The Lord of the Poison
Homily for the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion
Preached on April 3, 2015 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Readings: Isaiah 52:13-52:12; Psalm 31:2, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
There was once a rich old man in colonial Mexico named Don Fermin Andueza. Every morning after breakfast, he would go to Church to kiss the feet of the ivory image of the Crucified Christ. He would then drop a gold coin in the poor box before he went back home.
One day, his bitter rival, Don Ismael Treviño, gave him a cake that was laced with poison. Don Fermin, not knowing what was in it, received the gift with joy and ate a piece for breakfast before he went to Church. But, to his rival’s dismay, Don Fermin did not succumb to the effects of the deadly poison. As soon as the old man kissed the feet of the Crucified Christ, the ivory image became as black as ebony; the poison that he had ingested was absorbed instead by the pale figure of our Lord.
This is the reason why many Mexican Catholics have such a great devotion to the image called the Cristo Negro—the Black Christ—or the Señor del Veneno—the Lord of the Poison—that is found today in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City. They recall this legend of Don Fermin and how the Lord had saved him and took over his affliction and made it His own.
Today as we come forward to adore the cross of the Cristo Negro, the Black Christ, we too are invited to hand over to the Lord, as Don Fermin once did, the pains that poison us, the troubles that make our lives toxic, the open wounds in our bodies and the hidden wounds in our souls. This image of the Crucified Christ is a lot more gruesome than the sanitized versions that we often see. It portrays too vividly that “man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity” (Is. 53:3), that we cannot help but fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: “he was like someone people turned away from” (Is. 53:3) “so marred was his look beyond human semblance” (Is. 52:14). It shocks us with the cold reality that the cross was very dark and that it was a bloody mess, very much like how life sometimes can be.
On Good Friday the Lord took on all the muck and the mess, the blood and the sweat, the sorrow and the sin of our humanity, and hung all our ugliness up with Him on the cross. “It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured…he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” (Is. 53:4-5). Thus, when we look at the image of our Crucified Lord, we recognize our wounds in His wounds. But, we also take comfort in the fact that they are no longer just ours; He has made them His own, and He has healed them (cf. Is. 53:5; 1 Pt. 2:24).