Time of death

Question: How long did Jesus hang on the cross? I’ve read the Gospels and websites but cannot seem to get an answer. If Jesus were crucified at 9 in the morning, why did the sun not darken until noon?

Kathleen Kalina, via email

Answer: Your question arises from an apparent difference between two biblical texts. Mark 15:25 says Jesus was crucified at the third hour (9 a.m.). However, in John 19:14 the crucifixion is set at the sixth hour (noon). Both Matthew 27:45 and Luke 23:44 hint at a time frame closer to noon in their reference to a darkness coming over the land from noon to 3 p.m. But neither Matthew nor Luke is clear as to whether this darkness occurred moments after Jesus was hung on the cross, or some longer time after that.

If we ponder the question merely in terms of time, we ought to first remember that the people of Jesus’ time did not have clocks and watches, and they did not speak of or think of time in the precise ways that we modern Westerners do. Time was spoken of in general ways, and a mention of the third or ninth hour could include a broader swath of time near that declared hour. It is a little bit like our terms “mid-morning” or “mid-afternoon,” which could mean a span of three or four hours. Therefore, Mark does not necessarily mean precisely at 9 a.m., nor does John mean precisely at noon. This sort of precision about time was unknown to them.

So there is a lot of overlap in references to the third hour, the sixth hour and the ninth hour, which softens the possible conflict between the accounts. The need to nail down exact temporal details says more about our modern obsession with time and language than it does about accounts that are close, even if not exact accounts of the events.

Comparing and weighing all the texts leads to a general (not precise) time frame. Thus, it would seem that Jesus underwent trials before Pilate and Herod in the early morning somewhere between 6 and 9 a.m. He is sentenced by Pilate sometime in the midmorning to crucifixion. He undergoes various mockeries and was led out to be crucified in the later morning. Near the noon hour he is stripped of his outer garments and hung on the cross. From about noon through the early afternoon, a darkness comes over the land and Jesus hangs on the cross, dying in the mid-afternoon around 3 p.m.

God’s love

Question: Some say the Lord loves everyone equally. I do not agree. If God loved everyone equally, we would all have had the virtues of the Blessed Mother, and everyone would be born into Catholicism. What word instead of “equally” can be used to convey God’s love for us? 

Kathleen Kalina, via email

Answer: Equal does not mean “the same.” The root meaning of the word means “level” or “fair.” Thus, if you are good at math and I am good at writing, should we conclude that God loved one of us more? We are different in our gifts but both loved by God and possessed of equal dignity. It is true that the Blessed Mother had special gifts, but she also had much to suffer. And while it is good to be born Catholic, we will also be judged by a stricter standard (see Luke 12:48). Thus God, while dispensing his gifts and permitting us all certain struggles, is equitable in his judgments.

Perhaps it is best to say that God loves all his children, individually and uniquely.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.