Jesus manifests His great desire for unity among us
Sunday, September 8, 2019
Conditions of discipleship of Jesus
Shaddai, God of the mountain,
You who make of our fragile life
the rock of Your dwelling place,
lead our mind
to strike the rock of the desert,
so that water may gush to quench our thirst.
May the poverty of our feelings
cover us as with a mantle in the darkness of the night
and may it open our heart to hear the echo of silence
until the dawn,
wrapping us with the light of the new morning,
may bring us,
with the spent embers of the fire of the shepherds of the Absolute
who have kept vigil for us close to the divine Master,
the flavor of the holy memory.
a) The text:
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
b) A moment of silence:
Let us allow the voice of the Word to resonate within us.
a) Some questions:
- “If any man comes to Me without hating . . . . he cannot be My disciple”: Are we convinced that we must get to the point of separating
ourselves from all that ties our hearts, affection received and given, life itself, in order to follow Jesus?
- “Anyone who does not carry His cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple”: Do I possess the logic of the cross, that is, the logic of love freely given?
- The means to fulfill this: does my capacity to think inform my life of faith or is it just an interior impulse that dissolves with time and slips by the events of my daily life?
- To avoid having onlookers make fun of something started: does the reward of someone who started to follow the Lord and then did not have the human resources to go on, that is, derision for inability, apply to me?
- “None of you can be My disciple unless he gives up all his possessions": am I convinced that the key to discipleship is the poverty of non-possession and the beatitude of belonging?
b) A key to the reading:
We are among those who follow Jesus, with all our baggage of the past. One among so many, our name can be lost. Yet when He turns around and His word strikes the pain of the ties that strongly bind the pieces of our life, questions roll in the most ancient valley of echoes and one single humble reply comes forth from the ruins of unfinished edifices: Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.
v. 25-26. Great crowds accompanied Him on His way and He turned and spoke to them, “If any man comes to Me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be My disciple.” The Lord is not interested in counting those who come to Him. His words are strong and are free of all illusion. Is there anyone who does not know what it means to hate? If I hate a person, I stay away from that person. This choice between the Lord and affection for parents is the first demand of discipleship. To learn from Christ, it is necessary to find once more the nucleus of every love and interest. The love of a follower of the Lord is not a possessive love, but a love of freedom. To follow someone without any guarantees such as blood relationship can give, namely, family ties and one’s own blood a place where life is born of divine wisdom.
v. 27. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. The only tie that helps us follow Jesus is the cross. This symbol of love that cannot be taken back, capable of being word even when the world silences everything by condemnation and death, is the lesson of the Rabbi born in the smallest village in Judea.
v. 28. Which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? To build a tower requires a large sum for someone who has limited resources. A good intention to build is not enough. It is necessary to sit down, calculate expenses, seek the means to bring the project to completion. Man’s life is incomplete and unsatisfied because the larger the project the larger the debt! Not to know how to calculate what is within our means to accomplish is not the wisdom of those who after having ploughed wait for the rain, but the lack of awareness of those to expect flowers and harvest from seed thrown among stones and brambles, without making the effort to loosen the soil.
v. 29-30. Otherwise if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him, saying: “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish”. The derision of others which grates like sand on the feelings of hope of the person who wanted to reach high on his own, is the reward of one’s own arrogance clothed in good will. How many humiliations do we not carry with us, but what little fruit do we reap from these painful experiences! Putting down foundations and then not finishing the building is useless. Shattered desires sometimes are good tutors to our naïve self-affirmation… but we fail to understand them so long as we try to cover up our failures and the delusion of our waking up from the fairy-tale world of the dreams of our childhood. Yes, Jesus does tell us to become childlike, but a child will never pretend to build a “real” tower! The child will be happy with a small tower on the beach, because he/she knows well his/her capacity.
vv. 31-32. Or, again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to negotiate peace. No one can win a war without first sending envoys of peace. To fight for royal supremacy over every other is in itself a lost battle, because man is not called to be a ruling king, but the lord of peace. Approaching the other while still a long way off is the most beautiful sign of victory where no one wins and no one loses, but all become servants of the one true sovereignty in the world: peace and fullness of the gifts of God.
