One of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (John 19:34)
It was clear that Jesus was dead. But the level of hatred against him was such that what could be seen was not enough; his passing had to be felt as well.
According to the Jewish authorities, it would have been “unsightly” to have three corpses hanging on crosses at the entrance to Jerusalem, marring the Passover festival. So as to ensure the death of the crucified and the disposal of the bodies, the shin bones were to be broken, rendering the condemned unable to push down on the nails in their feet which had enabled them to breathe. The sounds of crushing bones and agonizing shrieks were heard from the two men executed with Jesus.
Scripture says the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs because they could plainly see he was dead. But why not break them anyway? It was not that the Romans were put off by gore and mutilation. For some unknown reason, this one soldier refrains from bone-breaking and, in his mind, chooses a less violent way of making sure this Jew was really dead. So, taking his rather short spear (contrary to art and Hollywood epics, most crosses were relatively low to the ground. This made it easier for the executioners and the animals who would feed on the dead), this nameless soldier plunges his weapon into the chest of Jesus, immediately releasing a flow of blood and water (more than likely the water was pericardial fluid which had built up around the heart due to severe trauma).
So what does this graphic image mean for us? What importance can we find in the action of this Roman soldier? Because of this, you and I come to realize that the offering of Jesus knew no limits, not even down to the last drops of his blood which cascaded down his side. Nothing was too good for us, and Jesus was willing to give the very best: himself. This revelation of boundless love would not have been ours had it not been for the action of this man, this Gentile, this nameless nobody.
How often have you learned something about yourself and your God because of the unexpected actions of another? How often has the rude remark, the cruel attitude or ignorant activity of another caused you to go deeper into yourself to find the love and compassion of God, the strength he desired to bestow on you, the courage to stand tall with pride that blew over you like the descent of the Holy Spirit? How often has the pain you have known opened your heart and soul to embrace others crucified by life? This strength, courage, compassion and love quite possibly would not have been yours unless someone had not unknowingly brought it to fruition in your life. And there may very well have been times when, without your knowing it, you have been a moment of grace for others, an opportunity for others to experience something in themselves they never thought possible, a relationship with God the depth of which they never dreamed of. And all because of you.
God’s revelation comes at different times and in ways we may not immediately recognize or appreciate, let alone want. Let us pray that the blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy and hope for us, bathe our eyes so that we may see his presence more clearly, our ears to make us more attentive to his guidance, our lips that they may only speak his words of love, justice and truth, and our hearts, so that they may always be warm, steadfast and filled with the undying compassion of God.
Tom Yeshua is the pen name of Thomas E.L. Cloutier OFS, a transitional deacon who taught theology for 30 years at Nashua (N.H.) Catholic Regional Junior High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., and a master’s in divinity and theology from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.