Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
During Holy Week we always hear the story of Jesus’ passion and death twice. On Palm Sunday we listen to the passion according to Matthew, Mark or Luke depending on the year. Last Sunday, of course, we heard Matthew’s passion account. Today, Good Friday, we always hear the passion according to John. If we listen carefully, we will realize that the passion accounts read Palm Sunday and Good Friday have very different tones. They have many of the same elements, for sure, but they present Jesus’ suffering in very different perspectives. Let us take a close look at a few of the differences from Matthew’s and John’s passion accounts to see what they are saying to us.
In Matthew’s passion account Jesus is somewhat anxious in the garden of Getsemaní. He actually prays to God lying on the ground that his Father deliver him from the trial that is coming. In John, on the other hand, Roman soldiers lie in the ground as they face Jesus. They are powerless before the great “I AM” that Jesus uses to identify himself.
We all remember how Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is so weary from the scourging and abuse that he can barely get himself to Calvary. John’s gospel, however, makes no mention of Simon. Rather, it states that Jesus carries the cross himself. Jesus said earlier in this gospel, “I have the power to lay (my life) down, and power to take it up again” (10:18). Here he demonstrates that power.
Once again Matthew and John describe the crucifixion in very different ways. In John darkness does not cover the earth as in Matthew. Jesus, after all, is the light of the world; where he is, lightness reigns. Jesus’ last words in either account differ significantly. In Matthew, of course, we hear the anguished cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In John Jesus can calmly say at the end, “It is finished.” He has accomplished what his Father commissioned him to do and may now return to Him.
Sometimes we become unsettled when we hear of differences in the gospels like the ones we just reviewed. We ask, what really happened when Jesus died? This question, however, is not likely what the evangelists had first in mind when they wrote their accounts. Rather, weaving together the stories they heard of Jesus’ death a generation or two earlier, they composed their accounts to testify to the faith of their distinct faith communities in Jesus. Their different perspectives help us at different moments in our lives. Sometimes we feel quite alone in our suffering. Then we can turn to Jesus on the cross in Matthew’s passion account, crying out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and feel assured that he knows our situation. Sometimes, however, we confidently face the trials life hurls at us. Then, in the solidarity of faith we look to the triumphant Jesus on the cross in the John’s passion. The different passion accounts show us that Jesus is always there for us no matter our need. We can always turn to him, the light of the world, to clear up any difficulty.