We are accustomed to looking up at him on the cross. Good Friday may prompt us, at least for a moment, to allow a reverse in the direction of the gaze.
For we are the objects of his attention, and of his love. If we discern anything about the meaning of Holy week, and the events within it, it is this: He acted for us, and not for himself. And God was in him, as he did so.
James Tissot pictures Jesus’ view from the cross on that dark afternoon, two thousand years ago. Just below his feet, he saw Mary Magdalene, prostrate with grief, showing her love for him. Just behind her, cloaked in dark blue and white, is his mother, hand across her heart, experiencing the sorrow it had been predicted she would endure. And to the left of Mary, in Jesus’ vision, we see the beloved disciple, John, in a white outer cloak over a green tunic. These three, and the two others behind Mary, are sympathetic figures. They have come to be by him in his darkest hour.
Others in Jesus’ field of vision may vary in their sympathies with his suffering. The Roman soldier cloaked in red could be the centurion, about whom we read in the Passion narratives. Standing by the cross, Tissot depicts him with a pained look on his face. He is beginning to realize that Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against him. By contrast, the two other soldiers near him appear either puzzled or disgusted by the whole situation.
As we survey this scene portraying Jesus’ field of vision from the cross, we cannot miss the group of men on horseback in the middle-ground. They are Scribes or Sadducees, those with power and wealth in the city, who had argued for his crucifixion. Some are shown taunting him. Some appear self-satisfied. And at least one is looking up at the darkening sky, which is already putting the upper edge of the scene in shadow.
He has acted for all these people, and especially for the ones who have turned against him. He looks upon them with love, and with a plea for God’s forgiveness. He knows what is in people’s hearts. What we so often forget is that he knows us better than we know ourselves. We may not understand how he knows us; but we do know that he knows us. We know that he loves us. And this is enough.
This is not a time for us to ponder the unknowability of God. This is a time to focus on our vulnerability, and our total knowability in God’s eyes. It is a time in which to contemplate the complete self-revealing of God, by Christ, for us. And to remember that he did this on a cross.
James Tissot, What Our Lord Saw From the Cross. For a link to my Good Friday homily, from which this is adapted, please click here.