I: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
The fourth Servant Song contributed three essential points
to the early church’s understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion:
Christ’s suffering was innocent, vicarious, and redemptive;
it avails for all persons; and the righteous sufferer will
be finally vindicated.
New Testament scholars are divided on whether Jesus himself
made use of this chapter for the understanding of his mission,
because sayings in which references to Isaiah occur (the ransom
saying in Mark
10:45 and the words “for many” in
14:24, the institution narrative) are probably later additions.
while some of the Passion predictions may echo the language
of Isa 53 (see especially Mark
9:12 and Luke 9:44), and may be authentic, they may well
be, in their present form (see especially Mark 10:33-34), vaticinia ex eventu.
It is important that we see the Cross, not as the mechanical fulfillment of a
preconceived dogmatic scheme, but as the culmination of the intensely personal
mission of Jesus as a whole.
He identified himself completely with sinners during
his ministry, and in so doing he broke through the barrier of sin set up between
God and humanity. He stood for God on the side of sinners.
Because the early church saw the Cross in the light of Jesus’ whole ministry,
it found in Isa 53 an almost perfect prophecy of the Passion and used it as a
quarry for its own theological statements about the Passion.
But these statements
are not abstract theologoumena; they are an attempt to capture in words, and
to pass on to those who did not have the direct experience of the crucifixion,
the meaning of a real flesh-and-blood history as the action of God pro nobis—for
us and for our salvation.
Responsorial Psalm: 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
Verse 5 of this
Compline psalm provided for Luke the crucified One’s last
word, which he substituted for the word from Psalm
22:1 in Mark-Matthew.
This word, “Into thy hand I commit my spirit,” lacks
the profound theological depth of that other saying; yet
it has a point to make.
As well as being God’s act of salvation for human beings, the
cross is also the human offering of perfect obedience to God.
This thought can be linked with the high priesthood of Christ,
which the second reading will bring before us.
Reading II: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
This is the third enunciation of the theme of Hebrews—the
priesthood of Christ. His high priesthood is characterized
in three ways: sympathy for human weakness as the result of
his own earthly experiences; the answer to his prayer for deliverance;
and his learning of obedience.
)As we said above in commenting on the responsorial psalm,) the
Cross, as well as being God’s act of salvation in identifying
perfectly with sinners, is also a human offering of perfect
obedience to God’s will.
This, in fact, is the quintessential
expression of Christ’s high priesthood in Hebrews (see the
citation of Psalm
40:6-8 in Hebrews
The real sacrifice that
God demands of human creatures is the perfect offering of themselves
in obedience. Because of sin, they were unable to offer this
The Levitical sacrifices of the old covenant could not take
away sin, for they were not that perfect sacrifice but a permanent
witness to their inadequacy, as the writers of Psalms 40 and
were destined to last until God provided this perfect sacrifice,
which God did in sending the Son.
Thus, through Christ, God does for us what we cannot do, namely,
offer the perfect sacrifice required by God.
This does not
mean that we are let off scot-free and have nothing to do for
our part; rather, it means that we are caught up into Christ’s
self-sacrifice and are enabled in him to offer ourselves, our
souls, and our bodies in union with his sacrifice, so that
the imperfection of our sacrifice is transformed by the perfection
of his sacrifice.
John 18:1 – 19:42
As we have seen, each evangelist has his own particular perspective
on the Passion, and John’s perspective is that the kingship
of Jesus constantly shines through his humiliation. All the
way through, Jesus is in command of the situation.
his passion in motion by voluntarily coming forward for his
arrest. The temple police, awed by his personality, fall back.
Peter would stop the arrest, but Jesus intervenes.
On the cross, Jesus makes his last will, bequeathing his mother
to the disciple and the disciple to his mother (John may regard
Mary as a symbol of the Church).
Finally, it is Jesus who decides
on the moment of his death—he gives up his spirit.
passion narrative is a commentary on the saying: “I lay
down my life, in order to take it up again. No one takes it from
me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John
Although the evangelist has packed most of his theology of
the Cross into his discourses, especially in the farewell addresses,
at least two points of interpretation are brought out in the
narrative. First, Pilate (like Caiaphas earlier, on the atoning
death) bears unwitting testimony to Christ’s kingship when
he brings Jesus before the people and when he refuses to alter
the inscription on the cross.
The second point is that the
Baptist had proclaimed Jesus as the true Paschal Lamb of God
who takes away the world’s sin, and now Christ dies as such
at the moment when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered.
at his death he announces the completion of his sacrifice: “It
is accomplished” (John 19:30; the NRSV translation, “It
is finished,” is weak; the Vulgate’s Consummatum est gets
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 1984
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.
rights reserved. Used by permission from The Liturgical
Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 2006 (Third Edition), pp. 66-68.
*Webmaster Note: Commentary on the Responsorial Psalm
is from the 1984 Revised Edition, p. 62.
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