v. 33. So, in the same way, none of you can be My disciple unless he gives up all his possessions. If we examine the capital sins, we shall discover them in the manner of possessing that Jesus speaks of. A person who bases his/her life on possessions is a dissolute person who pretends to have power over all things (pride), enjoys a life of pleasure (lust), goes beyond the limits as a personal right (anger), is hungry for material goods (gluttony), steals from others (envy), keeps things for him/herself (avarice), spoils him/herself apathetically without committing to anything (sloth). The disciple, on the other hand, travels on the rails of the living virtues of the gifts of the Spirit: he/she is a person who has a sense of the things of God (wisdom) and shares it without keeping it to him/herself, and delves deep into the essential meaning of all that is life (knowledge), who listens to the voice of the Spirit (counsel), and reflects on every decision (counsel), who allows him/herself to be protected by the limitations of his/her being (fortitude) and does not give in to the allurement of sin, who knows the secrets of history (knowledge) to build horizons of goodness, who does not take unto him/herself the right of making sense, but who welcomes the source of divine intervention (piety), which springs from the abyss of silence, and is thankful for the marvels of grace of his Creator (fear of God) without being afraid of his/her smallness. Thus a disciple is another Jesus.
Our hearts are nets made of chain. We have ties of tenderness and gratitude, ties of love and dependence, endless ties with everything that touches our feelings. Jesus speaks of ties of consanguinity: father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and of ties with life itself, which in the Semitic mentality is symbolized by blood. But the heart must be free of these ties in order to go to Him and create a new tie that gives life because it gives the person freedom to be his/her authentic self. Every disciple has but one task: to learn and not to depend. Blood ties create dependence: how often does affective blackmail stop people from building the tower of their existence? How often do the words “If you love me, do this!” or “If you love me, do not do this…?” Life itself can imprison you when it ties you to what does not suit you physically or mentally, thus influencing your complicated story, or when it ties you to what you choose haphazardly by a will made weak by a thousand grids of events and blackmail. The cross does not tie. It urges that all that you have may be shed, blood and water, even to the last drop. Your whole life as a gift that does not expect any reward. To belong rather than to possess is the secret of the gratuitous love of the Master and of the disciple. Anyone who follows Jesus is not just any disciple who learns a doctrine, but is one who becomes a beloved disciple, capable of narrating the wonders of God when the fire of the Spirit turns him/her into a flame on the candlestick of the world.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Lord, as You turn around and look at me, Your words go through my mind and challenge me with everything that is my life. It is as though a pair of scissors unhesitatingly but sweetly cut the umbilical cords that nourish me to keep me going. This certain and necessary action restores my full breath and my freedom. Scripture says in its first pages of the human race: Man will leave his father and mother and will go towards a new fullness, all his, towards the unity of one person, capable of bearing fruit and new life. But we have not grasped the key word of this magnificent project, a word that inconveniences because it is like the waves of the sea where you cannot let yourself go with no security, the word: movement. Life does not stop. A love and a life received from a father and a mother. Yes, a full love, but one that does not limit horizons. Man will leave… and will go… A man and a woman, two in one, children who will be the face of their meeting of love, but who tomorrow will leave to go in their turn… if you stop to grasp life, life dies in your grasp, and with life your unfulfilled dream also dies, the dream of a full love that is never exhausted. Lord, grant us to understand that to love is to follow, to listen, to go, to stop, to lose oneself in order to find oneself in a movement of freedom that fulfils every desire for eternal possession. Let me not, for the sake of possessing a part of life, lose the joy of belonging to life, to that divine life that comes and goes in me for others and from others to me to make of the days that go by waves of freedom and of gift from God within the limitations of each life. Grant that I may always be the beloved disciple of Your dying life, capable of welcoming in inheritance the son-ship and guardianship, in Your Spirit, of every authentic motherhood.
Monday, June 10, 2019
1) Opening prayer
keep before us the wisdom and love
you have revealed in your Son.
Help us to be like Him
in word and deed,
for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading – John 19:25-34
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I thirst." There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately Blood and water flowed out.
