SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST – PARADISE AND MOTHER

INTRO: Jesus first word from the Cross was ‘Forgive’, because forgiveness is the beginning of being gifted with the New Life, the New Humanity, and then embracing this new way of being. So what does this ‘New Life, ‘New Humanity’, this “New Way of Being’ look like? Let us reflect on the next two Words of the dying Jesus uttered from the central moment of Cosmic History – the Cross bringing to birth the Resurrection.

[1]     I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise  (Luke 23: 39-43) and ‘Woman, behold your son; Son, behold your Mother’ (John 19: 25-27). Put together, these two words speak to us of the New Community, New Family, this New Creation that in born from the pierced side of Christ upon the Cross, that bursts upon the world through the earthquake of Resurrection.

[2]     The dialogue with the ‘good thief’. This is the moment of ‘strange glory’ (When I am lifted up I shall draw people to myself’ John 12: 32). Jesus companions are two convicted criminals being executed for their crimes. I will draw all people to myself – the religious people, the law-abiders, the ‘holy’ ones criticised Jesus for eating at the table of tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners – being at home with community of the condemned, the outcasts, those who had no place in the respectability of Temple, synagogue and Church! They were scandalised by his forgiveness of the woman caught committing adultery (though not scandalised by the absent man who bore no responsibility!!). They were shocked by his reaching into Samaritan territory and staying with and eating with these renegades, not real Jews! Constantly he challenges the shame/honour culture of his society (and so many since, up to today) !

[3]     The story of the mother of the Sons of Zebedee (Matt 20: 20-23) – she is ambitious for her sons, James and John. They already had a close relationship with Jesus – now she wants more (for them of for herself? – shame/honour culture!). Still thinking of a political (even armed?) take-over of government like a proper Messiah! Let her sons be there at his right hand and left when he makes his victory speech! But Jesus’ Victory speech is silence! His companions – the two criminals in execution. He embraces what others call shame and makes it honour in the Kingdom. He ‘turns our world upside down’, he subverts the Order of Things in order to exalt forgiveness and love. In his community, in his family, the outcast and rejected, the scorned and condemned, the worthless and guilty are ‘the pearl of great price’!  The first in Paradise (the world as God intends it to be, the values that are truly life saving, life giving) is the criminal on death row! Holiness is opening our heart with genuine love to those whom most want to ‘lock up and throw away the key!’ Jesus’ community is the opposite of Tabloid self-righteousness. What about the other criminal? We are told nothing, but I cannot believe that he too did not accompany Jesus into Paradise, because Jesus and Abba do not reserve love only to the worthy! ‘God makes the sun shine and rain fall on the bad as well as the good’ The Sun of Resurrection and the Rain of Mercy come down upon both them, both are bathed in the stream of the Spirit of New Life flowing from the pierced side of Christ upon the Cross. 

[4]     ‘Woman, behold your son … Son, behold your Mother’  The Church is a new kind of family, a new order! Our deepest kinship are all those Jesus gives us. Mary is called ‘Woman’ – not a term of disrespect, but the title of Mary the New Eve, Mother of a New Humanity, of all who now live and are reborn in the Spirit. She who in loving obedience to the Father gave birth to the Crucified One, now in an even deeper self-forgetting, self-giving love, embraces a new Son to love and care for as her own, to forgive from the heart – the disciples who deserted her son in his time of need, the Romans who executed him, the religious leaders who manipulated the crowd and plotted his death, indeed all humanity, sinful and holy, believing and non-believing. Before she is Mother of the Church, she is Mother of Humanity! Before she is Mother of the Angels and Saints, she is Mother of the poor, broken, condemned and rejected! As Jesus forgives all, so she is called to do the same. At the ‘first sign of glory’ at the Marriage Feast of Cana (John 2: 1-12), this Woman, this mother, tells us ‘do whatever He tells you’ – . The first and greatest disciple, Mary, helps raise the New World of the radical ‘upside-down Kingdom’ that is born form the side of Christ Crucified, that rises into life on Easter morning. She embraces the calling to be the Ambassador of Reconciliation, mother of Mercy, gathering and sheltering the dispossessed and ‘worthless’ of the world and placing them at the centre of our gaze, our commitment, our heart! For it among these that Jesus dies and rises!

[5]     The Criminals and the Mother, a New Community of endless love and mercy – the challenge to be authentic Church who throws wide open the Gates of God’s mercy!

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