Today is Good Friday, the day on which we recall more vividly than usual the suffering of Christ. With Passion Walks, Living Stations, and re-runs of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” we reflect upon Jesus’ agony in the Garden, His unjust death sentence, and His tortuous walk up Calvary. My day today was not very different from that of most other Catholics; I found myself at a reenactment of Jesus’ trial, walk to Golgotha, and Crucifixion, and then at the usual 3:00pm service. However, today, unlike other Good Fridays before, I found myself mediating continually upon one specific part of the Passion: Jesus’ Condemnation to death.
When I hear of the First Station, I typically hear of it from two different viewpoints. The first is that of compassion, or pity. I read about Jesus, the innocent man condemned to death. Jesus, the meek Lamb being led to an underserved slaughter. The second is that of guilt, the mentality that whispers, “It is I who should have died, not Him.” Today, I began with a bit of both. I imagined myself looking at Jesus as I peered at the actor who played Him, and was disturbed at the thought of an innocent Man being condemned (aren’t we always?). Then I transitioned into the common second, and was simultaneously horrified and touched at the thought that He took this condemnation from and for me.
But then, ever so suddenly and ever so subtly, the scene in my mind shifted, and instead of me looking at Jesus, it was He Who was looking at me.
It was a slight shift, but at the same time a very large one. No longer was I looking at Jesus, the innocent Man. Nor was I looking upon myself, and feeling the guilt. No longer was it me doing the looking and the thinking; it was Jesus. Instead of me thinking of Jesus, or me thinking of myself, it was me thinking of Jesus thinking of me.
Maybe others do it all the time and I am just weird, but this was a whole new viewpoint for me. I was taken aback, because suddenly I was faced with a scenario that I’d never been confronted with before, not in this context. No longer was I the guilty man staring at the innocent one; I was the innocent man, staring at the guilty one.
This forced me to reflect upon my idea of compassion, and the extent of my charity and love of others.
It is very easy to feel compassion for the unjustly condemned. We see people affected by an earthquake, a hurricane, cancer, some natural disaster that they could never have brought upon themselves, and we want to help them. Who among us would not weep to find that a man put on death row for murder had been framed, and was totally innocent? It is natural and easy to help innocent people unjustly condemned. Not so for the justly condemned.
Not very long ago, there was a man who beat a two year old to death. It was on the news, and naturally it was on facebook. So many statuses and comments I read, even those of church-going, highly-involved, Catholic adults, ranted. “He is evil,” they said.
“He should be beaten.”
“He should get the death penalty.”
A great many ill-wishes were brought upon him. Not once did I see a suggestion of prayer for the man, a request for his conversion, an expressed desire to see him in heaven instead of in prison or in a grave.
It is hard to refrain from condemning the justly condemned.
I once invited a drug addict to hang out with me and my friends. I knew that he could change. I knew that there were not many people in his life who would encourage him to do so. I thought to myself, “If the only thing keeping him from heaven is a lack of good influence in his life, then I am certainly not going to deprive him of such an influence.” I knew all this. But he was so rough, had so many problems, had gotten himself into so much trouble, and was just so not the kind of person that I usually hung out with that it was incredibly difficult to invite him along with us. I did not want to be seen in public with him. I did not enjoy having him along.
Another time, I brought a roadside beggar and his girlfriend to eat at a restaurant with me. I sat across from them and talked with them as they ate. The guy spent the next thirty minutes complaining about all his problems. I obviously won’t go into detail about what they were, but I will say that they were all “his fault”. He was one of those young, naïve, rebellious kids (he was just a kid, little older than myself) who makes stupid decisions and gets into trouble. It was very difficult not to think this as I listened to him talk. When they finished eating, I left. You know that good feeling you get when you help someone? Well, I didn’t have it.
It is so difficult to feel sympathy for people who appear to deserve their situation. It is so easy to condemn the condemnable, to say, “It’s your problem, you fix it. You got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out of it.” It is terribly difficult to help someone who doesn’t realize they need help, to sacrifice yourself, your time and money and emotion and effort, for something that was 100% preventable, for someone who won’t appreciate it.
We hear all the time about Saint Jude’s, children’s shelters, Food for the Poor. Most of us probably give to organizations like these on a semi-regular basis. But who donates to AA?* Visit a nursing home, sure, but a prison? A drug rehabilitation center? As proven above, I am not a good, sympathetic person. Maybe people do this all the time, and I just don’t hear about it because it is the last thing on my mind. I don’t want to help the justly condemned. I’m not at all like Christ.
I think I need to look at Him looking at me a bit more often than I do.