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God Hanging on the Gallows: A Prayer This Good Friday

April 14, AD2017

A few years ago, the BBC news channel presented an interesting documentary regarding Jewish life in the first century. In the course of that documentary, they showed the skull of a man, who was believed to have lived during that time. Using modern technology, scientists and archaeologists were able to recreate what they say was the typical appearance of the Jewish men at that time. After showing the recreated facial featured of the skull, the documentary came up with this interesting question: Could Jesus also have looked that way?

Nothing Extraordinary in His Appearance

The face that the documentary showed was a far cry from the usual images of Jesus that we have grown accustomed to seeing. Gone is the long hair. What we get is a man with short hair and a face almost covered with a beard. There is nothing extraordinary in its appearance.

The recreated face in the documentary always comes to my mind every time the Church commemorates Good Friday. What if the recreated image of that Jewish man closely resembled the real appearance of Jesus? Would we dare to give him a second look once we see him?  Will we ultimately recognize in that face the glorious son of God? Or come Good Friday, will we just dismiss him as one deranged man who had no qualms in claiming that he was the Messiah?

Every year, we stand in silent witness to the bloody events of Good Friday. And perhaps, every year, we ask ourselves how can the Pharisees and the Jews not recognize the Divine Son of God in the person they hung on the cross? Were his miracles not enough to convince them of his power? Were his teachings not authoritative enough to convince them that his words came from a Higher Power?

The Messiah as Everyman

That is why Isaiah prophesied correctly when he described the appearance of the long-awaited Messiah:

Who has believed what we have heard?

    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,

    and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others;

    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

and as one from whom others hide their faces

    he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isaiah 53:1-3)

There was nothing extraordinary in the man they hung on the cross. He looked liked all of them, like Everyman. There was nothing in his appearance to desire. There was nothing in his features that we should look at him.

The tragedy of Good Friday is not only the tragedy of allowing an innocent man die unjustly on the cross. The tragedy of Good Friday is also the failure to see the divine in the suffering of the man hanging on the cross.

The God Hanging on the Gallows

The Pharisees wanted to see a Messiah full of power. Hence, they taunted him to save himself. The thief wanted to see a leader capable of taking him down from the cross and saving him from death. The crowd wanted to see a God who would come down and lead the march against the Romans.

Jesus proved them all wrong. He did not succumb to their expectations. He embraced the pain of the cross courageously. And as he neared his death, only two people actually recognized him — the good thief and the Roman centurion. They were the only ones who were able to see God in the midst of the bruised, beaten and dying body of Jesus.

Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Holocaust survivor, and author of several books about the Holocaust, narrates this incident in one of the German concentration camp in his book Night. Eliezer, the protagonist of the book, witnesses the hanging of three persons one day in the courtyard. When the chairs beneath the feet of the three victims are pulled, the two men immediately die. However, the third victim, a child, agonizingly writhes in pain as the rope slowly tightens around his neck. And as everyone becomes witness to the unbearable suffering of the child, one prisoner cries out: “Where is God?” To this, Eliezer, responds silently, “He is there, hanging on the gallows.”

This Good Friday

Good Friday is the time to recognize “God hanging on the gallows.” It is the time to recognize Him crucified on the cross. This year that call remains ever strong. As we come to commemorate the Lord’s death this  Friday, we pray that we can see him in the suffering that we witness around the world. We pray that we can fully recognize him in the pain of the children caught in the crossfire of the Syrian civil war. We pray that we see him in the thousands of immigrants around the world looking for a place to call home. We pray that we find him in the loneliness of the people that you might encounter today.

There is nothing extraordinary in the facial features of the Jewish man in that BBC documentary. He does not deserve a second look. But if that indeed is the closest resemblance to the face of Jesus that we might possibly have, then, perhaps, this Good Friday, let us take a second look at the man hanging on the cross.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Mon hails from the Philippines and currently works as a school head in an affordable private high school in Manila. His passion lies in bringing educational opportunities to young people who have less in life. Someday, he dreams of writing his own book that relates the Gospels to the daily life of teachers and educators.

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  • Mark McCann

    Beautiful words. I was so moved to read them. I’ve often cried out, “Where is God?” when suffering has come my way, but I know that Jesus suffered for us and suffers with us. Thank you for such insightful commentary and prayer on the Passion! Happy Resurrection Sunday!

  • Thanks for a fine meditation. With the current witness of the Church, with the wisdom of the perennial philosophy and the knowledge of modern science, I find it easy to believe that God was incarnate 2000 years ago and died out of love for us on the cross. But, I suspect if I were Jesus’ contemporary and saw this ordinary looking fellow claiming to be God, I would not believe him. That should convince me that fundamentally faith is not recognizing the compatibility of witness, wisdom and knowledge. It is grace. I should pray for faith for me and for others.