Today is Good Friday, when many Christians throughout the world commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. The New Testament records seven phrases Jesus uttered as he hung on the cross and these “seven last words” form a central part of Good Friday worship services for Catholics. Jesuit priest James Martin discusses each phrase in his book Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus
. Martin recently talked about his book on the Maxwell Institute Podcast
. You might enjoy listening today in preparation for Easter, but if you don’t have time to spare here’s an excerpt from the interview.
[In your book you pointed out] if there was an overarching theme in Jesus’s sayings it’s the way that Jesus’s sufferings help him
to understand us
. That became, I think, the keystone of your book that you revisit time and again.
JAMES MARTIN, SJ:
Yeah, that was really important to me, and you know, it’s important to me in my own life. Basically for me, the traditional belief—and pardon me, I’m not sure if this is a Mormon belief as well—is that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. That’s what we believe, so “fully God, fully man.” And at least among many Catholics—I can speak from my own tradition—we tend to focus mainly on the divine Jesus. Which is certainly part of the story. They’re called his “two natures,” human and divine, and we tend to focus on the divine nature. So for example Jesus is raising people from the dead and stilling the storm—things that we typically associate with the divine nature—his resurrection, and we see him as, you know, I mean he is
Son of God. And we tend to forget that he was a human being, that he would have gotten sick, you know, he may have sprained an ankle or two, he got headaches, he got tired. He had a body
, basically. And more to the point, he grew up in Nazareth. He worked for eighteen years from ages twelve to thirty. I mean he worked
, he didn’t just sit on his rear end and do nothing and wait for the baptism. He was in a carpenter worship. And that’s hard work. We tend to think of it as kind of romantic, you know, he has all of his Sears Craftsman tools you know up on a pegboard somewhere, but you know, he did hard work. The time on the cross really does show us his humanity. He is suffering physically, and I suggest in the book that he’s suffering emotionally, too. I mean he’s abandoned by his disciples. And he even suffers spiritually. He says “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He feels this distance from the Father. So, what’s the point? The point is that when we pray to someone, when we pray to Jesus, we’re not praying to someone who doesn’t understand us. We’re not praying to someone who is far removed from us. We’re praying to someone who understand us, not simply because he’s God and he understands all things, but because he’s a human being and he experienced
all these things. He remembers
these things. Remember, when he comes back from the resurrection he’s bearing the wounds—
So, it is that kind of connection to the human Jesus that I find really helpful for me.
So if you’ll indulge me, there’s a really interesting passage in the Book of Mormon that touches on this. It’s in a book called Alma (7:11–12
) and it hits on this. It says Jesus “shall go forth”—this is a prophet sort of foretelling the mission of Christ—”And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people…” And this is the part that always sticks out to me— “and [Jesus] will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful, you know I don’t know much about Mormonism, but I agree a hundred percent with what you just read. You know it’s interesting, you used the word “bowels,” you probably know in the Greek world and in the New Testament when we hear the term “Jesus’s heart was moved with pity,” it’s his bowels. And so there’s a sense that he feels it kind of in his guts—
Yeah, deep down—
So yeah, and he does take on—it’s a really beautiful passage—he does take on our infirmities. Now you can see that in the spiritual way, sort of that, you know, he kind of enters into the world with all of its sinfulness. But in a very homey way, and I say this sometimes to shock people, he got sick!
He had the flu, he had stomachaches, and then more severely at the crucifixion he suffered intense physical pain. So you know, when people who are struggling or sick, when they pray, I remind them that Jesus understands this, as you say, he took on our infirmities. And so it connects people more with Jesus.