Good Friday 2020

posted 11 Apr 2020, 08:43 by Parish Priest
Homily for Good Friday (10/4/20)

Power and authority: these can be good words, or dirty words, depending on how people exercise them. How we perceive them can be down to our experience of others in power and authority over us. Perhaps we can take a look at Pilate, the chief priests, and Christ, in their exercise of power and authority.

Pilate is presented through the Gospel accounts as someone who could see that Christ was innocent, but condemned him anyway. Because of the danger of the people rioting and because they simply wouldn’t be placated any other way, he goes along with their demands and has Christ crucified. But all power and authority have their origin in God. Christ tells Pilate, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given you from above” - God has given you that authority. As a Roman you will understand that you are supposed to follow orders from authority above you. But then He adds that the same applies to the High Priest, chief priests and so on of the Jewish religion: “that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt”. He has a greater awareness of his responsibility before God, and that is why he bears the greater guilt.

Then there is the notice that Pilate wrote out and had put above the cross: Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews; in Latin, Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum, often abbreviated to INRI. In some ways it’s ambiguous: is it a way of Pilate acknowledging Christ’s Kingship, or is it a way of the Romans mocking the Jews: look, here is your king, and look at what we’ve done to him? Is Pilate hiding behind that ambiguity, acknowledging Christ but making it look like he is not? But the chief priests want to totally reject and disown the Lord. “You should not write ‘King of the Jews”, but ‘This man said: I am King of the Jews’ ”. It reminds me of back in 2005 when white smoke appeared at St Peter’s. One TV station showed people running to see who the new Pope was going to be, and they put the banner at the bottom of the screen saying “We have a new Pope!”. Another news station also reported on the event, but their banner said something subtly different: “Roman Catholics have a new Pope”. In other words, whoever he is, he is nothing to do with us.

Power and authority. In the second reading, we see that Christ has more power and authority than any of them. He is the supreme high priest, greater than any of the other priests around at the time of His crucifixion. He outranks them all. And He leads by example when it comes to fulfilling the Father’s will. He is also a “proper” high priest in more ways than one. Despite his power and authority, including moral authority, He is not incapable of empathising with us. He has been through temptation and knows what it is like, although He has always rejected each and every temptation. That’s how all bishops, priests etc. should be, although we aren’t always. Please pray for us.

Christ’s leadership, power and authority are also empowering: “Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help”. On the Cross, Christ appears powerless, but the reality is far from that. When we turn to Him, He will grant us not only forgiveness when we have sinned, but, more importantly, help when we are tempted, to avoid sinning in the first place. That is true empowerment, true power and true authority: telling the devil to get lost, rather than listening to him like a naive fool.

Yes, the experience of Jews throughout the ages, and of Christians as well, has been that we cannot obey all that God asks of us in the Old and then in the New Testaments by our own efforts alone. We need a saviour so that our sins can be forgiven and that we can be given additional help to live up to our high calling. The only other options include despair, or to modify God’s requirements on our own authority – clearly not to be advised! We cannot save ourselves, and that realisation can sometimes hurt our pride. Pride comes before a fall, and sometimes it’s only once we have fallen that we realise that we can’t save ourselves, and that we need a saviour.

Power and authority: both can be used for good, or for ill. With Christ, we have the example of it being used properly, firstly in rightful obedience to the Father, and then applied to help others. May we be willing to learn from Him, and to turn to Him, not like Pilate and the chief priests.