Sacred Heart of Jesus
The Gospel St. John 19.31
At that time: the Jews, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day (for that Sabbath day was an high day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs; but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the Scripture might be fulfilled: A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another Scripture saith: They looked on him whom they pierced.
I have taken as my text the Gospel lesson from the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was celebrated this past Friday, and will also be the Last Gospel reading at the end of Mass today. The events depicted in this portion of St. John’s Gospel are very chilling and gruesome. Yet when we look at them more closely, we find something miraculous as well.
As you might imagine, crucifixion was probably the cruelest form of execution ever practiced by the Roman Empire. The pain experienced by the victim as he was nailed to the cross was only the beginning of a long and arduous ordeal as that person slowly lost strength and eventually suffocated to death. In some cases this would take many days; and quite often the Roman executioners would simply walk away from the scene, as their victims gradually passed into madness and death. On many occasions, the bodies were left just hanging there, as an example to those who would presume to violate Roman law.
But in those cases were Jews were crucified, the Romans sometimes showed more, shall we say, “mercy”. Jewish Law specifically stated that a body could not be left hanging on a tree overnight; but rather it had to be buried on the same day that death occurred. In the case of Our Lord’s Crucifixion, this was even more important since the next day was a holy day; the Sabbath of the Passover. So when they considered this Jesus and the two thieves crucified with him, the Roman soldiers knew that these guys needed to die soon.
“Fortunately”, at that time, the Romans had adopted a practice designed to “speed” the process. They would brake the legs of the crucified victim, thereby preventing them from pushing up as they stood on the cross so that they could continue to breath. Suffocation would happen quite quickly after that. Pretty “merciful”, right?
But as we learned in St. John’s Gospel, this was not necessary in Jesus case. The soldiers came to him, ready to perform their one last gruesome task, only to find that this one was already dead. Breaking his legs would be a waste of effort.
But just to be sure, one of the soldiers decided to give this Jesus a little prod; to make sure he wasn’t faking it. So he takes his spear, and jabs it into Jesus side. And when he does, he sees water and blood gush out. No way this one was still alive.
So now you’re probably waiting for me to end all this depressing stuff and get on to the miraculous part, right? Well guess what. I’ve already told you the miraculous part!
Remember that everything about Our Lord’s time on earth was miraculous; from his birth, through his travels and ministry, to his Death and Resurrection. The very fact of the Presence of God Incarnate among us was and is a miracle; every action, every detail, every moment. This includes the glorious events, such as the healings and raising the dead, as well as the less glorious ones. The entirety of the Gospel is an account of the miraculous.
Now we might be justified to wonder just what is so miraculous about not having ones legs broken. But when we think this we must first remember that there are those who deny the Gospel accounts; people who maintain that Jesus was never taken down off the Cross, and that the Romans would never have made such a concession to any “criminal”, whether they were Jewish or not. These people not only deny Scripture, but history as well. During Christ’s time on earth, the Romans still showed some measure of “toleration” toward the Jews; and it’s only natural to conclude that in this case they would have respected Jewish custom, after a fashion.
Remember too that St. Paul tells us Christ came “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4); meaning that God came to earth at precisely the right moment in human history. Had Jesus come any earlier or any later, it is not likely that the Romans would have shown such forbearance. The miracle here? For these things were done, that the Scripture might be fulfilled; A bone of him shall not be broken.
Next, of course, we have the account of the spear being thrust into Our Lord’s side. On the surface, this too seems very cruel. The soldiers had decided not to break Jesus legs, because he was obviously dead already. So why stab him with a spear? Doesn’t this seem like simple desecration of a body?
Well again, we see the wonder of our God, even in this most cruel act. And in this one act, we see three very crucial elements of our Catholic faith; humanity, regeneration, and the Eternal Grace of God.
The first important point here is about Jesus’ humanity. The ancient heresy of Gnosticism maintained that Christ could not have been fully human, but merely appeared to be so. The thrusting of the spear, and the emission of blood and water, proves that Jesus was indeed flesh and bone, just as we are, and refutes this heresy.
Next, the water that poured forth from Christ’s side is representative of the water used at our Baptism. By this water, we are made clean. By this water we are renewed. By this water we are regenerated as new beings into the body of Christ, his Church.
Finally, we know too that blood streamed out as well; the Blood of Christ; The Blood that was shed for our sake, for the remission of our sins; The Blood that we continue to receive, and that continues to wash us and imbue us with God’s Grace. And the miraculous part of this? Well, do you really need me to tell you? For these things were done, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. They looked on him whom they pierced.
It has been speculated that the physical and emotional toll of his Passion caused Jesus heart to burst; that Christ died, quite literally, of a broken heart. But even in that moment, even as Our Lord yielded up his Spirit to God, he left us with his Body and Blood. He left us with an everlasting reminder of his Sacrifice. He left us with the means by which we may be saved. Even in death, Christ left us with all of that. Even in death, Christ left us with the miraculous. This is one reason why we celebrate the feast of His Most Sacred Heart.
That the Scripture might be fulfilled. Christ came in the fullness of time. He came at precisely the right moment, in precisely the right place, and in precisely the right way. The timing of the Incarnation was no accident; but it was no less miraculous for all of that. In the space of Our Lord’s brief time on earth, we received everything that we need for our Salvation. Think about that; in all of the millions of years that our planet has existed, it took God only thirty-three or so to make us whole. Isn’t that miraculous?
The Gospel for today, the Second Sunday in Trinitytide, tells us of the parable of the man who invited many to a banquet, and of those who declined that invitation. As we come forward today to accept the invitation to Our Lord’s banquet, let us remember that our Host, God Almighty made great preparations in anticipation of our arrival.
Christ was born. Christ walked among us. Christ suffered, died, and rose again, for us. Christ gave his Body and Blood for us.
Every word of the Gospel of Christ contains a miracle and is part of a larger miracle. But it is only through the Love of Christ, that we may come to know and appreciate all of those individual miracles. And through that Love, that can only be found in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, we have been eternally blessed with the miraculous.
For these things were done, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.