September 21, 2023
7 last words of Jesus Christ

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There is an ancient tradition in the Church that has seen special relevance in the words of Jesus from the Cross. Called the 7 last words of Jesus Christ, they are, in a way, his final address to his people.
7 last words of Jesus Christ
Image by Heiko Stein from Pixabay

7 Last Words of Jesus Christ


What are the 7 last words of Jesus Christ? They are those things Jesus said to us from the cross. They are in many ways his last and most important homily. In each “word”, the phrases of Jesus provide us tremendous clues of the significant moments of his life. He shares with us who is, what it means to be Messiah, and why we no longer must fear death.

The final events of the cross help us to see clearly who God is in our lives. We see God’s love, the forgiveness extended to us, the mercy we do not deserve, the spiritual gift of Mary, our Blessed Mother. We are not alone, we are not left in our sins. We are offered salvation. The moment that appears to be failure is really a moment of triumph and victory.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?  which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The mystery of the Incarnation will never be solved. God is, after all, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, itself a mystery. Three persons, one God. On the one hand, the three persons are separate. As the ancient line goes, The Father is not the is not the Holy Spirit. And yet, all three are God.

This means that there cannot be the Father without the Son and the Holy Spirit. There cannot be the Son without the Father and the Holy Spirit. And there cannot be the Holy Spirit without the Father and the Son. That is to say, despite their being distinct persons, they are one God.

So, as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus could never be separated from the Trinity. He could not be abandoned, and could not be forsaken. Jesus was fully divine. So how is it that Jesus could ever feel forsaken by God? Is this even possible, and if not, why does Saint John record it in his gospel?

To be sure, in his divine nature, Jesus is God. So the answer to this mystery cannot be answered to say that in His divine nature Jesus could say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So the answer lies in his human nature. He was fully divine, to be sure. But he was also fully human. So in his human nature he had all of the limitations humans have. He was like you and me in every way save one. Jesus was without sin. He could not sin, because that would be against His divine nature.

So, while he was never forsaken or abandoned by the Father, he could feel forsaken and abandoned as a human. And in these words, Jesus freely choose to feel that abandonment that comes from sin. He did not sin, but in taking on our sins, he could feel the separation from God that sin brings.

Why did he choose to feel this way? It is because of who Jesus is, who God is. God is love. Keep in mind that it is not primarily that God loves, but more importantly that God is love. Let that sink in for a moment. God is love. God is love. Love is not what God does, it is who God is.

And so Jesus took on himself the weight of all of our sins. He took on himself the weight of all our rejections of God, of Him. And He did this because he is love, made manifest and visible to us in our creation. Even though we freely rejected God, God chose not to reject us.

Through His powerful mercy, Jesus provides us yet again a chance at an eternal relationship with Him. He pays the ransom for our sins. He is willing to feel our sins so that we can know fully and completely we are forgiven. In taking on our sinfulness He is able to help is to know that the love He is for us knows all about our sins and their weight. He knows. And He loves anyways.

We often find it difficult to endure the slightest inconvenience. We become impatient when even the smallest thing causes us to wait. And yet, in the great cry of dereliction of Jesus, hope is held out for us. In so many ways, the whole life of Jesus could be seen as His taking on our sins for us. Each moment he was on this earth, he felt the effect of sin.

Consider these powerful words.

But in the Agony in the Garden and in the three hours upon the Cross He voluntarily withdrew, as it were, the light and the sweetness which He always had by right as God, and by merit as Man. He allowed a veil, a cloud — as the darkness covered the sun at that hour — to spread over His soul. He allowed a darkness to be drawn between the sweetness and the light of His Godhead and His human soul; and why was this? It was for our sakes. It was as voluntary as His Incarnation, as His Temptation, as His Agony, as His Death; He was offered up, because He willed it; He was troubled in the Garden, because He willed it; He was desolate upon the Cross, because He willed it. It was His own voluntary act, and that for our sakes.

Cardinal Archbishop Henry Edward Manning

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

It is not easy to forgive, especially when the hurt is great. Johann Christoph Arnold writes a very powerful book about people who have really overcome amazingly brutal, violent and challenging moments of seemingly impossible to forgive experiences. Consider this from the Amazon website about his book.

Some of these stories deal with violent crime, betrayal, abuse, hate, gang warfare, and genocide. Others address everyday hurts: the wounds caused by backbiting, gossip, conflicts in the home, and tensions in the workplace. The book also tackles what can be the biggest challenge: forgiving ourselves.

Why Forgive? Paperback – May 25, 2014 on Amazon Website

And of course, there is Jesus, in His darkest hour, seeking out the forgiveness of those responsible for his suffering and death. How is that possible? How can anyone summon the power to forgive at such a bleak and dark moment of suffering?

