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Seven Last Words Of Jesus
(Originally Published Early 1900's)
NO insult, no sneers, no taunt, however bitter, had been able thus far to exhaust the patience of Jesus as He hung upon the cross. He made no retort, He uttered not a syllable in answer to the outrageous conduct of the Jews. It was their hour, the hour of darkness, and they might consequently do and say to Him what they pleased. But, being mindful of us, He wished to teach us a lesson by word, as well as by example, and therefore uttered some few words from the cross, which show the sentiments wherewith His heart was animated in that supreme moment.
They were not words of indignation, nor a cry for vengeance: He was the Saviour, and there-fore His heart was full of mercy and forgiveness, which found expression in the utterances of His last hour. Listen eagerly and attentively, Christian reader, to these parting words of your dying Saviour; treasure them up carefully in your heart; reflect and meditate seriously on them.
1. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke xxiii. 34.)
What a prayer at such a moment! Utterly forgetful of Himself, Jesus was thinking only of His tormentors. He prays for them, and thus literally fulfils His own grand precept of charity. They were cursing and reviling Him, and He blessed them. Racked and tortured, both in body and mind, to a degree beyond all conception, He has more compassion and more solicitude for His unrelenting persecutors than for Himself. His soul is more pained at the thought of the eternal condemnation awaiting these blinded creatures than by all the insulting reproaches which they continue to heap upon Him in this hour of His extreme anguish. He prays for these His merciless enemies, who in their persistent, culpable, and passionate blindness will not recognize and acknowledge His divinity.
2. "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise." (Luke xxiii. 43.)
To render the death of Our Lord more ignominious, there were crucified with Him two thieves, the one on His right hand, the other on the left. "And one of those robbers who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying: If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying : Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation, And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of Our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Amen, I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise." (Luke xxiii. 39-43.)
Who was this highly favored man, whose privilege it was to be the first to reap the fruits of Christ's suffering, and to hear these words of consolation? Holy Scripture furnishes neither his name nor his previous history, designating him only, together with his companion in suffering, as a public robber. Legend, however, has transmitted the name of this penitent thief, telling us that he was called Dismas, and that he was the same highwayman who, years before, had shown kindness and hospitality to the Holy Family when on their flight into Egypt.
It is terrible for us to reflect that by the side of Jesus dying upon the cross, and pouring out His blood for the salvation of men, there hung two human beings, one of whom was saved, the other lost. It is but natural that we should ask ourselves how this came to pass, since we believe that God wills all men to be saved, and gives unto all grace sufficient to accomplish that object? We can. account for it by this simple reason: one of these men put no obstacle in the way of grace, and the other did. One of them, as soon as he heard the whisperings of God's Holy Spirit to his heart, listened to them, and allowed them to sink deep into his soul, and to stir up his better nature, and turn it to God.
The other did not do so. When that gentle voice first made itself heard, and bade him look at the evident signs of a divine nature which shone through the torn and bleeding figure hanging so near him, he thrust back the thoughts which began to throng upon him. He would not believe, and, with that strange, irrational, and unaccountable rage which not unfrequently takes possession of the wicked at the sight of the just, he opened his mouth to curse and to revile. And so he died impenitent, within reach of the source of grace, and yet not touched by it.
The penitent thief, on the other hand, follows the impulse of grace. He recognizes his guilt, contritely confesses it before the whole world, and is willing to suffer the temporal punishment incurred. " We suffer justly, for we receive the due rewards of our evil deeds." Oh, that every sinner would understand what such an humble self-accusation accomplishes in the eyes of our divine Judge! In heartfelt sympathy and with generous charity, the penitent thief defends the friendless Jesus, and, testifying to His innocence, says: "This Man hath done no evil."
At a moment when all were hurling jeers, insults, and blasphemies at the dying Jesus, this criminal fearlessly acknowledges the innocence of the Redeemer. Whence came this courage, and the strength to make this open profession of faith? From supernatural love, which is mightier than death itself. Turning his head, he looks imploringly at his dying Saviour, and says : " Lord, re-member me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom."
What a living faith! He discovers, in the dying culprit at his side, the Lord, the King, to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs, that God who possesses both power and grace sufficient to forgive all sin. And though he had wasted and lost his whole life in wrong-doing, he turns with confidence to his divine Master and King, and sues for pardon. What a confiding hope! And thus it is that the man who only a few hours before climbed up the heights of Calvary a sinner has become a saint. "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise." In what paradise? In the midst of those just souls in Limbo, to whom the soul of Christ, after His death, descended, in order to announce to them the accomplishment of salvation, and by His presence to transform this place of waiting and desire into an abode of heavenly delights, whence they were to be transferred, at His ascension, into everlasting glory.
