Imagine for a moment that things had gone a different way that first Good Friday.
Suppose that Pontius Pilate did not change his mind about Jesus after he declared, “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38). Rather than giving into the crowd and the demands of the chief priests, imagine that the Roman governor did not abandon an innocent man.
Or suppose when Pilate asked the crowd what person he should set free on the occasion of Passover, the crowd had shouted “Jesus” rather than “Barabbas.”
If either of those things had happened, Jesus would not have walked the road to crucifixion later that day. Instead, Jesus would have walked away a free man. He would have been able to continue his ministry. He would have continued proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, forgiving the sinner, and gathering disciples. And there would be no crucifixes displayed on the walls of our homes or in our churches.
But Jesus was condemned and put to death. Jesus knew that would be the case. As he says in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 12:20-33), “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
Jesus was that grain of wheat, that seed that had to die in order to transfer its life and energy into the sprouting plant. So, by his suffering and death, Jesus became the source of new life for us.
Certainly, in his humanity, Jesus did not seek the cross. As he told his disciples, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”
Suffering and death came to Jesus because he refused to be anything less than completely faithful to his Heavenly Father and to who he was as his Beloved Son. Suffering and death came to Jesus because he loved us, and he demonstrated that love on the cross.
As he said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:13-14)
Even those without faith recognize the immense love that a person demonstrates in offering his or her life so others may live. Medals are given and statues erected for such sacrifices.
When Jesus was lifted upon the cross that Good Friday afternoon, he transformed that instrument of death. It became the tree of life and the symbol of his self-sacrificing love. Jesus poured out his life and in doing so “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9)
Those who have never heard the story of Jesus or never looked at a cross, could never imagine what the Son of God did for us sinners.
What Jesus did out of love; we are called to imitate in some way in the circumstances of our own lives. A Jesus tells us in Sunday’s Gospel (John 12:20-33), “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski