Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Good Friday 2022, St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
The power of God’s love enables us to build a new future
“A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another as I have loved you”.
Brothers and sisters,
These words of our Lord, which we heard last night in the celebration of the Maundy Thursday come to perfect fulfillment today as we commemorate his passion and death on the cross. The command to love God and neighbour, of course, was not new. It had been the core teaching of Judaism. But it was the way Jesus lived it out that had the wedge of newness.
Throughout his ministry, we can see the way Jesus expanded the idea of a neighbour to include not only the comrade member of the covenant community but also those who are considered outsiders and those who are seen as the ultimate “other”. In his embrace of the most vulnerable, despised and hated, Jesus presented a whole new way of seeing, acting and relating. He embodied the God who loves without limits and empowers wounded humanity for a life of grace and dignity.
It was the cross, however, that gave perfect expression to the radical newness of the commandment of love. By his passion and death, he made good the prophecy of the Suffering Servant –one who resisted all forms of evil and totally faithful to God’s purpose for him. He became the seed of a new humanity, founded on a new law of love, people who succeed, not by their own power, but by power of the love of God.
Jesus’ death on a cross, is truly the expression of the “wisdom of God”. God breaks the grip of scapegoating by stepping into the place of a victim. God is willing to die for us, to bear our sin because we desperately need deliverance from our propensity to violence. Jesus’ persecutors intend his death to be sacrificial business as usual. In other words, one can use violence in order to counter violence; one can resort to scapegoating mechanism to drive out the opponents. But God means it to be the opposite.
Jesus’ death and resurrection means that God has reset the cycle of human behaviour. It has enabled us to build a new future with the very people whom we regard as outsiders and enemies. This is why St Paul says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.
The work of the cross is the work of a transcendent God, breaking into a cycle we could not change alone. To believe in the crucified one is to want no other victims. To depend on the blood of Jesus is to refuse to depend on the sacrificial blood of anyone else or to make an enemy out of the other. It is to refuse to play the mob that makes a scapegoat out of the victim who may be the weak, the marginal and the minority among us.
As we gather on this Good Friday, we are challenged to follow the example of Christ even at the cost of our own comfort, privilege and power. If we are to be faithful to his memory, this commemoration of the Passion commits us to live out his command to love with radical newness.
Jesus did not follow the script of the empire. He came as a poor and humble servant in order to minister at the thresholds of human vulnerability. He exposed the status quo as being short of God’s vision for a human society. We therefore must examine our own attitudes and the conventions of the day in relation to the treatment of the poor, the powerless and the marginalized of our time.
As Christians, we have an opportunity in the upcoming election where we must put the command to serve and to love one another and especially the most vulnerable among us at the heart of our society. We must bring the Christian inspired values of decency, fairness, justice, compassion, openness in public discourse and policy against fear, indifference and hardness of the heart.
Good Friday also gives us a glimpse of the triumph of love over hatred and life over death. It was not evil that had the upper hand. It was God’s unflinching fidelity, his unconditional love in Jesus that brought about this triumph. We therefore stand united with one another, with men and women of goodwill in working for the coming of the Kingdom. We stand united with Pope Francis who has challenged us to replace indifference with compassion, ignorance with respect and suspicion with love.
As we venerate the cross, let us live by its wisdom and power. Let us build a new future of humanity rooted in the reconciliation of Christ. May we be strengthened to walk humbly in the footsteps of the Master, who “ through suffering became the source of our salvation.”