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.