3. "Woman, behold thy son. ...Behold thy mother!" (John xix. 26, 27.)
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother, and His Mother's sister, Mary Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He said to His Mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that He saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother." (John xix. 25-27.) In the midst of His agony, Jesus sees at the foot of His cross, accompanied by three faithful, deeply sympathizing friends, Mary, His Mother. His dying eyes are fixed upon her, and no doubt the memory of His child-hood, and of her loving embraces, came back upon Him, flooding His soul with anguish unutterable.
Ah, how tenderly she had loved Him all through life : how many cares she had borne; how many trials and privations suffered in silence! Compassion for her added one other ingredient of bitterness to the gall of His chalice. At length He opens His parched lips and addresses her: "Woman, behold thy son." By these words He intimated that He willed her henceforth to be a mother to His beloved disciple, and to transfer to him all the wealth of affection which she had hitherto lavished upon Him as her Son. " How great," exclaims St. Bernard, "was the exchange here made! She received the disciple instead of the Master, the servant instead of the Lord, the son of Zebedee instead of the Son of God."
In very truth, the sword had now entered into her soul. Then Jesus, slowly turning His dying eyes, and fixing one last parting look of love upon His disciple, said to him: " Behold thy mother !" He gave to him her who was dearest to His heart; He gave him His own Mother, to be to him what she had been unto Himself. And by that same act He made us the children of this holy Mother; for St. John is generally looked upon, by the holy Fathers, as representing, on Mount Calvary, all Christians; and they argue, that by saying to him: "Behold thy mother," Jesus addressed Himself also to each of us.
Since, then, Jesus has willed that the Blessed Virgin should be the mother of those whom He disdained not to call his brethren, it is also His will that we should love and honor her as such. To love and honor means to be obedient to her wishes. Her will is that all men should ever be obedient to the holy law of God. By endeavoring to observe that law, we shall render an obedience to our mother's wishes, which will please her beyond measure. Therefore, let us strive to be pure in heart and mind; to be humble in our thoughts and in our bearing toward others; to have charity for all, even for those who show none toward us; and thus we shall be loving, honoring, and obeying her whom Christ gave us to be our mother.
4. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me" (Matt. xxvii. 46.)
It was midday when the crowning sin of the Jews was consummated, and Jesus hung dying on the cross. His enemies had at length gained their wish, and were now rejoicing over Him in the agonies of His ignominious death,, But, behold, as the last moments of the Saviour are approaching, nature mourns her Creator: "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over the whole earth, until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? That is: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. xxvii. 45, 46.) Extreme anguish alone could have wrung such a complaint from Him; and these words give us a glimpse of the utter desolation of His soul.
This cry of agony proves to us that the material wounds of His body could not be compared to the anguish wherewith He was tortured by the withdrawal of those heavenly consolations from which He had shut Himself off by a heroic act of His own will. Hence He became like one abandoned by God to spiritual darkness and despair. His soul was without consolation, as He had foretold by the mouth of His prophet, beseeching God to pity Him in the day of His trial: "Save Me, O God, for the waters are come in even unto My soul." (Ps. lxviii. 2.)
The unnatural and untimely darkness at the time of Christ's death, which the evangelists mention, was so marked and general, that the heathen nations were much terrified, and made a record of it in their public documents. This last fact we learn from a letter written A.D. 164 by Tertullian, and addressed to the dignitaries of the Roman empire. In this letter he speaks of this remarkable event at the death of Christ, and reminds them that they had a record of it in the city of Rome, saying : " You yourselves have this occurrence recorded in your official annals."
This darkness was not the effect of a natural eclipse, caused by the moon passing between the sun and the earth; for it being the time of the Easter full moon, such an eclipse was simply impossible. It was really a miracle wrought by divine Omnipotence, who commanded the great luminary of day to withhold its light during the hours that Our Saviour hung upon the cross. It was awfully and strikingly significant of that black pall of iniquity with which the Jewish people had shrouded themselves and their future generations till the end of time.
5. "I thirst." (John xix. 28.)
What must the sufferings of Our Lord have been, after His many and grievous wounds! No drink had passed His lips since the preceding night. The thirst engendered by His cruel suffering and loss of blood must have been intense. " Afterward Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst. Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to His mouth." (John xix. 28, 29.)
This thirst was so notable a feature in Christ's bitter passion that the royal prophet mentioned it: "My tongue hath cleaved to My jaws, and Thou hast brought Me down into the dust of death." (Ps. xxi. 16.) In order, therefore, to fulfil another prediction of this same prophet, where he says : " In My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink" (Ps. lxviii. 22), Our Lord made known the anguish He was suffering, by saying : " I thirst." Hearing this, one of the soldiers ran to a vessel filled with vinegar, and dipping a sponge into it, fastened it upon a stalk of hyssop, and raised it to His mouth.
