The WORD in other words (2022) by Fr Pio Espepa SVD — Divine Word Seminary Tagaytay, Philippines
Readings For Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday)
In any cemetery today one easily recognizes among the buried those who professed to be Christians in life. A cross marks their tombs. Down the centuries, it has become the central symbol of Christianity.
What is puzzling, however, is its total absence in the catacombs where deceased Christians were interred among pagan ones during four centuries of intermittent Roman persecution of the early Church. In its stead was another icon just as simple ― two curved lines sketching a fish. In Greek, the lingua franca within the Roman Empire, the word “fish” (ichthus) served as an acronym for the earliest creed of the Church. Its letters stood for “Jesus, Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”
Between Cross and Fish stands a gigantic puzzle: how could the brutal execution of a man damned as criminal have led to his glorious exaltation as divine savior? Let us think of the apostles traveling from city to city across the vast expanse of the Roman Empire.
How long could they have preached in synagogues about the marvelous deeds and wise teachings of Jesus before any learned Jew would heckle: “Was he not the crucified one? How could he be the awaited Messiah of God’s Chosen People … when the Torah itself says: Cursed is the man hanged on a tree (Dt 21:22)?”
Or, in public squares, how long before any well-informed Gentile would object: “How could he be the divine savior of humankind when the high priests of your own people have condemned him to death for blasphemy?”
Such was the grave scandal of the Cross even for the early Christians. As dramatized by the two disciples trudging their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they themselves could no longer draw nourishment from their Master’s Gospel―unless they first made sense of the absurd violence of his innocent death.
Incognito, the Risen One then joined them in their journey. And after listening to the sad story they were sharing with each other, he retold the same events―this time, in light of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant (52:13 ― 53:12): “A man of sorrows … despised … chastised… but by his wounds, we are healed.” Thus, the narrative miracle happened: human tragedy turned into divine comedy.
Now we live in a violent world where we punish ourselves and one another by the very sins we perpetrate. But in our midst is the Crucified Christ. For the evils of which we are guilty offenders, in him we find pardon and healing. For the evils of which we are innocent victims, in him we find solace and strength to forgive.