Thomas Griffin 4/15/21
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If you were on your deathbed, what would be your last testimony? What would you want your design words to be? The words that people speak at the end of their lives are critical summaries and exclamation points on their existence. The same holds true for Jesus Christ. An episode from The Poco a Poco Podcast by The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal dives into Jesus’ last words and what they reveal about God’s heart.
“As Jesus makes his offering of self to the Father he does so with a heart that is full of us.” Traditionally, the Church has described the last words of Christ as being made up of seven different phrases taken from the four Gospels. These are:
- “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
- “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
- “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” John 19:26–27
- “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
- “I thirst.” John 19:28
- “It is finished.” Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
- “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46
The first word the Son thinks of and speaks on the cross is, “Father.” When we boil the life and mission of Christ down to its simplest form it truly is all about his Father. The cross restores our relationship with God and the words of Jesus on the cross are deep insights into the perfection of the relationship of the Trinity as well as pictures for us concerning what God wants for His relationship with us.
Historians estimate that the cross would hang ten feet in the air, for all to see these criminals as the example of what happens when you cross the Romans. From the heights, Jesus makes available the pure form of his relationship with the Father. The mission of Jesus is to become and remain an intimate bridge between humanity and the Father: the cross makes that bridge permanent.
All of the last words are some type of representation or example of what it means to be one with the Father. In paradise, the good thief will be with Jesus’ father, St. John will take care of the woman who will sit at the right hand of the Father, the prayer of Psalm 22 (the fourth word) highlights the radical trust of the innocent man who is condemned, Christ’s thirst reveals that the Father’s heart is always yearning for us, what is finished is Jesus’ mission of bringing us back into union with the Father, and Christ’s last words is a complete offering of all that he is back to his Father.
The chorus of Jesus’ last words on the cross echo his first words in the Gospels. When he was twelve years old he went missing on a visit to Jerusalem and his mother and father found him in the Temple with the teachers. They asked their son why he went missing like this. His answer, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Essentially, Jesus will always be about and be in the midst of accomplishing his Father’s business.
This sounds extremely simple. However, the simple things are what are needed the most and they are what we often overlook. The simple things are “the beautiful things that are of a service to us to contemplate simply because they are good in and of themselves.” The heart of God as shown in the relationship between the Father and the Son is simply beautiful and worth our attention. Christ was always about the business of his Father – are we?
“Are we more often about our own business or the business of others over and above God’s business?” Today, we are being asked to consider the last words of Jesus and contemplate them slowly and deeply. Because life is too often very difficult and challenging. In hardship and pain we will be tempted to think that the Father is not with us or that we are all alone.
We might also be tempted to doubt the goodness of God because of poor examples of motherhood or fatherhood in our own lives. Whatever our experience was we should rest in the consolation that our Father stops at nothing to be with us. St. Francis had a very tough relationship with his father. His dad even went so far as to chain him up in the house to prevent his missionary zeal.
In the famous call of Francis by God, to “rebuild my Church” we can see the heart of God redeeming Francis’ poor experiences with his own father. The rebuilding of the Church came inevitably along with the restoration of his relationship with the Father. So, even in the suffering and pain make it all about the Father’s business.
Jesus’ heart on the cross is exclaiming to the world that in our suffering he wants us to be in his presence. Above it all, this is what he communicates to us about his heart during his time on the cross and in his last words on earth. Allow his presence to console you while knowing that you are restored anew in the perfect offering of the Son to the Father.
Thomas Griffin teaches in the Religion Department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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