On the night of the Last Supper, one of Our Lord’s concerns was to prepare his apostles for the apparently terrible things that were going to happen to him in the next twenty-four hours. And so he said to them, as we read in the gospel of today’s Mass, that they should rejoice that he is about to leave them, because his leaving will be the occasion of the coming of the Holy Spirit who will help them to understand the value and indeed the necessity of those terrible things that were to happen on the morrow.
What was going to happen? Jesus would be brought before the high priest. He would be accused of blasphemy—of insulting God—because he called himself God’s Son. Thus he would be branded as a sinner by the highest authority of the Jewish nation, the Sanhedrin led by the High Priest. And they would then wish to kill him, but would be unable to do so because the Roman forces of occupation reserved to themselves the right to take life. So they must get the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to authorize Jesus’s death. They would go and accuse Jesus before Pilate of claiming to be a king. It was a lie, but they did not scruple to lie if by doing so, they could accomplish their purpose.
Pilate found no reason to kill Jesus, and his instinctive sense of justice made him reluctant to do so. But the local people, egged on by their leaders, were becoming more insistent, more restive, so Pilate wasn’t going to let a little thing like the innocence of one man stop him from doing whatever was necessary to prevent a riot. “Take him and kill him,” he told them.
So the night before, Jesus tells his apostles that when the Spirit came upon them after his departure from them into heaven, he would help them to understand three elements of his sufferings and death in particular: the accusation of sin, the presumption of virtue or righteousness, and the condemnation to death because of blasphemy and the false charge of claiming to be a king. What he is saying is this: “My enemies will accuse me of sin. But it is not I who am a sinner, but they. My enemies will claim to be righteous in putting me to death, but they will be killing an innocent man, and indeed, the savior of the world. And my enemies will condemn me to death, but in fact Satan, who is the ruler of this world, is showing himself to have already been condemned to eternal death by inspiring my enemies to kill the promised Savior of the world. You won’t understand all of this now, but when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, then you will understand and you will see how important it was that I die on the cross and by doing so, save the world.”
If we Christians believed the death of Jesus to be a calamity, a defeat, a colossal embarrassment, we would certainly not place crucifixes in our churches, homes, and some public places. But we realize that the death of Jesus on the cross was a victory, a part of God’s merciful plan for the redemption of the world, a triumph of divine pardon over human sin. We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world! Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.