Have you ever stopped long enough to look, I mean gaze on the Crucifix and allow it to touch you? Especially during the season of Lent, we are invited to meditate on the Passion narrative of our Savior, Jesus. When we do so, each one of us comes away with a keener awareness of how much Jesus suffered and died on a cross for us.
What has struck me as I dwell on the passion of Our Lord, is the use of the word “Behold.” Pontius Pilate said, “Ecce Homo,” “Behold, the man!” (John 19:5) when he presented Jesus, bound and scourged to the angry mob. Perhaps he did that to evoke sympathy from the people. Maybe he just wanted to quiet the crowd. Could he have been mocking Jesus? However, when we reflect on Pilate’s words, it is an invitation to gaze in awe and admiration, of an innocent man, the second person of the blessed Trinity, God’s own Son, who silently bore the rebuke of so many.
In the original King James version of the Bible, “behold” appears 1,298 times. Contemporary English rarely uses the word. As he hung on the cross, Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son,” and to his disciple John, “Behold, your mother.” (John 19:26-27) There appears to be a solemnity when “behold” is said here, almost like Mary and John are being awarded with the gift of each other by a dying Jesus.
Stepping back to the start of Jesus’ public ministry, when John the Baptist saw Jesus approach, he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) He was announcing to his disciples that the Messiah had arrived in their midst.
If we are really participating at Mass, we would realize that the priest says the same words during the Communion Rite, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” We routinely reply, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” While our reply is also scriptural, (Matthew 8:8) I wonder how many of us approach the table of the Lord in reverent awe.
In “No Man is an Island” Thomas Merton said, “To know the Cross is not merely to know our own sufferings. For the Cross is the sign of salvation, and no man is saved by his own sufferings. To know the Cross is to know that we are saved by the sufferings of Christ; more, it is to know the love of Christ who underwent suffering and death in order to save us. It is, then, to know Christ.” As a Trappist monk, Merton must have spent many hours beholding, contemplating the cross of Jesus.
Henri Nouwen also invites us to, “always look at Jesus, because in his crucified and glorified heart we will see ourselves called to share in his suffering as well as in his glory.”
Christians venerate the cross, while many others condemn it. I vividly recall walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem several years ago. My husband was carrying the cross, when suddenly someone threw milk from above. It just missed him and landed on the ground. I was surprised, but soon realized that there are people who despise Jesus and the cross.
Beholding takes me to Good Friday, when I listen to the solemn hymn sung in a silent church,
Behold, behold, the wood of the cross
On which is hung our salvation.
O come, let us adore.
Gazing at Jesus hanging on an instrument of torture, with hands outstretched loving the world, soon finds me singing David Haas’ song Take Up Your Cross
“If you lose your life for my sake, you will find it.
If you want to save your life, let it go.
Take up your cross, deny yourself.
Come follow me, follow me.” (Luke 9:23-24)
I am grateful for the time spent beholding the Good Shepherd, our Savior, the King of kings, who loves me unconditionally.