Our Lord tasted the vinegar, but He would not drink it. His Mother stood by, and saw this. She knew what torture her dying Son endured, and she was utterly unable to give Him any relief. Gladly would she have forced her way through the dense crowd to get some water to quench His thirst; but she knew that Jesus did not wish for it. He spoke merely to let us know what He suffered. To atone for your gluttony, the Son of God suffers thirst. Woe to you, if you can hear these words of Jesus, "I thirst," and yet refuse to abandon, at once and forever, the odious habits of the glutton and the drunkard.
Moreover, Our Saviour experienced another kind of thirst, besides the mere natural thirst of tongue and palate. He thirsted for the salvation of immortal souls. This spiritual thirst of Our Lord was even more keen and intense, if possible, than His bodily thirst. At every moment He beheld in spirit the countless myriads of men who, although marked with the blood of redemption, would nevertheless be lost by their forgetfulness of the Redeemer Himself. For such unhappy souls He thirsted with the extreme ardor of love.
6. "It is consummated." (John xix. 30.)
The night with its darkness was fast passing away; the dawn was at hand, when the Sun of justice, bursting through the clouds which had obscured His splendor, would triumph forever over death, sin, and hell. " Jesus, therefore, when He had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated." (John xix. 30.) These words, coming from the lips of our dying Redeemer, are full of deep meaning. From them we learn that before breathing His last He cast one rapid glance back upon the life He had spent upon earth. Looking into every circumstance of His earthly career, He could say: "All that My Father had ordained for Me I have accomplished: 'It is consummated."
He came to expiate the disobedience of Adam : He had done so, for He was obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. He came to open the gates of heaven, and to teach us the road thither, both by word and example. He accomplished it. Finally, He saw that all figures whereby He had been typified had in His person received their fulfilment. Therefore He announced all these things to the world, by saying: "It is consummated."
For each one of us, also, a moment will come when, standing upon the confines of eternity, we shall cast a glance backward over the course we have run. Our works, our plans, the thoughts of our mind, the desires of our heart, the evil and the good all will start up and appear before us. We shall look upon them all and say: " It is consummated." What will it profit us, then, to have lived in sinful pleasures? They have vanished like smoke, and have left behind only the burden of guilt and the sting of remorse. Live so that you may be able to look back then on a life well spent, on a race bravely run, on work faithfully accomplished.
7. "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." (Luke xxiii. 46.)
Jesus, having faithfully accomplished the work appointed for Him by His heavenly Father, now gathered up all His remaining strength to utter a last farewell. "And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said: Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. And saying this, He gave up the ghost." (Luke xxiii. 46.) Solemn and terrible moment! Since the dawn of creation the world has never witnessed such a moment of horror; it will never see such again. On the heights of Calvary a sullen silence has now settled down.
Not a sound is heard, save the suppressed groans of the beloved disciple, the stifled sobs of the sorrowing Mother of the dead Jesus. But in the heights of heaven the scene is different. The choirs of angels burst forth into a chant of praise and thanksgiving, saying: "The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and benediction." (Apoc. v. 12.)
The last lesson which Jesus preached from the cross was an instruction to us, to recommend, in death, our de-parting soul into the hands of our Creator, and to accept death with an entire conformity and resignation to the divine will.
Eternal Father, look upon Thy beloved Son, hanging on the cross, dead. For His sake forgive us our sins. Receive His sufferings in satisfaction for our past transgressions, and preserve us from offending Thee here-after.
Precious body of my Saviour! inseparably united with the Divinity, Thou art as sacred and as worthy of worship on the cross or in the tomb as Thou wast in the manger or on Thabor during life. Receive the sacrifice of my homage and gratitude. Accept my ardent, fervent prayer. How calm and sweet the expression of Thy pal-lid features! How full of encouragement and hope for sinners! How mercifully Thy arms are still stretched out to embrace all Thy creatures! Even Thy wounds, a moment since to Thee so dreadful, to me are now so many sources of happiness, for they can pain Thee no longer, while to me they have become a sheltering, saving refuge in my distress of body and mind.
Accept, then, in these remarkable, mysterious moments, even though Thy soul is absent, the fervent, heartfelt prayer of a poor offender. Let my death be like unto Thine, O Jesus! Thou hast yielded up Thy departing soul into the hands of Thy heavenly Father; grant that my last prayer may be like Thine: "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." Thou wast pleased, too, to have Thy blessed Mother near Thee in the hour of death; grant that she may be near me in my last hour. Let me die when and where Thou please, but let me not die unprepared; let me not die without the presence of Thy Mother and mine, Mary.
We adore Thee, O Christ, and praise Thee : for by Thy holy cross and passion Thou hast redeemed the world.
— Source Unknown