Your Holy Week Retreat, Part IX – Good Friday – In the Wilderness

People dwelling in the wilderness treasure empathy. Recall some of your own desert experiences and the voices that have helped you most. The voice that says “I get it” does more good than any other, right? The voice that says “I’ve been in your wilderness” conveys the most grace, right? The readings for Good Friday’s liturgy remind us that, whatever wilderness we occupy, Jesus gets it.

We sometimes dwell in the wilderness of difficulties in prayer, where we wonder if God really hears and if prayer really matters. Jesus gets it. While dying on the cross, Jesus asked “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Today’s passage from Hebrews reminds us “He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” He understands spiritual difficulty because He has been there.

We sometimes dwell in a wilderness where we need consolation but feel apologetic or weak for needing it. Jesus understands the need for consolation. Shortly before He died on the cross, He asked for help, saying simply “I thirst.” The night before He died, He sought consolation from friends who could not stay awake with Him in the garden. Jesus understands the need for consolation.

We sometimes dwell in the wilderness of needing to have difficult or challenging conversations with people who might reject our claims. Jesus gets it. He was killed by people He challenged, people who rejected him violently. Even before they killed Him, as Jesus challenged the high priests to explain themselves, “One of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, ‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’” Jesus understands how hard it is to challenge others.

And we sometimes dwell in the wilderness of worrying about the communities we treasure, especially if it is a community we have helped to build. In today’s gospel, we read “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’” Imagine the anguish He felt about leaving the community He and Mary had formed and loved. Hear the passion in His request.

As priests, prophets and kings, we have experienced the challenges of prayer, of consoling others, of challenging others, and of building community. Jesus’ words and actions on Good Friday remind us again that “He gets it.” He understands the ways in which prayer, consoling, challenging, and building community can lead us into the wilderness. He says to us “I get it” when our vocation take us into the wilderness. And He understands when other causes take us there.

His example of empathy challenges us to be as empathic toward others as He was to His disciples and is to us. His example encourages us to be candid with others as we help them to pray, as we do what we can to console them, as we set about challenging them, and as we strengthen the communities that include them. His example reminds us that the best way to reach the hearts of people in the wilderness is to let them know “I get it” and “I’ve been in your wilderness.”

In what relationships in your life might God be nudging you to express even more empathy, to let the person in the wilderness know that you have a story to tell, that you have been there and survived? Is there someone who is going through a rough spiritual period and needs to hear your story of spiritual wilderness? Is there someone who is feeling ashamed or apologetic for needing consolation and needs to hear about a time when you needed consolation? Is there someone you will challenge more effectively if you acknowledge moments in your life when you needed the same challenge? Is there someone who will be more likely to participate in the community when you describe your reluctance to join it?

People dwelling in the wilderness treasure empathy. We cherish the person who says “I’ve been in your wilderness; I get it.” If we listen carefully to what Jesus said and did on Good Friday, we will know that He can say “I get it” to every wilderness we pass through – especially those we pass through because we are trying to be the priests, the prophets and the kings he calls us to be. And as we treasure Him saying “I get it” to us, we might wonder who needs to hear from me what I hear from Jesus? Who needs to hear “I get it” and “He gets it” as they endure misgivings about prayer, concerns about seeking consolation, reluctance to accept challenge, and doubts about community? Who needs to know the wilderness did not get the last word?