The suffering son

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THE town of Galway features in many aspects of Irish culture.

Irish singers extol the attractiveness of a Galway girl; exiles dream of seeing the sun go down on Galway Bay; racehorse trainers compete to win the Galway Plate; and artists specialise in painting the distinctive ships of the area, known as Galway hookers.

In that Connaught town there is a remarkable memorial, erected in 1624. Set in a wall on the site of the old goal, is a death’s head and cross-bones in black marble.

The inscription recalls a poignant incident in in Galway’s history. It reads; ‘This memorial of the stern and unbending justice of the chief magistrate of this city, James Lynch Fitzstephen, elected mayor in A.D. 1493, who condemned and executed his own guilty son, Walter, on this spot.’ He was one son who was not spared.

Wisely or unwisely, most parents would do anything to spare their children pain and grief. When we see them suffering, we would gladly take their place. King David was just like any other parent.

When the news came that Absalom, his rebellious and unruly son was dead, he went to his room and wept, and as he went his heart was breaking, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you - O Absalom, my son, my son.” (2 Samuel 18;33)

The New Testament tells us of another Son who was not spared; but this time the explanation was not a judge’s sternness, but a Father’s love.

An old Puritan writer posed and answered his own question; “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy...but the Father, for love”.

There is no better statement of the significance of Good Friday than Paul’s statement, “He (God) who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8;32)

There was much before Calvary that illustrates the theme. When Jesus healed the sick, virtue went out of him. When he saw the multitudes his heart broke for people who were like sheep without a shepherd; his sleep on the boat simply showed how he had been spending himself in word and deed.

Matthew tells of an evening spent healing in Capernaum and the picture brought to mind the word of Isaiah; “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Matt 8;17).

And He wasn’t spared in the greatest struggle of all. In Gethsemane, it was the disciples who slept in those hours when he wrestled in prayer. Before Pilate and Herod, no one intervened to shield him from the taunting the scourging, and the crown of thorns.

And then the cruel nails, the cheap jibes of the passers-by, the mockery of a fellow victim, and the hours of darkness when he felt forsaken of the Father.

God spared not his own son - but— (what a huge ‘but’ it is) -‘gave him up for us all’ The word ‘gave’ shows that Christ’s death was no accident; that he was not an unfortunate and misguided victim; but that, instead, he went willingly to the Cross.

“No man takes my life from me, I lay it down of myself” (John 10;18). He laid it down for you and me.

That’s what Good Friday is all about.