From Passion to Compassion
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
The first half of Mark's Gospel begins, with the evangelist proclaiming the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and with God the Father addressing Jesus at his Baptism in the Jordan, "You are my own dear Son, and I am pleased with you!"; and it ends, after eight chapters narrating his ministry of Word and Action, changing sinners and healing the sick, with Peter's declaration, in answer to Jesus' question, "Who do you say I am?", "You are the Messiah, the Christ!" for nobody taught as he taught and nobody did what he did. But this amazing climax is strangely followed by an anti-climax, "Then he began to teach them, (as if all his previous teachings up till then were only leading up to this his real and final teaching), that the Son of Man would be rejected, and suffer terribly and be killed, (but three days later he would rise to life), and that if anyone of them would want to be his follower, he must forget about himself, take up his cross and follow him (Mk 1:1, 11, 27-35).
And so the second half of Mark's Gospel begins with the Transfiguration of Jesus, foretold by the two Prophets of the Old Testament and witnessed by the three Apostles of the New Testament, announcing that the Son of Man had first to suffer and so enter into his glory, with the Father saying, "This is my Son and I love him. Listen to what he says" (Mk 9:7); and ends with the Crucifixion, when the Roman army officer, a witness to Jesus' last words and to the manner of his sufferings and his death, looked at the crucified and dead Jesus and remarked unwittingly, "This man was really the Son of God!" (Mk 15:39), thus being the first of his future proclaimers, and so echoing the Proclamation of the Father God and the Apostolic Church, that finds its fulfillment and proof in the Resurrection, and inviting each one of us today to acknowledge, 'He died for me!' When I was just a child, my mother used to whisper into my ears, as the priest raised up the consecrated Host, reminding me to say with St. Thomas, 'My Lord and my God' (Jn 20:28). Today it is the Pope himself who in his Lenten message reminds us of the Scriptural prophecy, "They shall look upon the one they have pierced" (Jn 19:37).
But it is exactly between these two halves of Mark's Gospel of 16 chapters, as if sandwiched between them, that Jesus deduces and concludes logically, that he would regard those who claimed to follow him as his disciples, if they would imitate him not only in his teaching and his healing, but especially in his serving and his suffering: "If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me". He then adds the reward of such a decision as the second motivation: "For if you want to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me and for the sake of the Gospel, you will in fact save it" (Mk 8:34,35). For Paul the cost of Christian discipleship is demanding and can even be devastating, but its reward is awesome and unimaginable: "All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life" (Phil 3:10). This is also what motivates his preaching: "For Christ sent me to preach the Good News … that the Crucifixion is God's power to save … And so while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ, to the Jews an obstacle and to the pagans madness, but to us a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God (1Cor 1:17-25).
During my eight years of priestly studies in Rome, the holy site or tourist attraction that impressed me the most was the catacombs. For here were buried during the first three centuries thousands and thousands of Christians from all walks of life who were put to death simply because they loved Jesus and more important because they looked (lived) like Jesus, and even more important because they loved like Jesus, prepared like their master to serve others and even give up their earthly lives to give eternal life to others, unlike the so-called modern religious 'martyrs' who commit suicide in order to destroy the innocent lives of babies and children. That is why soon after my ordination in Rome in 1956, I used to say Mass regularly for the Focolare Group of young University students in the catacombs, knowing that the logo of the Focolare movement is 'Christ crucified and abandoned'. It was also a matter of great joy to me when I learnt that the first International Catholic Charismatic Convention held in 1975, which I attended as a delegate from India, would be held on the catacombs of Rome.
In a certain country of Europe, the High Altar of every church I visited was surmounted by the statuesque background: in the centre Jesus, the Head of the Church, hanging on the Cross, and Mary and John, the Body of Jesus, the Church, standing there on either side. Again the three images of Jesus on the Cross remind us of the three moments of the Paschal mystery: the dying Jesus on the Cross (his healing suffering), the dead Jesus on the Cross (his salvific death), and the Risen Jesus on the Cross (his life giving glory). For as Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, it will not bear fruit." In like manner unless, as Ignatius of Antioch said, we are grounded and die we cannot bear fruit. We must be like Jesus by being his disciple, whatever the cost, and we must act like him by being his evangelist, whatever the cost.
The religious leaders taunted the still alive crucified Jesus: Come down from the cross and save yourself - and we will believe in you. For if Jesus had come down from the cross and 'saved' himself (that is the wisdom of the world), we would have instead been crucified to that cross ourselves, with our sins unforgiven unto eternal damnation. But because Jesus remained on that cross and died for all humanity (that is the foolishness of God), we don't have to die any more - except to our own sins, but will instead rise again with him to a new life. That is why Paul could cry out, "Death, where is your sting, where is your victory?" (1Cor 15:55). For the death of Jesus on the Cross has destroyed death, the last of man's enemies (1Cor 15:26), and brought about its first triumph in his fellow crucified - the good criminal - passing from eternal death to everlasting life, from earth below to paradise above. As Jesus said, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself." (Jn 12:32), eliciting from the same Paul his double profession of faith, "He loved me, and He sacrificed himself for me" (Gal 2:20), and "When we share his suffering, we are reproducing the pattern of his death, and will thus experience the power of his resurrection" (Phil 3:10).
Let us therefore joyfully proclaim this crucial mystery of our faith:
'Dying, You destroyed our Death!
Rising, You restored our life'.
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