Good Friday - what do you see?
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
I remember once I was in a bus held up at a traffic light when a big car with outriders swept through the junction. It had the Queen in the back. Loads of cars have been past junctions while I have been sitting in busses, but that is the only passenger I noticed.
Looking is not something passive. To give attention to something is a choice. We give attention to what we think is important or interesting or beautiful or titillating. The kind of attention we give is also a choice, a moral choice. If I look at a person, I may see someone to exploit or use; or perhaps someone to respect or to love.
He saw His Mother standing there with the Disciple He loved. In His looking He taught them to see each other differently: Son, behold thy Mother; Mother, behold thy Son.
When we look on Jesus hanging on the cross and then turn to look at each other we see differently. We see fellow souls for whom He died. If He died for this person, who am I to hate or condemn or disparage or ignore or disassociate from this one on whom Jesus looks from the cross with eyes of love? And He died for all, so this applies to everyone I meet.
From the Cross Jesus looks at me. ‘Seeing them there.’ The glance of the Lord on us is something which is both wonderful and terrible.
Adam and Eve hid in the Garden; their eyes had been opened and they knew that they were naked. But the terrible and loving glance of the Lord found Him out. He still saw Adam, but no longer could man look on the face of God and live. Of all the sons of Adam since, only Moses spoke to the Lord face to face as a man speaks with his friend. And he put a veil on his face because the glory of the Lord that lingered there from the looking of God was too much for others to see.
But we with unveiled faces greet the Lord, says S Paul. We may see God again because God has stooped down to us. Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not cling to His equality with God, but took the form of a servant and emptied Himself and being humbler yet, He suffered death, even death on the cross. He has shared our humanity up to and including our death so that we might share his divinity up to and including His resurrection.
The attention that is given to us from the cross is the glance of limitless compassion, the fading sight of the one who dies for us. He who is God comes to us, who sees us, in the lowliest, most sinful, weakest, most evil parts of our lives: S Paul sums it up. He who was not sin was madesin for us, that however sinful, however separated from God, we still find Him there, bowed down so low that He can raise up even me. I may look at Him with unveiled face for He has looked at me from the cross.
In the courtyard of the High Priest’s house the Lord looked at Peter; and the cock crew. And Peter knew then his failure and his sin and his need of grace. The gaze of Christ is the gaze of judgment.
St John Henry Newman wrote of the gaze of judgement in his great poem The Dream of Gerontius. He was describing the soul after death, brought to look on the Lord as the Lord looks on him. But it is true also for we who are on the way:
Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee.
And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though
Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinn’d,
As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire
To slink away, and hide thee from His sight:
And yet wilt have a longing ay to dwell
Within the beauty of His countenance.
And these two pains, so counter and so keen,—
The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not;
The shame of self at thought of seeing Him,—
Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory.
Our purgatory is resolved at last when we see ourselves as He sees us and, as S Paul says, at last we know as we are known. Then the work of the cross will be finished in us at last and we shall behold Him and each other and be at peace with Him and with ourselves. This is prefigured at the foot of the cross where the church in the persons of the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple is formed in perfection by His Word: Son behold thy Mother, Mother behold thy Son.
When He looks on us, He enables us to show Him to the world. We who are standing by the cross are children of the Mother, disciples, beloved like the Beloved Disciple, with him members of His church. By prayer and sacrament and grace the saving power of the cross is impressed inwardly on our hearts and shown forth outwardly in our lives. So He makes us part of the work by which He who was lifted up draws all people to Himself. He looks attentively on all people. Without fear, though it brings judgement on us, let us look up to the Lord on the cross and meet His gaze.