Matthew 27:33-56; Mark 15:22-40; Luke 23:32-49; John 19:17-37
The Story in Brief
Jesus was crucified on Calvary or, in Hebrew, Golgotha. The soldiers stripped Him, nailed Him to the cross, and lifted Him up to die a slow, excruciating death by suffocation. They cast lots to divide His clothes, particularly His seamless tunic. Pontius Pilate ordered a sign placed above Jesus' head. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Jesus was crucified between two criminals. At first they joined the crowd in taunting Jesus, but then one of them had a change of heart. He admitted his crimes and testified to Jesus' innocence. He begged, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” Jesus' mother, St. John, and several women stood near the cross. When Jesus saw His mother and St. John, He said to Mary, “Woman behold your son. He said to St. John, “Behold your mother.” As Jesus approached His death, He cried out “Eli, Eli lema sacbachthani”and said “I am thirsty.” After He had taken a little wine, He cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” Then He gave up His Spirit. A nearby soldier pierced Jesus' side with a lance, and blood and water flowed out. The soldier loudly proclaimed Jesus' innocence, even going so far as to call Him the Son of God. Joseph of Arimathea claimed Jesus' Body and buried Him in a new tomb.
Points to Ponder
1. Jesus was crucified on Golgotha, which means the Place of the Skull in Hebrew. The site was also called Calvary from its Latin name. Meditate on the name Golgotha. Keep in mind that Golgotha or Calvary is the traditional site of Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22.
2. Golgotha was outside the city gates. What does that symbolize?
3. When Jesus arrived at Calvary, He was offered wine mixed with gall and/or myrrh to drink. The Jews had a custom of offering a person about to be crucified wine mixed with gall or myrrh (both mean something bitter) that would intoxicate the person and help dull the pain of crucifixion. Jesus tasted the wine but refused to drink it. Why? What does this refusal tell us about Jesus?
4. The soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross. They elevated the cross and left Him to hang there, dying a slow, painful death by suffocation. Ponder Jesus' agony.
5. Now reflect on why Jesus freely suffered such agony.
6. The soldiers cast lots to divide Jesus' clothes. This action fulfilled a prophecy in Psalm 22:8. Jesus was wearing a seamless tunic that had been woven in one piece. The soldiers did not wish to tear it. Picture the soldiers as they focused on dividing up Jesus' clothing. Also meditate on the symbolism of the seamless garment.
7. There seems to be a discrepancy between Mark's and John's Gospels about the time at which Jesus was crucified, but this seeming contradiction can easily be explained. Read and reflect on Steve Ray's article “How Long Was Jesus on the Cross”.
8. Pontius Pilate ordered an inscription to be hung over Jesus head that read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. These were the languages of the known world at the time, so Pilate intended the message to reach everyone. The Jews were far from pleased. They told him, “Do not write, 'The King of the Jews' but 'This man said, I am King of the Jews'.” Pilate refused: “What I have written I have written.” Think about the significance of this inscription. Why were the Jews upset by it? What might have been Pilate's motives for writing it and refusing to change it?
9. As He was being crucified, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Ponder these words.
10. Jesus was crucified between two criminals. The Greek word Matthew and Mark use to describe these two indicates that they were violent thieves who used force to rob people. Luke uses an even stronger word that suggests that they were workers or authors of evil. Think about the significance of Jesus being crucified between these two men.
11. Matthew and Mark portray the two criminals as taunting Jesus. Luke goes further to describe how one of them had a sudden change of heart. As his fellow thief derided Jesus and said, “Are You not the Messiah? Save Yourself and us,” the converting robber admitted that he was getting exactly what his deeds deserved. He testified that Jesus had done nothing wrong, and he humbly requested, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus must have looked at him with love when he replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Picture this scene of repentance and forgiveness. What brought about the thief's change of heart? What did he mean when he spoke of Jesus' kingdom? How did the thief feel when he heard Jesus' words of comfort and promise?
12. The crowd mocked Jesus as He hung on the cross, taunting Him and telling Him to save Himself and come down from the cross that they might believe in Him. Why does the crowd do this? What message does this send about the nature of faith?
13. Several faithful women, including Jesus' mother, stood near the cross. Imagine what they might have been thinking and feeling.
14. Jesus' beloved disciple, St. John, was standing by the cross with Mary. When Jesus saw them there, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” Jesus gave His mother as a mother to the whole human race at that point. Ponder this beautiful truth.
15. As He approached His death, Jesus called out “Eli, Eli lema sacbachthani,” which means “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Meditate on Jesus' sense of abandonment.
