Seven Last Words (2016)

James Martin’s Seven Last Words is a meditation on the traditional seven last words of Jesus while he was hanging on the cross.

  1. Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.
  2. Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.
  3. Woman, here is your son. . . . Here is your mother.
  4. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  5. I am thirsty.
  6. It is finished.
  7. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Martin examines each sentence in light of how it helps communicate Jesus’s understanding of us in regards to forgiveness, doubts about the afterlife, a parent’s love, feelings of abandonment, physical pain, disappointment, and self-offering, respectively. Fr. Martin notes:

  1. Forgiveness allows us a glimpse at the divine; that is, when we see people who have done the hard work of practicing forgiveness, we catch a glimpse of how God loves us. Jesus’s understanding that his executioners didn’t know what they were doing allows us to see that Jesus understands that people act outside of what they would in different circumstances sometimes. His act of seeing is an example and a further inspiration to forgive.
  2. Jesus’s assurance to the Good Thief shows us that the offer of healing and restoration are always possible. Jesus sees a contrite heart, and heals it. He also shows us—at the Resurrection—what is in store in the afterlife.
  3. By committing John and Mary to one another from the cross, he continues to show care for his mother and friends. The one who cared for Jesus when he was a helpless infant receives help at the moment of helplessness from the adult Jesus. He shows his understanding both of and for a parent.
  4. The interpretation that Psalm 22 is in the heart of Jesus is given primary spot, but the feeling of true abandonment is also reflected upon. As a fully human human, Jesus could have felt distance from the Father, with whom he is one. Jesus thus understands spiritual suffering as well as physical suffering.
  5. Jesus understands physical suffering, having experienced the bodily trials that we all face.
  6. “It is finished” most likely means, “It is complete.” But perhaps it shows some sense of disappointment and questioning about whether what he started would continue. “I’ve done all I can.” Jesus understands that we experience great disappointment, but even our disappointments are able to be redeemed by the grace of Easter.
  7. Jesus gives himself trustingly to the Father. We too are called to such surrender not knowing what comes next, but trusting that we are in the hands of a loving Father.

In his conclusion, Martin stresses that Jesus’s passion was only a day in the life of Jesus. Jesus, beyond understanding pain, abandonment, and kenosis, also experienced joy in his life. He met people, listened to them, and brought them joy. Thus he understands the full spectrum of human experience.

Martin closes with three observations about the Understanding Christ helps us.

  1. We can feel less alone.
  2. We can speak more honestly and openly in prayer.
  3. We can understand Jesus more through his sufferings and can therefore know the heart of God a bit more clearly.


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