The Bible describes many different ways to sin but only three root causes of sin. The apostle John describes these causes as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). These are illustrated fittingly enough in the fall of mankind. God had forbidden Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. When Satan tempted Eve, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), and that it was a delight to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and that the tree was desired to make one wise (the pride of life)”. (Gen. 3:6)
In contemplating the Stations of the Cross, we can see through Jesus’ three falls how to overcome our falls from grace.
The first station: Jesus is condemned to death. Adam and Eve were made for communion with God and for immortality but they chose creation instead of the creator. On Ash Wednesday, we hear God’s words to Adam and Eve after the fall, “you are dust and to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19).” Jesus earnestly desired his suffering and death because He knew it would lead to a resurrection not only for Him but for all who follow him. Through His death a path to restored communion with God and eternal life was formed.
The second station: Jesus is made to bear his cross. To follow Christ is difficult. Every day in our lives we must choose the creator over the creation. Jesus says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16 24-25).
The third station: Jesus falls for the first time. The first step to overcoming the lust of the flesh is to be humble and realize that the flesh will fail. Peter boasted at the Last Supper that he would die for Christ. Jesus knew better and told him that before the cock crowed, Peter would deny him three times (Luke 22:33-34). Jesus said to his sleeping disciples in the garden of Gethsemane that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). Jesus, through his first fall, shows us that we need help to carry our crosses.
The fourth station: Jesus meets his mother. This must have been bittersweet for both of them. Given the next two stations to come, I feel sure she must have interceded for her son. To overcome our failings we need the prayerful intercession of others. Do not be afraid to call upon those in heaven and those on earth for prayer support in your journey. Intercessory prayer was not made to be a solitary act. “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven (Matt. 18:19).” It humbles the flesh to ask for prayer and admit that our need can only be met by God.
The fifth station: Simon of Cyrene is made to carry the cross. Simon did not want to help, rather he was compelled by the Roman soldiers. When our flesh fails we may need the physical or financial help of others, especially when we are sick or destitute. Sometimes the government compels people through taxes to pay for our assistance. It humbles the flesh to not be able to care for oneself and to accept the help of others especially if it is not given willingly.
The sixth station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. Veronica moved by pity and compassion wiped the blood from Jesus face. She was rewarded by an image of Jesus’ face on her veil. When our flesh fails sometimes God sends us those who help us out of love instead of compulsion. They are rewarded by bearing the image of Christ. It humbles the flesh to be an object of pity or compassion.
The seventh station: Jesus falls the second time. Stations three through six conquered the lust of the flesh. Stations seven and eight help us overcome the lust of the eyes. It is humiliating to fail, especially in front of those who wish you ill. We want people to see us at our best. We try to hide our faults and failings from others. This is hypocrisy. Jesus speaking of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy said, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Whatever you said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed from the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). It is humbling to live in the truth of our circumstances. We fail. It is through our failures that the greatness of God and His mercy can be made known. Redeemed sinners give others the courage to approach the throne of grace.
The eighth station: Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem. Jesus presented a vision of suffering that provoked grief in the tender hearts of the women of Jerusalem. Yet Jesus counseled them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry? Luke 23:28-31)” The lust of the eye misjudges what is good and what is bad. Jesus suffering and dying for us looked horrific. The life of ease and a lack of responsibilities looks good. We must view our lives in terms of the coming judgment that will occur at the end of our lives and at the end of time. To overcome the lust of the eyes we must ask God for the grace to truly see what is good and what is bad through His eyes not our own.
The ninth station: Jesus falls the third time. The pride of life is that which makes us desire power and standing in the world. It feels good to be first and the best. Yet the way of the Lord is different. We are to desire to serve rather than be served, to desire to be last rather than first. To let God exalt us, rather than seek the approval and the fickle exaltation of man. Jesus warned his disciples,” if you were of the world, the world would love its own, but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). So Jesus falls a third time earning the derision of those around him.
The tenth station: Jesus is stripped of his clothing. Clothing bestowed status and rank in the ancient world. The priests had their special garments, kings had royal attire, but slaves were naked. They had no status. Every stripe their masters put on their backs was there for all to see. People could look at the lustfully and there was nowhere to hide. Jesus identified himself with the lowest position in society that of a slave. The pride of life dies when it takes the lowest position.
The eleventh station: Jesus is nailed to the cross. Jesus was immobilized physically unable to help himself in the flesh, though in His deity, He could have stopped this at any time. He endured people mocking him, and telling him to save himself. To save Himself would leave us condemned to eternal death. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)” St. Paul thought that was barely conceivable that one might die for a good man, but Jesus died for us when we were sinners (based on Romans 5). He died for the people persecuting him, not just then but for all time. He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.(Luke 23:34)” The pride of life is crushed when we are misunderstood and persecuted for doing the right thing but we persist anyway. We must value the judgment of the creator over the opinion of the created.
The twelfth station: Jesus dies on the cross. For the Jews this manner of death was especially abhorrent because in Deut. 21:23 it states, “Any one hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” This was clear evidence to them that Jesus was not the Son of God. Paul explains how this was done for our sakes. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree”—that in Christ Jesus… we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” Galatians 3:13-14. The value of our soul is not based on what we do, but by the immensity of the price paid for us.
The thirteenth station: Jesus is taken down from the cross. Just as Eve offered to Adam the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Mary sits beneath the Tree of Life (the cross) and offers to the world her son who has given everything for you. What more could he have done? What greater price could be paid? As children of Eve we grasp for the things that satisfy the flesh, are beautiful to behold, and will earn the esteem of others. As children of Mary, siblings of Christ, we must strive to be like him and to esteem the world as nothing. We seek to hold him close to our hearts while we can.
The fourteenth station: Jesus is laid in the tomb. When Jesus was stripped, his only material possession, his clothes, were distributed amongst the soldiers. His beloved mother He gave to the beloved disciple and vice versa. He was buried in a donated tomb. There was not even time to prepare his body for burial. When we die, our material possessions will be given to others. Our loved ones will be cared for by others. Even those who believe will enter into judgment, then our actions will be tested by God. Paul compares our actions to gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay or straw. These actions will be tested by the fire of God. If our works survive the fire we will receive a reward. If everything is burned, we ourselves will be saved by our faith but we will be like those who survived a fire with nothing but our lives. (Based on 1 Cor. 3:10-15)
The message of Lent is that we are all born to die. It is wisdom to keep our end before our eyes as we make our choices in this life. To live as a Christian is to daily do battle with lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. We will fall because flesh fails, but we can arise through the grace of God and the help of others to persevere to the end. We like Veronica can bear the image of Christ to the world.
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Written by Kathy Labosh