16. Jesus then said, “I am thirsty.” Was His thirst merely physical or something more?
17. Someone soaked a sponge is sour wine and held it up for Jesus to drink. Reexamine Dr. Scott Hahn's ideas about the Fourth Cup and ponder the significance of this action.
18. Darkness covered the whole land until three in the afternoon when Jesus died. Why?
19. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” and breathed His last. Reflect on Jesus final words. Meditate on the death of the God-Man.
20. When Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This was the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies, God's dwelling place, from the rest of the Temple and, indeed, from the world. What is the meaning of this?
21. The earth shook at the moment of Jesus' death. Rocks split. Tombs were opened. Ponder these events.
22. One of the Roman soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a lance as He hung dead on the cross. Blood and water poured out. Many saints have explained that the blood and water symbolize the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. They also say that the Church was born from Jesus' side as He hung dead on the cross, just as Eve was born from Adam's side as he slept. Reflect on these ideas.
23. The same soldier loudly proclaimed Jesus' innocence, even announcing that He must be the Son of God. Why did this man have such a complete change of heart so quickly?
24. Pilate released Jesus' body to Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph wrapped the Body and laid it in his own new tomb that had been hewn from the rock. Nicodemus brought a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes to perform the Jewish burial customs. These rites had to be abbreviated because of the approaching sabbath. They rolled a large stone in front of the tomb's opening and went away until after the sabbath. Meditate on the loving care with which Jesus' disciples carried out His burial.
25. Mary Magdalene and at least one other woman remained sitting opposite the tomb. Why? Ponder their lonely vigil.
1. What do you feel when You think about Jesus being nailed to the cross and then hanging there, left to die?
2. Do you understand that Jesus did all of this for you, suffered all of this for you? How might your life be different if you reflected on this point more often?
3. How do you handle your pain? Do you unite it with Jesus' sufferings?
4. Is Jesus the King of your life? How so? How might you allow Him to reign over you even more?
5. Are you able to forgive those who hurt you?
6. When have you felt the kind of humble repentance that the thief expressed on the cross? How do you think Jesus responded to you?
7. Is your faith strong? Do you expect God to provide signs in order for you to believe?
8. What is your relationship with Mary? Is she your mother?
9. Have you ever felt abandoned by God? What were the circumstances? How did you respond?
10. What do you believe about the Catholic Church? Why?
11. Have you ever lost someone you loved? How did that feel? How did you cope with it? Did you turn to Jesus for help?
Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer
Blessing and Adoration – Dearest Jesus, we bow our heads in silence adoration as we contemplate You on the cross. We fall before You as we meditate on Your suffering and death. We offer our lives to You, Who gave Your life for us.
Praise – Jesus, we praise You as we contemplate You on the cross. We praise You for Your great, self-sacrificing love. We praise You for Your courage, Your humility, and Your strength. We praise You for Your willingness to suffer to save us, for Your commitment to doing Your Father's will no matter what the cost. We praise You for the cross, dearest Jesus.
Thanksgiving – Jesus, thank You. It seems too little to merely say it, especially after Your great suffering and death on the cross. Please help us to live our thanks, to express it in our lives through love of You and our neighbor.
Intercession – Jesus, we lift up to You all those who are suffering. Hold them close to You and comfort them, Lord. We lift up to You those who are watching their loved ones suffer. Give them strength, courage, and compassion, Lord. We lift up sinners. Give them a repentant heart, Lord. We lift up those who behave in a cruel, taunting way. Change their hearts, Lord. We lift up those who are grieving, Lord. Wrap them up in Your loving arms.
