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Gospels

Infinite Mercy

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03 April 2021

From Jesus’ Marys to the nurse of Cremona


In Italy, everyone can recall the symbolic photo of a nurse with her head resting on a desk, exhausted by the fatigue of service on a ward in Cremona hospital. This image of abandonment that makes us experience the taste of that “sleep of the just” of which the Psalter sings. In addition, of that divine “torpor” too, which the Creator brought down upon Adam when he “manufactured” the feminine, “constructed” woman (cf. Gen 2:22). She to whom Adam gave the name Eve, because she was “the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). The exhaustion of those who constantly experience the labour of the inevitability of life, of the stubbornness to continue to save the spring shoots in the deserts of the winters of history. Tomb and womb, resilience and rebirth, wound and window, pain and resurrection are one with the woman's body when life is threatened. We have seen intensive care health workers find the time to give tenderness to those gasping for air and love; we have seen astute scientists in Rome be the first to isolate the Covid 19 virus. We have seen girls on the front line being injected with the vaccine as an example to inspire people to do the same and, above all, as a willingness to start the fight effectively against this enemy of everyone's health. We have seen, and still see, sisters, daughters, mothers and friends, and their lost souls and broken hearts, because of having to maintain social distance from their loved ones, at times when a hug and the warmth of closeness would be indispensable. To be with them in the ultimate act of dying, which can only be celebrated by shaking hands with those who will remain united with us forever, bound by Love, the golden thread of eternity.

Even Jesus died because he was starved of air. So terrible, in fact, the crucified’s death. In Roman times, this method was often displayed as a deterrent at busy road crossings, were where slaves or major criminals were crucified. Their punishment had to be the maximum torture for a human being. As the body tended to yield its weight on the feet, the pain became unbearable due to the wounds caused by the nails. This is why the crucified man instinctively tended to lift himself up and, therefore, to press on his lungs, which caused him to asphyxiate. Most of those crucified, hanging nailed to the wood died, of asphyxia and a lack of oxygen. The torment must have been so great that the pitiful soldiers tried to sedate them there with vinegar, which was a kind of anaesthetic drink - the one that was also offered to Jesus - or they proceeded to break their legs to promote a quicker death. Lifted up to heaven, far from the earth, Jesus had as companions two evildoers; he found warmth in the good thief. Beneath the Cross was the mercy of women, with their open arms ready to pick up the surrendered body of one condemned to death. Then, to restore him to a fuller life, on the day after the Sabbath. “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” cried Jesus to a pleading and mute Heaven (Mk 15:34). Until faith became abandonment and Jesus fell asleep like the child overcome by night when he felt that distant God as a Father close by: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). In the torpor of dying is Hope.

And the women? They are listening down below, under the Cross, there they cry, they wait, they stay and resist, and say, “Here I am” to embrace that helpless body. As if it were the body of a newborn child or the lover, so is the body of the dying man, given over, surrendered for love. Lost in Love. The women know that that corpse hides a fuse of life, which they themselves will light. Mary of Magdala will do it, on Easter morning; from her labour of dismay and tears, she will dig out the Body of the Risen Lord from the empty tomb. A body that is a name and a voice that we can could no longer -even if one wanted to-, touch because it forms a whole with hers! A risen Body, that is, of Communion, united to that of Mary Magdalene “already and not yet”. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? [...] Whoever unites himself with the Lord is one spirit with him” (1Cor 6,15.17). Another Mary had done this before Mary Magdalene, Martha's sister from Bethany. She had consoled the loneliness of Jesus whose death was announced, just a week before. During supper, Mary rubbed a jar of nard on Jesus' feet, smearing it with a storm of caresses. The bursar Judas was scandalised and made a cynic's calculation on that gesture. The body of Jesus was now only worth the price of ransoming the corpse of a slave. Thirty denarii only. Mary had spent, instead, three hundred, ten times as much. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” protested the accountant (Jn 12:5). He could not understand that the oil was not for anointing a corpse, but was consecrating the body of Jesus for the day of his Resurrection.

by Rosanna Virgili
Biblical scholar, professor at the Marchigiano Theological Institute