Come and behold him

In the gospel scene today, Jesus is told to behold a woman, a woman who has allegedly been caught in the very act of adultery. Are we to imagine her wrapped in a bed sheet, vainly attempting to cover her shame?  The woman has no name, it does not matter to the pharisees and scribes who haul her before him. As a human being she is of no consequence to them, she is just a useful pawn in their plot to trap Jesus.

Rather than behold a person he is told to behold a sinner.

Jesus does indeed behold the woman, he sees a flawed individual who has made mistakes, but one who is no worse than any in the crowd of self-righteous men baying for blood. And he beholds them too, he sees them for what they are, and he exposes their hypocrisy and viciousness.

Jesus, through his quick-witted answer, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, saves the woman’s life, but he is not to be so fortunate himself. The gospel today is a prelude to Holy Week, a reminder of why the religious elite hated Jesus so violently, why they could not bear his message of mercy and forgiveness.

We call today Passion Sunday, it is the day that we veil the images of the church in purple cloth, to focus our attention on the Passion of Christ, and the cross on which he died. Next Sunday we will begin Holy Week, the solemn commemoration of the momentous culmination of Jesus’ life in this world.

After Pilate sentences Jesus to be crucified, he says, ‘ecce homo’, behold the man in the Latin Version of the Bible, or 'behold your king' in others, as he presents him to the crowd. In Holy Week we are invited to behold our suffering Saviour, to enter into the mystery of the Passion and Cross of Jesus.

St Paul was a very intelligent man, who could probably have set his mind to anything and spent his time in any form of theological research, but he declared that he wanted to know Christ and to share in his sufferings. He was to do that as a martyr, executed in Rome. We hopefully will be spared that ultimate test of loyalty. But we cannot, as Christians, be spared the contemplation of the sufferings of Jesus, what he went through for us, if we are to truly understand him.  

When the children of Year 1 from St Michael’s came in this week, one little girl asked me where God sleeps. I told her that he never sleeps and is always there to listen to us when we pray. We expect him to be there for us, whenever we need him, as indeed he is. We are taught that he knows us and understands us better than we know ourselves, but we must know him too especially in the dramatic events of Holy Week, that encompass many of the trials of life that we have to face: abandonment, betrayal, despair and denial, hatred and violence, cruelty, insult and spite.

The other day I visited a friend who for several years now has been struggling with the effects of multiple sclerosis. She says that the hardest thing for her has not been her condition but the fact that many friends have abandoned her, because they say they cannot cope with her illness.

Beholding our Saviour on the cross, should serve as a stark reminder that if we are to follow him, we must take up our cross, the weight of which may be slight when compared to those carried by others. Just as Jesus failed to carry the weight of his cross alone, but was aided by Simon of Cyrene, so we can help to lighten the weight of the crosses that others carry. 

In his letter to the Romans, St Paul writes of what follows on from  sharing the sufferings of Christ: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Will you behold the man Jesus in Holy Week: in his transitory triumph on Palm Sunday, in the Upper Room at the last meal with his friends, in his lonely despair in Gethsemane, along the road to Calvary, and in the cold tomb? Then and only then can you experience the joy that is the mark of Easter. Without Good Friday there can be no Easter Day.

Be there, be part of it, come and behold him.