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 infidelities.
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.