This homily was preached by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli on Good Friday, 7 April 2023, at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
There was much blood spilt on the journey to Calvary. Nearly all of it came from Jesus’ body. It came from the wounds of his scourging and crowning; it came from the carrying of the cross; it came from the nails that punctured his hands and feet; and at the end, when death itself had come, it flowed out from his pierced side. As Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was the Lamb of God destined for the slaughterhouse; he was pierced through for our faults.
But not all the blood that was spilt on the road to Calvary came from Jesus. Amidst the river of violence that was done to him, there was also the shedding of blood inflicted on the High Priest’s servant, whom Peter lashed out and wounded in a fit of rage and distress. We should not let this moment pass us by on our journey with Jesus to Calvary.
It was not Judas that Peter lashed out against, though his rage might very well have been directed to his friend, even while his sword struck Malchus. Jesus had told his disciples many times of his impending suffering and death, even as recently as the Passover meal they had only just finished. But Peter, and the rest of the disciples, had still to accept that this path to his death was necessary for the coming about of God’s kingdom of forgiveness and peace.
While it would be a path immersed in blood, it was not to be a violent path in itself. So Jesus needed once more to admonish Peter: Put your sword away, he said to him; it is a different cup that I am to drink—a cup of absorbing and overcoming, not of giving out and inflicting. My kingdom, said Jesus, is not of this kind.
To shed blood—to take the path of violence—is to destroy life. Jesus did not do this. He came to give life, and accepted his death as the means for this. He walked the path in which he received violence but did not give it out. His way was not to fight. The road to Calvary was the road to forgiveness. It was only after he had died that the blood of Jesus would pour forth from his side, not in a trickle of death, but as a stream of life.
In our lives, are there not moments or attitudes or characteristics where violence lives, and blood is spilt? The cutting word; the unforgiveness; the dependency; the self-hatred. Do we not carry these wounds heavily, and lashing out in the way of Peter? To all of this, Jesus says, put your sword away, and walk instead with me.
Banner image: Grégoire Guérard, Capture of Jesus Christ (detail), c. 1520.