By his wounds we are healed
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Is 53.5)
Once again today, we hear the account of the Passion of Christ, this time read solemnly from the Gospel of St John. It is a story familiar to us which we retell year by year as part of our Sacred Liturgy.
It is in the sacred celebration of the Liturgy that the Holy Scriptures find their true home. We do not read them as any other book. They are the inspired word of God which we proclaim as an act of worship in itself. In the spirit of adoration and thanksgiving, we proclaim the wonders the Lord has done, the greatest of which is the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.
The passages about the suffering servant in the prophecy of Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, teach us the meaning of the appalling suffering of Christ. He was bruised for our iniquities; He suffered to make us whole; His wounds heal us.
How can this be so? Does the Liturgy of the Passion somehow glorify suffering as a good thing? Quite the contrary! Even Christ Himself, God the Son, asked the Father to let this chalice of suffering pass him by, before surrendering his life to the will of the Father. Christ’s own divine will is, was and ever shall be eternally in union with the will of the Father; but he became flesh for us, taking on our human nature. Human nature was made good in the beginning by God: we are made to seek the good, to rejoice in the good. Evil contradicts everything that God wills for us.
Christ was subjected to a most cruel torture – but that was only the outward manifestation of the evil that assaulted Him. If we look to the lives of the saints, we see that routinely, every really great work was opposed bitterly with calumny, hatred, and persecution.
The book of Wisdom (chapter 2) describes the process very well. It tells how the wicked say to themselves that life is short and tedious and that there is no point in looking for any eternal life. Therefore they must enjoy the good things of life and encourage everyone to luxury.
The just man is a curse to them because he criticises their way of life, and censures their thoughts – they cannot even stand to look at him.
And so they say:
We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.This fate, so often suffered by the saint, was lived out supremely by Jesus Christ in His Sacred Passion. The triumph of the Cross is that not only did the Father hear His prayer and raise Him from the dead, but by that very death, he brought healing and wholeness to all sinners who would repent and turn to Him.
This is why we unite ourselves to the Passion of Christ – because the way of the Cross is profoundly liberating and a direct and comprehensive answer to the evil that we experience in the world, and often contribute to by our own sins.
Last Sunday, the young people from Australia handed over the World Youth Day cross to their counterparts from Spain, where the next World Youth Day will be held. The Holy Father reflected on this in the context of the reading of the Passion of Christ:
The more we can make some sacrifice, out of love for the great truth and the great love, out of love for the truth and for God’s love, the greater and richer life becomes. Anyone who wants to keep his life for himself loses it. Anyone who gives his life – day by day in small acts, which form part of the great decision – that person finds it. This is the challenging, but also profoundly beautiful and liberating truth that we wish to enter into, step by step, as the Cross makes its journey across the continents.