After paying my respects to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in whichever church I enter, whenever possible, my next steps are directed toward the Stations of the Cross.
One of the bonuses of so many years of Coast-to-Coast USA business travel was getting to see so many different artistic renditions of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. While some evoked deeper reflection than others, still, the Stations are the Stations, no matter what.
Sometimes I prayed them with the day’s Mass readings or various Scripture verses in mind. Other times, I prayed with a special intention in mind—sometimes a personal one or sometimes one derived from local, national, or international news.
Over the years, I have collected many different pamphlets and booklets with thematic reflections that informed my prayers, too... Pro-life themes, examination of conscience themes, acceptance of one’s own suffering themes, and those presenting “hot” world social issues as justice and peace, and so forth.
All the different reflections that I have read have gotten “mixed together” and internalized so that, with a very few exceptions, regrettably, I cannot give credit to the original sources of the various Stations of the Cross reflections that I hope to share during Lent.
Here is my first reflection. Please add your reflection in the “Comment” section, or please share an article of your own based on your experiences and reflections. Thank you!
“Jesus is condemned” is the usual verbiage that accompanies the visual presentation of the First Station of the Cross.
The visual that often accompanies the verbiage is the image of Pilate washing his hands, with Jesus, hands bound, standing alongside him.
It is my Mercy reflection on those two actions: washing one’s hands and condemning that I would like to share.
Pilate washes his hands as a sign of his disassociation with any responsibility for condemning Jesus, telling the crowd, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Matthew 27: 24).
Unfortunately, even if Pilate hadn’t subsequently succumbed to threats to his political position (his loyalty to Caesar), thus ordering Jesus to be crucified (Cf. John 19: 12-16), his handwashing would not have exonerated him from condemning innocent Blood. As the civil authority, Pilate still would have been complicit in Jesus’ crucifixion by turning Jesus over to the Jews for execution, even though God’s Merciful plan for salvation permitted Pilate to exercise such authority (Cf. John 19:11).
Fast forward to our own lives today. In light of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, of whom have we washed our hands? By our inaction, our indifference, and refusal to care, whose lives have we condemned to hunger, thirst, sinfulness etc.?
(Unfortunately, in difficult situations, I know I have washed my hands of people I shouldn’t have!)
Based on what Jesus has said: “…what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for Me” (Matthew 25: 45), when we wash our hands of our brothers and sisters, we wash our hands of Jesus.
Conversely, Jesus has said: “…what you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 26: 40), which we take in a complimentary way when we perform a spiritual or corporal work of mercy. Inasmuch as what we do to others we do to Jesus, could we not say that when we wash our hands of others, thus condemning them to hunger, thirst etc., we condemn Jesus to those negative effects, too?
All told, when we wash our hands and condemn, as Pilate did, is it not Jesus, Whom we, too, are washing our hands of and condemning to various forms of physical, social, and spiritual neglect and suffering?
Although we can learn in the First Station from Pilate what not to do, let’s also learn from Jesus what we should do. Let’s compare Pilate’s hand-washing and condemning actions with those of Jesus.
As our Merciful Good Shepherd, Jesus never gives up on us; rather, He goes in search of us (Cf. Luke 15:4-5). And when we accept His Mercy—when we permit ourselves to be found—when we repent, He tells us that all heaven rejoices (Cf. Luke 15:7).
One of the key messages of the Mercy Jubilee, which the Holy Father repeats throughout his "Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is that God always is ready to forgive us. He never gives up on us. As Pope Francis explains, Jesus is the “Face of the Father” Who shows us that, no matter what, God does not wash His Hands of us. As in the Parable of Prodigal Son, our Heavenly Father loves us unconditionally and runs to embrace us in His Mercy when we are repentant (Cf. Luke 15: 11-32).
Unlike Pilate who condemned Jesus, the Innocent One, to death, Jesus, the Just Judge, when He had the chance to condemn the woman caught in adultery, for example, refused to condemn her to death, instructing her to stop sinning (Cf. John 8: 9-11). Following the lead of Jesus, His Body, the Church, condemns sin, but not sinners. The Church tells us to do the same, for it is Jesus Who tells us that we must not condemn so that we will not be condemned (Cf. Luke 6:37).
Among the gifts we have freely been given is the gift of mercy; freely we need to give to others the gifts we have freely received from our Merciful Father (cf. Matthew 10:8); we need to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful (Cf. Luke 6:36).
Pilate, who was not innocent, washed his hands of Jesus, in an effort to keep his hands clean—to keep from taking any responsibility for Jesus’ death. Conversely, Jesus, the Sinless Innocent One, willingly took upon Himself all the crimes of humanity—past, present, and future; He willingly accepted death on a cross (Cf. Philippians 2: 6-11). He is our Merciful Savior.
The Gospel is the “Good News,” and the good news of the First Station of the Cross for me is that Jesus will not wash His Hands of us; nor will He condemn us.
Now it is our turn to respond to His Goodness.
This Lent, in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, provides a wonderful opportunity for us to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy as a way of responding to the First Station of the Cross, as a way of not washing our hands and not condemning. Shall we encourage each other? Shall we do it? God bless you!