Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (John 19:33-34)
This detail of the crucifixion of Jesus is included only in the Gospel of St. John. As is often the case, the intent of the sacred writer is hidden in the details. This case is no different, for John has indeed given us an image that has sustained believers down through the past 2,000+ years.
The Church has long interpreted this passage as a nod to the sacramental foundations of Baptism and the Eucharist. Washed clean in the waters of baptism and strengthened by the graces of participation in the Eucharist, we experience the incredible love that Jesus exemplified in his sacrificial death. The soldier's lance lays bare the heart of Jesus, the heart that has become the symbol of unconditional love.
As every woman who has ever given birth can tell us, water and blood are also part of every delivery, of every new life. First the water of the amniotic sac bursts forth from the womb. This is followed by the child who is often bloodied as it passes through the birth canal. Finally, the placenta is discharged, the organ which filters the blood as it flows from mother to child and from child to mother. Through his death and resurrection, Christ passes new life on to all believers.
As we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, these images remind us that life and death are complementary. Only when the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies does it bring forth new life. Our new life is accomplished through the self-emptying death of Jesus. We continue in our journey to new life by dying to self.