• Jn 19:25-29: Mary, the strong woman who understood the full meaning of this event, will help us cast a contemplative glance at the crucified. The fourth Gospel specifies that these disciples "stood by the cross" (Jn 19:25-26). This detail has a deep meaning. Only the fourth Gospel tells us that these five people stood by the cross. The other Evangelists do not say so. Luke, for instance, says that all those who knew him followed the events from a distance (Lk 23:49). Matthew also says that many women followed these events from afar. These women had followed Jesus from Galilee and served Him. But now they followed Him from afar (Mt 27:55-56). Like Matthew, Mark gives us the names of those who followed the death of Jesus from afar (Mk 15:40-41). Thus only the fourth Gospel says that the mother of Jesus and the other women and the beloved disciple "stood by the cross". They stood there like servants before their king.
• Jn 19:30-34: They are present courageously at a time when Jesus has already declared that "it is fulfilled" (Jn 19:30). The mother of Jesus is present at the hour that finally "has come". That hour was foretold at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2:1ff). The fourth Gospel had remarked then that "the mother of Jesus was there" (Jn 2:1). Thus, the person that remains faithful to the Lord in His destiny, he/she is a beloved disciple. The Evangelist keeps this disciple anonymous so that each one of us may see him/herself mirrored in the one who knew the mysteries of the Lord, who laid his head on Jesus' chest at the last supper (Jn 13:25). The mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal.
• Jesus takes an active part in His death, He does not allow Himself to be killed like the thieves whose legs were broken (Jn 19:31-33), but commits His spirit (Jn 19:30). The details recalled by the Evangelist are very important: Seeing His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near her, Jesus said to His mother, “Woman, this is your son.” Then to the disciple He said, “This is your mother.” (Jn 19:26-27). These simple words of Jesus bear the weight of revelation, words that reveal to us His will: "this is your son" (v. 26); "this is your mother" (v. 27). These words also recall those pronounced by Pilate on the Lithostrotos: "This is the man" (Jn 19:5). With these words, Jesus on the cross, his throne, reveals His will and His love for us. He is the lamb of God, the shepherd who gives His life for His sheep. At that moment, by the cross, He gives birth to the Church, represented by Mary, Mary of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene, together with the beloved disciple (Jn 19:25).
4) Personal questions
• How has Mary given you a model for parenthood, discipleship, and love? What of these have I applied in my own life?
• Mary exemplified humility and obedience, yet she also led (as at Cana). How do I lead others, in what ways, while also being truly humble and obedient myself?
5) Concluding Prayer
The precepts of Yahweh are honest,
joy for the heart;
the commandment of Yahweh is pure,
light for the eyes. (Ps 19:8)
Lectio Divina: 7th Sunday of Easter (C)
Sunday, June 2, 2019
The Glory of the Son: That all may be One
1) OPENING PRAYER
Lord Jesus send your Spirit to help us interpret the scriptures with the same insight with which you interpreted them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. Through the light of God’s written word, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the overwhelming events of your condemnation and death. Thus, the Cross, which seemed to be the end of all hope, appeared to them as the source of life and resurrection.
Create in us a silence, so that we can listen to your voice in creation, scripture, daily events and in persons especially those who are poor and suffering. May your Word guide us, so that we, like the Disciples of Emmaus, may experience the strength of your resurrection and witness it to others. We ask this of you, Jesus, Son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us the Holy Spirit. Amen.
2) LECTIO: THE READING
a) A Key to the Reading
This gospel passage concerns all who have come believe in Jesus. Jesus prays that all may be one. The unique model for such a union is the intimate bond which exists between the Father and the Son. The unity among Christians testifies to the world that Jesus is the one sent by the Father.
b) A division of the text to facilitate our reading
Jn 17: 20 – 23: The prayer of Jesus about His own mission.
Jn 17: 24 – 26: The prayer of Jesus that the love of the Father be in the disciples.
c) The Text - John 17:20-26
Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: "I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them."
3) A MOMENT OF SILENT PRAYER
So that the Word of God can penetrate our hearts and enlighten our lives.
4) SOME QUESTIONS
To assist our meditation and prayer.
the reading of this Gospel passage, what impression of Jesus did you formulate?
Did you experience Jesus’ immense desire for unity and love?
Bishop Don Pedro Casaldáliga once said “the Trinity is truly the best community.” In your community, can you see any sign of the Trinity?
Ecumenism: What does it mean? Am I interested in ecumenism?
