Theological insight and biblical scholarship are not what this article offers in reflecting upon the seven last utterances of Jesus Christ before He breathed His last on the cross.
Rather, a devout but degree-less Christian shares his unreferenced thoughts on Holy Week and Easter.
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. — Luke 23:34
In seeking God’s mercy on man’s ignominy, Jesus acknowledged one primary reason for error and sin: ignorance. Only God sees the future and knows the full effects of human actions. Hence, Jesus asked forgiveness for absent foreknowledge, which leads to acts later proven unwise, erroneous, improper, destructive, evil.
Another reason to forgive: often, only by mistakes are seemingly sound ideas and ways proven wrong, just as evolution tries out different mutations, with faulty ones eliminated by extinction. The wrong, in effect, shows what’s right. That seems worth forgiving.
Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. — Luke 23:43
How does one reach heaven? Jesus’s moment with the crucified thieves spells it out. The path to Paradise is not through a perfect life or the righting of imperfections before death and judgment. Both thieves lived a grossly flawed one or two score, with no time to undo decades of crimes in their dying hour.
Yet Jesus guaranteed one robber’s salvation. Why? Because he believed in Christ’s redeeming power: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And unlike the other thief, the good one acknowledged his guilt: “we are receiving the due reward for our deeds.” Atonement wins forgiveness, for as the psalmist said, “a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
He said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple [John]. “Behold your mother!” — John 19:26-27
This passage is variously interpreted as Jesus entrusting His mother Mary to John, and designating her as mother of the Church. He also referred to Mary as the “woman” foretold by God in the Garden of Eden who shall battle the serpent.
To this believer, the passage also extols Christ. In His unimaginable agony from sweating blood in Gethsemane to gasping His last on Calvary, Jesus had others in His mind and heart: Who will care for His Blessed Mother, and who will parent His flock when He leaves this world? After giving every drop of blood and stab of pain for our redemption, Christ bequeaths us His dearest mother.
My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? — Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34
In this cry, the devoted say, Jesus merely quoted Psalm 22, but never felt abandoned by God. But why would anyone engage in scriptural erudition amid excruciating perdition?
What’s more plausible is that the Son of God, in assuming humanity, underwent the greatest human distress: the terror of facing earthly tribulation without heavenly succor.
Man can bear all, knowing God will right wrongs in the end. But even with unshakeable hope in eventual justice, present calamity still makes life seem Godless. Hitler’s Final Solution, Pol Pot’s killing fields, lifelong destitution leading to painful death — these and other hellish tragedies abound, when heaven is silent and seems absent. In embracing humanity, God’s Second Person must at least once feel abandoned by the First.
I thirst. — John 19:28
Earlier in His crucifixion, Jesus refused wine vinegar offered to the condemned to dull suffering. But before expiring, Jesus lets a vinegared sponge touch His lips. Exegetes explain that His final drink fulfills Psalm 69, verse 21.
Sure, but let’s not forget Christ’s lesson of love in asking for the mercy of a speared, sour sponge. In humankind’s inescapable deprivations, the answer is neither the miracle of loaves and fishes, nor the invisible hand of market forces, but the kindness of human beings to one another. More than water, people thirst for compassion.
It is finished. — John 19:30
To many believers, Jesus’s penultimate words are about the completion of His mission to suffer and die for our redemption. But despite biblical references to Christ dying for man’s sins, some theologians find unjust and unbelievable that God would make the innocent suffer for the sinful [also covered in last Saturday’s column, "Christ did not die for our sins”].
On the other hand, it was God Himself as His Second Person who offered deathly expiation, showing in human form what divine love and mercy are. In living as man from humble birth to hopeless death, Christ realized in humanity the fullness of divinity.
Earthly existence was lifted to heavenly holiness by 33 years of God as man between Bethlehem and Golgotha. Thus, just before His heart beat its last, Christ declared His human life and His redemptive mission finished.
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. — Luke 23:46
Jesus’s final words, of course, express His boundless faith, hope and love in God His Father, Whose loving embrace is the ultimate and only answer to all human frailty, failure, agony and absurdity. Even the most unhappy, unjust, ugly life shall be made right in the next. And in yielding Himself to His Father’s care instead of taking hold of His spirit by His own divine power, God the Son follows the human path even after death. Like every other man, woman or child’s soul, Jesus’s spirit slips from His lifeless body into the loving hands of God.
What an affirmation of the image of God in man and the Godliness offered to every human being, that God receives His Son’s spirit in His hands. And we are all invited to have divine hands too by embracing helpless souls commended to our care, as Jesus was to His Father. Thus, we shall have a foretaste of salvation in this world — His kingdom come — that brings us closer to redemption in the next.