The Sixth Word: The work of Redemption
“It is finished” – John 19:30
Being crucified at the cross is, no doubt, the lowest point of anyone’s lives at the time of Jesus. The cross represents shame and the lowest of lows. However, our Blessed Lord, hanging on the cross, defeated and mocked in the eyes of mankind, utters the following words as if He was standing erect on a stage, like Jonathan Ive announcing a new Apple product to an eager audience: “It is finished.” The Messiah has finished a project He was sent by His Father on earth to do: redemption. The work of redemption engineered by Jesus Christ was initiated in His birthplace, in the manger, where He stooped—stooped at the door of humility and was finished at the cross—the symbol of self-emptying and self-giving. Our Blessed Lord had used what He learned from Joseph about carpentry well. From the Jewish courts of Sanhedrin to the cross at Golgatha, He built a new ark that take over the place of Noah’s Ark, the ark of the new covenant. This new covenant is made up of His flesh and blood, His self-emptying and sacrifice, His obedience and humility. Our Blessed Lord has paved the way for us to this new ark, and this is the way of repentance, self-emptying, and humility, the way He paved from the courts of Sanhedrin to Golgatha. Each of us, too, have our own share of the way from Sanhedrin to Golgatha. Our Lord willingly walked from Sanhedrin to Golgatha so that He can walk with us in our own, leading us to paradise.
The Seventh Word: The Way to Victory
“Father, into Your hands, I commend my Spirit” – Luke 23:46
The cross is the greatest terror sponsored by the power of Rome during Jesus time, terror against those who dared to speak or act against the empire. It was so terrifying that no one would talk about it, except after that one Good Friday. Jesus Christ, our Blessed Lord, knew that His vocation was the cross. And so He endured all the painful things that led Him to the cross as well as the cross itself. He knew that His vocation is a messy one. The peak of His earthly vocation was wrapped around lips. The peak started from the lips of Judas and was capped off by His lips consuming that drip of vinegar presented by one of the executioners. However, His vocation was not simply just the cross. All the pains and terrors He went through from that Thursday night to Friday afternoon ultimately point towards these last words He uttered: “Father, into Your hands, I commend my spirit.” When it comes to pain, it is naturally to either keep it to our own or staunchly resist it. Nature urges us to waste pain and keep it under the dumpsters of the world. As our Blessed Lord preaches to us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24, NASB) In other words, unless pain is given up, that pain will just remain a pain, slowly devouring a person’s soul. But if it is surrendered to the Father, the pain will not transform into something fruitful for the soul. Through these words, our Blessed Lord shares His divinely mandated vocation to us, the vocation to embrace our pain and surrender it to the Father who created us and knows us through and through (Psalm 139). For when we surrender everything to Him, we will be given the glory of Easter Sunday in return.