To suffer for a person one loves: only humans are capable of this
experience and the experience deepens their humanity. God himself could
not have this experience, had he not become human. God did become human
and he did have this humanizing experience: “Greater love than this no
person has, to lay down one’s life for a friend.” Is there anything
that is more deeply, more profoundly, more intensely human than love
poured out totally in sacrifice for a person beloved?
This is the core of Good Friday’s mystery. It is the reason,
ultimately, why this Friday, which witnessed a tragic death violently
imposed on an innocent man two thousand years ago, has been called Good
Friday. This Friday witnessed the ultimate manifestation of human
goodness: Jesus laid down his life for his friends.
“Ultimate manifestation of human goodness?” Maybe not; maybe there is a
greater love than this, and therefore a more intense way of being
human. St. Paul believed this to be true. After reflecting on Jesus’
words: “There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for
a friend,” Paul wrote to the Romans: “We were helpless when at the
appointed moment Christ died for sinful man.” Paul, it would seem,
imagined himself on the cross in the place of Christ and he came to
this realization, “It is not easy to die for the sake of a good man . .
. what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we
were still sinners.” Christ died-an act of love-not only for his
friends; he died also for those who had set themselves against him. He
died for the Romans who put him to death, for the Pharisees and the
priests, who pressured the Romans to kill him. He died for those who
would persecute his Church, for those who were to crucify him in his
followers down through the centuries. He died for us in spite of our
Jesus, having become man, pushed back the limits of human love and
sacrifice. He became far more intensely human than we are – with our
limitations, the conditions we place on our love.
From the cross Jesus looked about him. “Father,” he prayed, “forgive
them, they do not know what they are doing.” His prayer is much more
than a prayer of forgiveness for us, it is also a cry from the depth of
Jesus’ Heart to the depths within us. He pleads with us to allow our
love to grow and expand, to embrace not only those who love us but even
those who set themselves against us. He pleads with us to learn from
him how to be fully human.