“Jesus’ hour had not yet come”—not the hour when he would be forced to die, but the hour when he would choose to be put to death. He knew the appointed hour for him to die; he had pondered all the prophecies concerning himself and was waiting until everything had taken place that the prophets said would occur before his passion began. When all was accomplished the passion would then follow, in the due ordering of events and not at the compulsion of fate.
Listen to these prophecies, and see if they are true. Among the other things that were foretold of Christ, it is written: “They mingled gall with my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” How this came about we know from the gospel.
First they gave Jesus gall; he took it, tasted it, and rejected it. Then, to fulfill the Scriptures as he hung on the cross, he said: “I am thirsty.” They took a sponge soaked in vinegar, tied it to a reed, and lifted it up to him where he hung.
When he had taken it he said: “It is finished.” What did he mean by that? It is as though he said: “All the prophecies foretelling what would happen before my passion have been fulfilled. What then is left for me to do?” So, after saying “It is finished, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Did the thieves crucified beside him choose when to die? They were imprisoned in the flesh with no power over its limitations. But it was when he himself chose to do so that the Lord took flesh in a virgin’s womb. He chose the moment of his coming among us and the duration of his life on earth. He also chose the hour when he would depart this earthly life. It was in his power to do all this; he was under no compulsion. So in waiting for the hour of his choice, not the hour decreed by fate, he made sure that everything that had to be fulfilled before he suffered was duly accomplished.
How could Christ be subject to the decree of fate, when elsewhere he had said: “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it up again. No one can take it from me; I lay it down of my own accord, and I will take it up again?”
He showed that power when the Jewish authorities came in search of him. “Who are you looking for?” he asked them. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered, and he in turn replied: “I am he.” At these words they recoiled and fell to the ground.
Someone is sure to ask: If he had such power, why did he not demonstrate it when his enemies were taunting him and saying: “If he is the son of God, let him come down from the cross?” He was showing us how to endure; that was why he deferred the exercise of his power. If he were to come down because he was stung by their words, they would think he had succumbed to their mockery. He chose not to come down. He chose to stay where he was, refusing to die until the moment of his choice.
If Jesus had the power to rise from the tomb, could he have found it so very difficult to come down from the cross? We, then, for whom all these things were done, should understand that the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was then hidden, will be revealed at the Last Judgment.
“Our God will come openly,” we are told. “He will no longer keep silence.” What does this mean? It means that previously when he was being judged he had been silent, in order to fulfill the prophecy: “He was led away like a sheep to be sacrificed; and like a lamb, dumb before the shearer, he did not open his mouth.” Thus, unless he had been willing he would not have suffered, his blood would not have been shed; and if that blood had not been shed, the world would not have been redeemed. So let us pour out our thanks to him, both for the power of his divinity and for the compassion of his suffering humanity.
St Augustine of Hippo