Love: What type of love does the world propose? Is it compatible with the love taught by Christ?
5) FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO GO DEEPER INTO THE TEXT
a) The Context
Today’s Gospel gives us the third and last part of the Priestly Prayer, in which Jesus looks toward the future and manifests His great desire for unity among us, His disciples, and that all may remain in the love which unifies, because without love and without unity we do not deserve credibility.
b) A commentary on the text
John 17:20-23: The prayer of Jesus about His own Mission: So that the world may believe it was You who sent Me.
Looking into the horizon, Jesus prays to the Father: “I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in Me. May they all be one, just as, Father, You are in Me and I am in You, so that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe it was You who sent Me.” Here, Jesus displays His concern for unity which should exist in the communities. Unity does not mean uniformity, but rather to remain in love in spite of tension and conflict. Such love reflects the profound unity which exists between Jesus and the Father. The unity in love revealed in the Trinity is the model for all communities. By loving one another, communities reveal to the world the profound message of Jesus. People said of the first Christians “see how they love one another!” The present day division among Jews, Christians and Moslems, all of whomcame from Abraham, is truly tragic. Even more tragic is the division among us Christians who claim to believe in Jesus. If we are divided, we have no credibility. Ecumenism is at the center of Jesus’ farewell prayer to the Father. It is His testament. To be a Christian and not be ecumenical is a contradiction. We are violating the final wish of Jesus.
John 17:24-26: The prayer of Jesus that the love of the Father be in the disciples: “So that the love with which You loved Me may be in them.”
Jesus does not want to remain alone. He says “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am so that they may always see My glory, which You have given Me, because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus is happy when we are all together with Him. He wants His disciples to have the same experience of the Father which He enjoyed. He wants us to know the Father and be known by Him. In the Bible, knowledge of God is not merely rational and theoretical but an experience of the living God who loves His people.
c) Further Information
That they may be one as We are one. (Unity and Trinity in the Gospel of John)
The Gospel of John helps us to understand the mystery of the Trinity, the communion of Father, Son and Spirit. Of the four Gospels, John stresses the profound unity that exists among the Father, Son and Spirit. From the text, we see that the mission of the Son is the supreme manifestation of the love of the Father (Jn 17: 6-8). This unity between the Father and the Son makes Jesus exclaim “the Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30). Between Son and Father, there is such unity that one who sees the face of one sees the face of the other. Fulfilling this mission of unity, Jesus reveals the Spirit. The spirit of Truth comes from the Father (Jn 15:26). At the bidding of the Son (Jn 14:16), the Father sends the Spirit to each one of us in such a way that He will remain with us, encouraging us and giving us strength. The Spirit also comes to us from the Son (Jn 16:7-8). Thus, the Spirit of Truth, who journeys with us, is the communication of the profound unity which exists between the Father and the Son (Jn 15:26-27). The Spirit cannot communicate a truth which is different from the truth of the Son. Everything which is in relationship with the mystery of the Son, the Spirit makes known to us (Jn 16:13-14). This experience of unity in God was very strong in the communities of the Beloved Disciple. The love which unites the Divine Persons allows us to experience God through union with people in a community of love. This was also the experience of the first communities in which love was a sign of God’s presence in their midst (Jn 13:34-35). This love builds unity in the community (Jn 17:21). They looked at the unity in God in order to understand the unity among themselves.
6. PRAYER (Psalm 8)
O Lord our Lord,
how majestic is your name throughout the world!
Whoever keeps singing of your majesty higher than the heavens,
Even through the mouths of children, or of babes in arms,
you make him a fortress,
firm against your foes, to subdue the enemy and the rebel.
I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers,
at the moon and the stars you set firm.
What are human beings that you spare a thought for them,
or the child of Adam that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
you have crowned him with glory and beauty,
made him lord of the works of your hands,
put all things under his feet,
sheep and cattle, all of them, and even the wild beasts,
birds in the sky, fish in the sea, when he makes his way across the ocean.
Yahweh our Lord,
how majestic your name throughout the world!
