Saturday, 4 April 2015

Good Friday: The Blame Game

We often have the tendency to blame something or someone else for things that aren’t going right for us in our lives, or for the mistakes we ourselves have made. So long as this something or someone is not ourselves, we are happy to play blame the game. The Government, Big Business, ‘50 zones that should be 60 zones’, parking inspectors, ‘karma’, that particular person who gets on our nerves, the boss, the wife, the husband, the Church, the Hierarchy, those ‘commies’ –if one’s a righty, those ‘fascists’ –if one’s a lefty, Satan and even God. Why do we have this tendency to blame something or someone else? I think it’s safe to say that the answer lies in the fact that by virtue of our fallen nature, we have ego’s the size of a planet. We can’t handle being wrong. We don’t like to be ashamed. We don’t like our reputation or the positive image we have of ourselves to be tarnished; so at all costs we strive to defend the throne of our pride.

 We especially play the blame game when it comes to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; He who was brutally tortured, insulted, humiliated, and put to death on the Cross. “The Jews did it!” we say; “the Romans did it; the Jewish authorities did it!” Or if we take a step nearer to the truth we say: “the sinfulness of mankind did it!” These are truthful answers to a degree, yet the fundamental truth of the matter is this, we did it, we murdered and tortured Jesus with our sins. But that’s not far enough, because it’s easy to share the blame with others, but it’s hard to take all the blame and responsibility upon oneself –especially when deep down we know it’s true. So if we want to be absolutely honest, if we ourselves want to face the truth, we must say as an individual, and admit to ourselves and to God in prayer: “I did it. I murdered and tortured my Jesus with my sins. I condemned Him to death. I scourged Him at the pillar. I mocked Him and spat on His face. I crowned Him with thorns. I prevented Him from meeting with His Mother; I tore them apart. I stripped Him naked, reducing Him to shame. I nailed His hands and His feet to the Cross. I pierced Him with a lance. For all these things I did and caused to happen, because of my sinfulness and because of my sins.”

 We're Barabbas

The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barab'bas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified.”… Then he released for them Barab'bas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. (Mat 27:21-22, 26).

Pilate Proposes to Free either Jesus or Barabbas, 'The Passion of the Christ'
When we hear the above account we often think and say to ourselves: “What an injustice! How terrible it is that the Jews wanted to free Barabbas, ‘the worst kind of criminal’, and condemn Jesus, an innocent man!” Yet we often seem to miss an obvious parallel, that allegorically speaking, we are Barabbas. For we are the guilty ones, criminals in sin; and we were set free from the prison of despair and damnation all because Jesus took our place, because He sacrificed Himself to die as a prisoner in our stead. For “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10a). So when it is said that Barabbas was preferred over Jesus, this is another way of saying how we were preferred over Jesus -for it was not we who were condemned to bear the chains of sin, but we were set free because Jesus humbled Himself to be chosen last. Thus due to God's Mercy we were chosen over the Son of God. Is this not a humbling thought?

We're Judas

Then we come to Judas; and we think to ourselves: “What a terrible thing he did! To betray Jesus who was nothing but a friend to Him; I couldn’t imagine someone ever doing such a thing!” Yet without getting too technical, and stating it how it is, do we not betray Jesus every time we sin? Do we not betray Jesus with a kiss whenever we pretend to ourselves that we are good Christians who love God, whilst at the same time we never really pray from the heart, nor even do anything to love our neighbour who is unkind or disrespectful to us; but rather we gossip and speak of the faults of others in our conversations? Truly if we are honest –not so much humble, because our humility is mere recognition of the facts, whilst God’s Humility is an actual lowering of who He is- there is a bit of Judas within all of us. Yet God can fix this, we only need to recognise it, repent of it and trust God in the confidence of childlike love.
Judas Betrays Jesus with a Kiss

