What was the real suffering of Jesus? Was it the time at Gethsemane when his sweat became blood? Or the betrayal by his own disciple, or the scourge and crown of thorns that he received? Or was it the unjustified accusations against him and the resultant crucifixion? What about the literally excruciating pain he endured in the cross for hours?
It is true that they were all part of our Lord’s Passion. But they were only a small part of what he endured. Any attempt to present the Lord’s Passion as one affecting his body and mind only is far from truth. Any amount of suffering that a man undergoes in body and mind would not be sufficient to pay for our salvation. Had it been so, the suffering of those two thieves crucified alongside Jesus also would have become instruments of salvation because they too suffered in the same way Jesus suffered!
Knowing that the Father demanded something more from him, Jesus endured the most bitter part of his Passion while nailed to the cross.The evangelist has recorded a verse to tell us about the nature and intensity of the suffering Jesus underwent. ‘Eloi, Eloi, le-ma sa-bach’tha-ni- My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).
The true suffering of Jesus was the alienation from his Heavenly Father that he experienced during the final three hours of his life. It is beyond our understanding to imagine the depth of alienation from God that Jesus experienced and how forsaken and forlorn was he in those moments when he needed help more than ever.
Did the Father really forsake His Son? Never! Then what was Jesus doing in those critical moments? In simple words, he was carrying the burden of all our sins. As we know, a person living in sin can never experience the fellowship and friendship with God. Though Jesus never did any sin, the burden of all sins that the whole mankind – from Adam to the last man- committed or going to commit was placed upon him. As a result Jesus was experiencing the very torture and suffering of hell during those three hours. In other words his suffering was the same eternal suffering that a soul dying in sin has to undergo and the biggest suffering in hell is the realization that the fellowship with God is broken forever. Jesus was undergoing this hellish experience when his communication line with the Father was severed.
Jesus endured the punishment that you and I were supposed to undergo. Paul summarizes it in a single sentence. ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor 5:21). We are saved in this faith that ‘one has died for all; therefore all have died’ (2 Cor 5:14).
The concept of substitution of sin is not difficult to understand in the context of the Old Testament. When the priest placed his hand on the ram it was symbolic of making the ram liable for all the sins of Israelites. In the same way Jesus our Paschal Lamb was crucified to atone for our sins.
We should be cautious with any teachings that limit the suffering of Jesus to his body and mind. It is the spiritual suffering of Jesus that brought us salvation. This suffering was the denial of fellowship with God that Jesus was enjoying uninterruptedly in eternity as well as during his life in this world. There is no other suffering in the whole universe that could match what Jesus experienced during those three hours in the cross. This is why Jesus’ sacrifice becomes the ransom for our souls.
Our prayers for God’s mercy become meaningful only when we say it with the full conviction that Jesus suffered in his spirit for delivering us from evil. Let us pray: Eternal Father, for the sake of Jesus’ sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.