Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Some non random thoughts on 'suffering'

“After this, Jesus knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled” said, “ I am thirsty” (John 19:28 )

The buzzing clouds of flies about the cross, the flayed back peaked against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake hitched up and then a small cry in two little words, “I thirst”. He has been on the cross for little more than 3 hours. Earlier he was offered wine mingled with gall which is offered to all those who are crucified so that they can get a relief from the pain as it has an anesthetic effect. Jesus, wouldn't have any of that as he is not interested in any concession man has to offer. It was a conscious decision to go through the suffering. Only on the previous evening he had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, yet not my will, thine be done”.

The mental agony of all the friends deserting him was too much to take. Multitudes had followed him. He had fed thousands of people, hundreds had been healed, 12 had been hand picked by Him and he had nurtured them and they were to witness to the whole world that they have seen and heard; yet at the time of his desperate physical need no soul was here to quench his thirst.

However, isn't it remarkable that the thought of his own personal need came to him only when everything else has been accomplished? His thoughts till then had been of others- His murderers forgiven, a penitent sinner welcomed home to paradise, His loved ones provided for. It was sheer torture the very thought of dear Father deserting Him. Remember, He once asked, if the son asks Father for a fish, will He give him snake? Most of his parallels were drawn from the father-son relationship. Chesterton says, “And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct, which man shall never understand in all the eternity that have been purchased for him- God forsaken of God. He must have been immediately consoled by the answer to His previous evening's prayer”, yet thy will “- a perfect submission to a perfect will”.

It was immediately after this, He uttered, “ I thirst”. Physical agony has started taking its toll. Most often the mental agony suppresses the physical agony. John wrote the gospel round about 100 AD. A certain philosophical and religious thought was prevalent then, known as 'Gnosticism'. One of its great tenets was that spirit was altogether good and matter altogether evil. They held that God was pure spirit and therefore would never take upon himself a body which is altogether bad. Therefore they believed that Jesus never had a body and he was only a phantom. They argued that Jesus never suffered and He only went the motions of crucifixion. John wants to bring out the truth; hence he stressed the point that Jesus actually felt thirsty. If Jesus was to redeem man, he must become man. He had to become what we are in order to make us what He is.

Man is helpless. God became that helpless man. There is this story of a village preacher asking a young man, “have you ever thought of death?”. The young man answered, “ I am quite young and when I reach that age, I will think about it”. Death has no age and it is the greatest equalizer, young or old, white or black, rich or poor, it can affect anyone at any time. The helplessness of man! Recently we heard about the child of one of the richest business men in India being afflicted with a rare disease known as juvenile diabetes. One doctor remarked, no medicine in the world, no endocrinologist in the entire world could make her pancreas work again – Helplessness of man. Death bed is a very clear example of man's helplessness. It is a tradition that at the time of death the relatives sitting around giving drops of water to the dying. I very vividly remember all of us giving water to my Grand mother at the time her death. Jesus is being identified with the helplessness of man.

Just as I mentioned about the Gnostic in the 1st Century. There is a fashionable thinking these days that Jesus was just a man. I think this time while we meditate on Christ's sufferings, it is appropriate to think that it was God who suffered.

We live in a county of god men and god women. We live in a country where temples are made in the name of living and dead Chief Ministers and they are placed there as the deities. We live in a country where such gods after their death have not been buried thinking that at least if their bodies do not resurrect, they will not decay. The other day a reporter had asked one such god man whom do you pray to? He answered, I do not have to, as I am God. On Monday there was a report that one such god man had died.

Jesus was never referred as god man. He was always referred as the son of man or son of God. He used to spend hours in praying; he taught us how to pray. He also affirms, 'My father and I are one', 'those who have seen me has seen the Father;' We have to shun all the thoughts of Jesus being just a nice man. “He is the fountain of the living waters”. One who on the great day of the feast, stood and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink”. Yet here from the cross he pleads, “I thirst”. At Kana of Galilee, when the hosts ran short of wine, he turned water into wine. A little later he tells the Samaritan woman that whoever drank of the living water He gives, will never thirst again. On the cross He is smitten with thirst. Before he went out to the cross Jesus promised his disciples many thrones and mansions, yet he confessed that He had nowhere to lay his head. He could have provided the refreshment he needed in His agony. He refused to present an outward and visible manifestation of his Godhead and allowed a nameless soldier to meet his need. As Bishop Lightfoot expressed it, “He emptied, stripped Himself of the insignia of majesty”.

Looking it at that way, the cross it could have been avoided. Couldn't God have found other ways to save this world; given this puzzle to the Management Consultants of today, probably they could come out with thousands of instant solutions to save Christ from the cross. But God's plan was to send His own son. Thus, the suffering becomes more meaningful. This is what makes Christ different from all the other god men. There was no need for God to go through this agony. “I thirst” should be seen in this context. This is the only statement which encompasses all the sufferings and the torture God encountered on the cross.

C S Lewis says, “On the one hand death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the fall, and the last enemy. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy of the fall”.

Therefore on the cross, Satan's great weapon turns out to be God's great weapon.

There is a feeling that the period of lent is a time of sharing of the suffering of Christ. There are some places where they enact the entire crucifixion. Christ's suffering on the cross was unparallel. Nobody can share the suffering of Christ. We may have observed strict lent and said all our prayers. Passovers pass by, no dearth of Easter feasts every year. However, if you and I personally do not participate in the death of Christ, everything else is useless. 2 Timothy says; If we have died with Him we shall also live with him.

(1994 I think- St.Martin's church, Delhi - A Good friday talk given by me)