Petition – Jesus, please give us strength in suffering, compassion for those in pain, repentance for our sins, and comfort in our grief. We join the repentant thief in praying, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
Quotes from the Saints
“Such is the place of the cross, set up in the center of the earth, that it might be equally free to all nations to attain the knowledge of God.” - St. Hilary
“This which was now done to Christ had been prophesied in the Psalm, They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. It proceeds, And sitting down, they watched him there. This watchfulness of the soldiers and of the Priests has proved of use to us in making the power of His resurrection greater and more notorious. And they set up over his head his accusation written, This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. I cannot sufficiently wonder at the enormity of the thing, that having purchased false witnesses, and having stirred up the unhappy people to riot and uproar, they found no other plea for putting Him to death, than that He was King of the Jews; and this perhaps they set up in mockery.” - St. Jerome
“Two thieves were crucified with him, one on the right hand and one on the left, that in the figure of His cross might be represented that separation of all mankind which shall be made in His judgment. The Passion then of Christ contains a sacrament of our salvation, and of that instrument which the wickedness of the Jews provided for His punishment, the power of the Redeemer made a step to glory.” - St. Leo
“Because the Lord had said, Pray for them that persecute you, this likewise He did, when He ascended the cross, as it follows, Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them, not that He was not able Himself to pardon them, but that He might teach us to pray for our persecutors, not only in word, but in deed also. But He says, Forgive them, if they should repent. For He is gracious to the penitent, if they are willing after so great wickedness to wash away their guilt by faith.” - St. John Chrysostom
“Now our Lord being truly the Savior wished not by saving Himself, but by saving His creatures, to be acknowledged the Savior. For neither is a physician by healing himself known to be physician by healing himself known to be a physician, unless he also gives proof of his skill towards the sick. So the Lord being the Savior had no need of salvation, nor by descending from the cross did He wish to be acknowledged the Savior, but by dying. For truly a much greater salvation does the death of the Savior bring to men, than the descent from the cross.” - St. Anthanasius
“A most remarkable example is here given of seeking after conversion, seeing that pardon is so speedily granted to the thief. The Lord quickly pardons, because the thief is quickly converted. And grace is more abundant than prayer; for the Lord ever gives more than He is asked for. The thief asked that He should remember him, but our Lord answers, Verily I say to you, This day shall you be with me in Paradise. To be with Christ is life, and where Christ is, there is His kingdom.” - St. Ambrose
“Mary the mother of our Lord stood before the cross of her Son. None of the Evangelists hath told me this except John. The others have related how that at our Lord's Passion the earth quaked, the heaven was overspread with darkness, the sun fled, the thief was taken into paradise after confession. John hath told us, what the others have not, how that from the cross whereon He hung, He called to His mother. He thought it a greater thing to show Him victorious over punishment, fulfilling the offices of piety to His mother, than giving the kingdom of heaven and eternal life to the thief. For if it was religious to give life to the thief, a much richer work of piety it is for a son to honor his mother with such affection. Behold, He says, your son; behold your mother. Christ made His Testament from the cross, and divided the offices of piety between the Mother and the disciples. Our Lord made not only a public, but also a domestic Testament. And this His Testament John sealed a witness worthy of such a Testator. A good testament it was, not of money, but of eternal life, which was not written with ink, but with tile spirit of the living God: My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Mary, as became the mother of our Lord, stood before the cross, when the Apostles fled and With pitiful eyes beheld the wounds of her Son. For she looked not on the death of the Hostage, but on the salvation of the world; end perhaps knowing that her Son's death would bring this salvation, she who had been the habitation of the King, thought that by her death she might add to that universal gift.” - St. Ambrose
“When now nought of suffering remains to be endured, death still lingers, knowing that it has nothing there. The ancient foe suspected somewhat unusual. This man, first and only, he found having no sin, free from guilt, owing nothing to the laws of his jurisdiction. But leagued with Jewish madness, Death comes again to the assault, and desperately invades the Life-giver. And Jesus, when be had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. Wherefore should we be offended that Christ came from the bosom of the Father to take upon Him our bondage, that He might confer on us His freedom; to take upon Him our death, that we might be set free by His death; by despising death He exalted us mortals into Gods, counted them of earth worthy of things in heaven? For seeing the Divine power shines forth so brilliant in the contemplation of its works, it is an argument of boundless love, that it suffers for its subjects, dies for its bondsmen. This then was the first cause of the Lord's Passion, that He would have it known how great God's love to man, Who desired rather to be loved than feared. The second was that He might abolish with yet more justice the sentence of death which He had with justice passed. For as the first man had by guilt incurred death through God's sentence, and handed down the same to his posterity, the second Man, who knew no sin, came from heaven that death might be condemned, which, when commissioned to seize the guilty, had presumed to touch the Author of sinlessness. And it is no wonder if for us He laid down what He had taken of us, His life, namely, when He has done other so great things for us, and bestowed so much on us.” - St. Augustine
“Nor without meaning has one Evangelist spoken of a new tomb, another of the tomb of Joseph. For the grave is prepared by those who are under the law of death; the Conqueror of death has no grave of His own. For what fellowship has God with the grave. He alone is enclosed in this tomb, because the death of Christ, although it was common according to the nature of the body, yet was it peculiar in respect of power. But Christ is rightly buried in the tomb of the just, that He may rest in the habitation of justice. For this monument the just man hews out with the piercing word in the hearts of Gentile hardness, that the power of Christ might extend over the nations. And very rightly is there a stone rolled against the tomb; for whoever has in himself truly buried Christ, must diligently guard, lest he lose Him, or lest there be an entrance for unbelief.” - St. Ambrose