The answer is caught up on the totality of the suffering of Jesus, and more specifically the purpose of Jesus’ suffering. He died precisely so that these words would not only be spoken, but that forgiveness would happen. He seeks forgiveness for us from the Father and brings about that forgiveness for us on the Cross.

And yet everything up to this point seems to indicate those responsible for bringing Jesus to death knew what they were doing. So the forgiveness offered by Jesus, since it sums up the whole reason for his presence on Earth, is not difficult to understand. But how could the claim be made they did not know?

This is the great struggle of our lives, isn’t it? How could the person who consumed way too much alcohol not know the consequences of driving in such a state could cause the death of an innocent person? How could someone not know it is wrong to steal, kill, harm, or otherwise reject God?

But do we really know and understand our sins? Do we fully appreciate the impact of our sins, the harms they inflict on the innocent? Or is it the case that we know something is wrong, but due to clouded vision, often from sin itself, but fail to understand the depth of its harm to us and to others?

For even in circumstances where we can anticipate the negative consequences of sin, can we always fully understand its impact upon us? Our knowledge that something is wrong means we are guilty of sin. But the depth of the sin is rarely apparent. We freely choose to reject God, but our choice causes so much harm it is hard for us to fathom is depth.

But more importantly, every action of Jesus in his life and on the cross was to fulfill all that was said about Him in the Scriptures. Consider his walk with the two disciples to Emmaus. He refers to every single passage that is about Him. He fulfills all. Jesus intercedes for our forgiveness because that is why He came. That is who He is.

Therefore I will give him his portion among the many, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death, was counted among the transgressors, Bore the sins of many, and interceded for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53:12, emphasis mine.

So this action demonstrates the plan of God. The love of God, from the beginning, intended to offer us salvation, and that offer involved the intercession of Jesus on our behalf from all eternity. He is here, both the one who prays and the answer to prayer. He freely takes on the sin of all, even those who crucify Him, that is to say, all of us. And if Jesus can forgive even the worst and most heinous of sins, He can forgive ours too.

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus intercedes on our behalf, seeks our forgiveness. But forgiveness is not automatic. Jesus intercedes for forgiveness, but forgiveness is not effective unless the request is borne out of our repentance and desire to change. We cannot sin and then believe we do not need to do anything in order to be forgiven.

This very idea is itself sinful. If we sin with the belief that what we do is ok because God will most certainly forgive us, then it is the case we are not truly sorry. It becomes clear we do not regret our sin. And as such, we close our hearts to the God who ultimately respects our freedom.

And yet, consider the interaction recounted in Luke’s gospel between Jesus and one of those crucified with Jesus. The exchange tells us so much about the power of God’s love, we place it here:

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43

In these loving and tender words, Jesus speaks not only to the criminal, but to us. Our sins are always criminal. But maybe what is more important is the lesson the criminal provides us. What is the big insight he gains so close to his own death? He learns where it is the power lies?

It can be the case, maybe even often, that we think we can solve our own problems, we can be in control, we can make everything work out just fine. But in the spiritual life such thinking is completely backwards. We cannot do this on our own. All spiritual growth can only occur because of God’s grace.

And this is the last-minute insight of the one crucified with Jesus. He knows that only Jesus can lead him into his Kingdom. And all of us strive to be remembered by Jesus. He cannot forget us, but we can forget Him. We go to Jesus. We beg his mercy. We ask Him to be admitted to His Kingdom. And this is precisely what He can do for us. And only He can do for us.

And so we make the prayer of the good thief our prayer. “Jesus, remember me.”

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”

For those of us who believe in the Trinity, we know the whole of Jesus’ life was to be united with the Father. His whole life was to be consumed with doing the work and the will of the Father. Jesus tells us He is one with the Father.

But ultimately the work and the will of the Father was the work and will of Jesus too. And he models for us exactly what our goal in life should be as well. We should seek after that union with God where we become so united with Jesus it never ends due to God’s grace.

The life of Jesus was a total self-gift to the Father, and so this “word” shows this total self-offering was complete. There is no point where Jesus is not making this self-offering for us and our sins. Can we do the same for Him?

For this life-giving action of Jesus has opened for us the ability to become the sons and daughters of God. The total fidelity of Jesus to the Father has resulted in our salvation. Our sin broke our relationship with God. Jesus restores our relationship with God. Our selfishness is changed by the generosity of Jesus.

And we see that we should have the attitude of Jesus. We must be generous by commending ourselves into the hands of God like Jesus. But this is only possible because God is never outdone in generosity. There is no way we can be more generous than God. Jesus gives his life for our sins, and we are given the grace to be able to imitate Him.