We're Peter

Then we come to Peter the Apostle; another favourite figure to cast some of the blame upon. “How terrible Peter was to deny Christ, His dearest and best friend, not only once but three times!” we say to ourselves. I remember one time a person shared their spiritual testimony, during which they said the following: “I may not have been as bad as Peter in denying Christ, but I have certainly made mistakes and have sinned many times.” I even recall myself thinking in a similar manner in the past, and still to this day this way of thinking can become a temptation if one is not grounded in self-knowledge, that is, knowledge of our own sinfulness, weakness and dependence on God. (Such self-knowledge can only grow in an atmosphere of silence before God’s Presence and through a daily desire to pray and grow in love of God). After all, is not every sin we commit a denial of Christ! “For a righteous man falls seven times a day” (Prov 24:6), and “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8); therefore we know we must deny Christ at least seven times a day, which is over twice as much as Peter did in the explicit fashion of saying “I know Him not”. Every time we act ashamed of Christ by hiding our love for Him, or by hiding our faith or the fact that we are ‘a Mass goer’; or by our refusal to want to be thought of as religious or as ‘a stupid Christian’ –it is then that we deny Christ, saying: “I know Him not.” Every time we choose to do what we know to be wrong, such as stealing from a Big Company “who won’t miss it”, or by intentionally doing nasty things or saying nasty things about others –even if such things are true; we deny Christ, saying: “I know Him not.” Concerning this our Lord says: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luk 9:26).

Blaming Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve Consume the Forbidden Fruit
“Is there anyone left to cast at least some of the blame on?” we might ask ourselves. “What about Adam and Eve! If they hadn’t of sinned we would never be in this predicament anyway!” Yet we can’t even blame Adam and Eve for being kicked out of the Garden of Eden without blaming ourselves; because through eternity we in our sinfulness egged them on, saying: “Taste it! Eat it!” Furthermore, in the Church’s Tradition, drawing from St. Augustine and recited during the Easter Vigil, the fault of Adam and Eve is referred to -in what is known as the Exultet- in the following words: “O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer.” So indeed we could blame Adam and Eve for their fault, but rather the better way is to praise God for ‘turning such a fault for our good’; by giving to us a Redeemer who proved God's love for us by being made Incarnate, by being Crucified and by rising from the dead. For “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28).

Acknowledging We Did It and the Steps that Follow

Now we all have an ego and we are all filled with pride to some extent, yet we must stop playing the blame game, and look within; realising that we ourselves are to blame for the death of Christ. This is why the custom is during the recital of the Passion Narrative for the entire congregation to shout “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” For we are the ones to blame, you are the one to blame, and I am the one to blame. Thus it was I who cried out: “Crucify Him” and still I do every time I sin. Yet bearing in mind this truth, that I am the one who murdered Jesus with my sins, and that you are the one who murdered Jesus with your sins; we must take a few steps beyond this point of comprehension, for fear of offending God is only the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).

Thus the first step is sorrowful repentance for having hurt the One who loves us so much that He died for us; and involves repentance from our heart, followed and accompanied by Confession if our conscience or understanding inspires us that this is necessary, or if we haven't been a long time. The second step is trusting in His Mercy as more powerful than any and every one of our sins. The third step is giving thanks for His Love and Mercy, which He poured out in a torrent of blood and water on the Cross, and which He continues to pour out through the Eucharist. And the fourth step is to cease playing the blame game -which is a negative endeavour in which one seeks to criticise others; and instead to begin playing the praise game – which is a positive endeavour in which one seeks to focus on the good in all things, and giving praise to God for it.

 From Blame Game to Praise Game

The praise game –as lame as it sounds- is what causes us to understand why Good Friday is good, and it is because on this day we do not blame who did kill Jesus -although we do recognise and repent of our so doing- but rather we give praise and thanks to our God for dying for us in such a way, and for giving us His Mother through John. Since it is She who will teach us how to be grateful and loving people who will defend our neighbours in word and in prayer before the Throne of God. For whilst the Virgin Mary in Her union with the Holy Spirit is the Advocate and Defender of us all; Satan is the Accuser and Blamer of us all (Rev 12:10). So let us pray that we stay on Mary’s side, the side which stands at the Foot of the Cross and recites as its motto the prayer of Christ Crucified on behalf of all: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34). For indeed "if you forgive men their trespasses," says the Lord, "your heavenly Father also will forgive you" (Mt 6:14) and yet again in another place He says: “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Mt 5:7).  

So let's stop playing the blame game by pointing the finger at others; realise that three fingers are pointing back at us whenever we do so, and play instead the praise game on this Good Friday, this very Good Friday which has won for us a great and glorious redemption.