7. FINAL PRAYER
Lord Jesus, we thank You for Your word which has helped us better understand the will of the Father. Grant that your Spirit enlightens our actions and gives us the strength to carry out what Your word has made us see. Grant that we, like Mary Your Mother, can, not only listen to, but also put Your Word into practice. You who live and reign together with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
to love our neighbor as Jesus loved us
a) Opening prayer:
Lord Jesus, help us understand the mystery of the Church as community of love. When You gave us the new commandment of love as the charter of the Church, You told us that it is the highest value. When You were about to leave Your disciples, You wished to give them a memorial of the new commandment, the new statute of the Christian community. You did not give them a pious exhortation, but rather a new commandment of love. In this “relative absence”, we are asked to recognize You present in our brothers and sisters. In this Easter season, Lord Jesus, You remind us that the time of the Church is the time of charity, the time of encounter with You through our brothers and sisters. We know that at the end of our lives we shall be judged on love. Help us to encounter You in each brother and sister, seizing every little occasion of every day.
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
c) A moment of prayerful silence:
The passage of the Gospel we are about to reflect on recalls Jesus’ farewell words to His disciples. Such a passage should be considered a kind of sacrament of an encounter with the person of Jesus.
a) Preamble to Jesus’ discourse:
Our passage is the conclusion to chapter 13 where two themes crisscross and are taken up again and developed in chapter 14: the place where the Lord is going; and the theme of the commandment of love. Some observations on the context within which Jesus’ words on the new commandment occur may be helpful for a fruitful reflection on their content.
First, v.31 says, “when he had gone”, who is gone? To understand this we need to go to v.30 where we read that “as soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. It was night”. Thus the one who went out was Judas. Then, the expression, “it was night”, is characteristic of all the “farewell discourses”, which take place at night. Jesus’ words in Jn 13:31-35 are preceded by this immersion into the darkness of the night. What is the symbolic meaning of this? In John, night represents the peak of nuptial intimacy (for instance the wedding night), but also one of extreme anguish. Other meanings of the dark night are that it represents the moment of danger par excellence, it is the moment when the enemy weaves plans of vengeance against us. It expresses the moment of desperation, confusion, moral and intellectual disorder. The darkness of night is like a dead end.
In John 6, when the night storm takes place, the darkness of the night expresses an experience of desperation and solitude as they struggle against the dark forces that stir the sea. Again, the time marker "while it was still dark" in John 20:1 points to the darkness which is the absence of Jesus. Indeed, in John’s Gospel, the light of Christ cannot be found in the sepulcher, that is why darkness reigns (20:1).
Therefore, “farewell discourses” are rightly placed within this time framework. It is almost as if the background color of these discourses is separation, death or the departure of Jesus and this creates a sense of emptiness or bitter solitude. In the Church of today and for today’s humanity, this could mean that when we desert Jesus in our lives we then experience anguish and suffering.
When reporting Jesus’ words in 3:31-34 concerning His departure and imminent death, John recalls his own past life with Jesus, woven with memories that opened his eyes to the mysterious richness of the Master. Such memories of the past are part of our own faith journey.
It is characteristic of “farewell discourses” that whatever is transmitted in them, especially at the tragic and solemn moment of death becomes an inalienable patrimony, a covenant to be kept faithfully. Jesus’ “farewell discourses” too synthesize whatever He had taught and done so as to draw His disciples to follow in the direction He pointed out to them.
b) A deepening:
As we read the passage of this Sunday of Easter, we focus, first of all, on the first word used by Jesus in His farewell discourse: “Now”. “Now has the Son of man been glorified”. Which “now” is this? It is the moment of the cross that coincides with His glorification. This final part of John’s Gospel is a manifestation or revelation. Thus, Jesus’ cross is the “now” of the greatest epiphany or manifestation of truth. In this glorification, there is no question of any meaning that has anything to do with “honor” or “triumphalism”, etc.
On the one hand there is Judas who goes into the night, Jesus prepares for His glory: When he had gone, Jesus said: “Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and in Him God has been glorified. If God has been glorified in Him, God will in turn glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him very soon” (v.31-32). Judas’ betrayal brings to maturity in Jesus the conviction that His death is “glory”. The hour of death on the cross is included in God’s plan; it is the “hour” when the glory of the Father will shine on the world through the glory of the “Son of Man”. In Jesus, who gives His life to the Father at the “hour” of the cross, God is glorified by revealing His divine essence and welcoming humankind into communion with Him.