In theory this may seem like we are only to recognize the presence of God when we are praying in our room or in the Church. But commending our spirits into the hands of God means recognizing his presence in the poor, the homeless, the outcast, and those on the margins. It means seeing Christ in our families, friends and relatives. It is to realize that commending our spirits into God’s hands means doing so here on earth with all those made in His image.

For if we cannot place our hearts in God’s hands in the way we live our lives here, how is it we can do so for all eternity?

“Woman, behold, your son.” “Behold, your mother.”

From the earliest days of the Church the unique faithfulness of the Blessed Mother was recognized. It was her “yes” that enabled her to become the Mother of God. It was her constant faith in God that resulted in her holiness. Her biological relationship was important, but her relationship to her son as His disciple was more important.

And so it is recognized that she will forever remain a disciple of her son, and as such a powerful source of prayer. But the Mother of God has a privileged place in the lives of believers. In Jewish tradition the queen was not the wife of the king, but the mother of the king.

So it is with Mary, the Mother of God. She takes the role of Queen when she becomes the Mother of the Son of God, the King. Christ is our King, and Mary our Queen.

While certainly there is the practicality of the care of Mary provided by Saint John, but these words of Jesus are about more than practicality. He may take care of his mother or see that she is taken care of by John, but more importantly Jesus takes care of us. In the gift of His mother to John, she becomes our Mother.

And this is an amazing relationship given to us. For the Blessed Mother would desire nothing more than to first introduce us to her son, and then to ask her son to strengthen this friendship. What a blessing Jesus gives to us from the cross. Think of it. Jesus takes on our sinfulness, and gives us His mother to ease our sorrow, even in the midst of her own.

“I thirst.”

That hot summer day, the extra tough exercise or some other time, and you are thirsty. Throat is dry. Tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth. and you thirst. And man, when that thirst is quenched does it ever feel good.

The thirst of Jesus might be for something material, but we know that is nowhere near as strong a thirst as the thirst of our Lord for our hearts and souls. In fact, this statement of Jesus is another way He fulfills the promise of the Messiah. “Instead they gave me poison for my food; and for my thirst they gave me vinegar.” But it is not the vinegar that will quench the thirst for Jesus. The very reason Jesus is on the cross at all is the thirst for us. He longs for our response to the grace he seeks to give us.

Jesus thirsts for us. In fact, the very reason we were created at all was because of the love of God. Jesus then thirsts for our best. He thirsts for us to be the persons He has created us to be. He thirsts for our fulfillment and our ultimate happiness in the eternal relationship.

Jesus thirsts for everyone to be saved. He does not desire death. He does not want the sinner to die. He thirsts for us. His thirst for us is so powerful it breaks through our hard hearts. His thirsts overcomes our sins, and even defeats death. The thirst of Jesus defeats the devil.

Jesus thirsts for us to know the depth of His love for us. He thirsts for us to know in the depths of our soul that our baptism has made us beloved sons and daughters of His. The thirst of Jesus for us means we are never alone. We are always in the presence of Jesus.

By telling us of his thirst, He quenches our thirst. In His thirst, Jesus gets vinegar. For us, in the thirst of Jesus we get salvation. And this salvation is brought about by the love that held Jesus to the cross. As Jesus thirsts on the cross, may we thirst for the eternal, unconditional love of Jesus. May we thirst to do His will in all things.

“It is finished.”

Saint Augustine said this: The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the new. How true. How many times does the Old Testament foreshadow the coming of the Messiah, and how often do we see in the words and actions of Jesus become the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament.

At this moment of Jesus on the cross all that needed be done has been fulfilled. The reason Jesus came into the world has now been fulfilled. We are saved. Our sins forgiven. Death is conquered. The world has seen, at the foot of the cross, in a convincing way that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.

And yet at this moment, like so many moments for those who did not expect the Messiah that Jesus was, this hardly seems like a moment of fulfillment. It seems like darkness has won. It appears that Jesus did not complete his mission. He is like others, it appears, dying on the cross at the hands of the Romans.

But the death of Jesus is not a quiet event. “And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

The world acknowledges the death of Jesus not as a moment of failure, but rather as a moment of triumph. The quake of the earth shows just a hint of the awesome power of God.

And Jesus does not die alone. “There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” The women who see Jesus in His death are the same who see the empty tomb.

The words of Jesus tell us clearly that we must strive to ask Jesus to see in every moment of our lives the fulfillment expressed by Jesus in the phrase it is finished. For Jesus is who he says he is. He is Lord, and we are saved.

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