One of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, Is that the way to answer the high priest? Jesus replied, If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?
The account of the Passion of Christ stands as one of the greatest texts of all time that reflects the depth of human meaning. It is utterly personal – the innocent, falsely charged individual, scapegoated and treated inhumanely, tortured and barbarically executed. It is an old story showing the worst side of humanity’s use of power of each other; and it is happening as I write, and you read this. Each case, however, is unique. The very particularity of each is what reveals the universal meaning and with meaning – the sense of connection – there is paradoxically always hope.
Good Friday expands the human sense of the spiritual dimension. It brings us to the side of the scapegoat so that the mechanism by which we blame others, and make them suffer for us, is exposed. The secret of how power works is outed. We see the world as it is. Violence is irrational. When Jesus responds to the guard who strikes him, we see reason disempowering the facades of violence. We don’t know the guard’s response. The only real response is to admit the self-deception behind such violence. Unable to admit this, he probably slapped Jesus again.
There is another dimension of meaning, even more transformative than the exposing of our addiction to violence. It concerns the meaning of suffering. In Santideva’s ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life’, a Buddhist classic dating from the 8th century after Christ we see how this meaning became universalised. A bodhisattva is a human being who devotes their whole being to the well-being of humanity, to relieve suffering everywhere. The Dalai Lama comments on this text that when a great bodhistava suffers they generate no negativity.
The Gospel goes further when it brings us the last words of Jesus on the cross: ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Not only does the Cross generate no negativity. It generates boundless wisdom and compassion. If Jesus had said ‘I forgive them…’ it would have been weaker because of its individuality. Instead, he called forth forgiveness from the ground of being on which he – and his tormentors and those who betrayed him – all stood. This is not a judicial reprieve, a mere act of clemency. It comes from insight into the cause, the ignorance and lack of self-awareness, of those responsible. In an instant we see the meaning of forgiveness, towards ourselves and others.
The death of Jesus generates a wave of enlightened love that washes across all dimensions of reality, all times and spaces. Whether recognised or not, his suffering touches us all. It exposes our human faults but without blame or guilt. It does this by revealing our essential goodness and potential. That is why in the ancient cloister of Bonnevaux this afternoon we will chose to come forward, bow before the cross and kiss it.