Jesus’ (the Son’s) glory consists of his extreme love for all men and women, even to giving Himself for those who betray Him. The Son’s love is such that He takes on Himself all those destructive and dramatic situations that burden the life and history of humankind. Judas’ betrayal symbolizes, not so much the action of an individual, as that of the whole of evil humanity, unfaithful to the will of God.
However, Judas’ betrayal remains an event full of mystery. An exegete writes, “In betraying Jesus, it is revelation that is to blame; it is even at the service of revelation” (Simoens, According to John, 561). In a way, Judas’ betrayal gives us the chance of knowing Jesus better; his betrayal has allowed us to see how far Jesus loves His own. Don Primo Mazzolari writes, “The apostles became Jesus’ friends, whether good friends or not, generous or not, faithful or not, they still remain his friends. We cannot betray Jesus’ friendship: Christ never betrays us, his friends, even when we do not deserve it, even when we rebel against him, even when we deny him. In his sight and in his heart we are always his “friends”. Judas is the Lord’s friend even at the moment when he carries out the betrayal of his Master with a kiss” (Discourses 147).
c) The new commandment:
Let us focus our attention on the new commandment.
In v.33 we note a change in Jesus’ farewell discourse. He no longer uses the third person. The Master now addresses “you”. This “you” is in the plural and he uses a Greek word that is full of tenderness “children” (teknía). In using this word and by His tone of voice and openness of heart, Jesus concretely conveys to His disciples the immensity of the tenderness He holds for them.
What is also interesting is another point that we find in v.34: “that you love one another as I have loved you”. The Greek word Kathòs “as” is not meant for comparison: love one another as I have loved you. Its meaning may be consecutive rather than causal: “Because I have loved you, so also love one another.”
There are those who, like Fr. Lagrange, see in this commandment an eschatological meaning: during His relative absence and while waiting for His second coming, Jesus wants us to love and serve Him in the person of His brothers and sisters. The new commandment is the only commandment. If there is no love, there is nothing. Magrassi writes, “Away with labels and classifications: every brother is the sacrament of Christ. Let us examine our daily life: can we live with our brother from morning till night and not accept and love him? The great work in this case is ecstasy in its etymological sense, that is, to go out of myself so as to be neighbor to the one who needs me, beginning with those nearest to me and with the most humble matters of every day life” (Living the church, 113).
d) For our reflection:
- Is our love for our brothers and sisters directly proportional to our love for Christ?
- Do I see the Lord present in the person of my brother and sister?
- Do I use the daily little occasions to do good to others?
- Let us examine our daily life: can I live with my brothers and sisters from morning till night and yet not accept and love them?
- Does love give meaning to the whole of my life?
- What can I do to show my gratitude to the Lord who became servant for me and consecrated His whole life for my good? Jesus replies, “Serve Me in brothers and sisters: this is the most authentic way of showing your practical love for Me.”
a) Psalm 23:1-6:
This psalm presents an image of the church journeying accompanied by the goodness and faithfulness of God, until it finally reaches the house of the Father. In this journey she is guided by love that gives it direction: your goodness and your faithfulness pursue me.
Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows He lets me lie.
By tranquil streams He leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits His name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for You are at my side.
Your staff and Your crook are there to soothe me.
You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh
for all time to come.
b) Praying with the Fathers of the Church:
I love You for Yourself,
I love You for Your gifts,
I love You for love of You
And I love You in such a way,
That if ever Augustine were God
And God Augustine,
I would want to come back and be who I am, Augustine,
That I may make of You who You are,
Because only You are worthy of being who You are.
Lord, You see,
My tongue raves,
I cannot express myself,
But my heart does not rave.
You know what I experience
And what I cannot express.
I love You, my God,
And my heart is too limited for so much love,
And my strength fails before so much love,
And my being is too small for so much love.
I come out of my smallness
And immerse my whole being in You,
I transform and lose myself.
Source of my being,
Source of my every good:
My love and my God.
(St. Augustine: Confessions)
c) Closing prayer:
Blessed Teresa Scrilli, seized by an ardent desire to respond to the love of Jesus, expressed herself thus:
I love You,
O my God,
In Your gifts;
I love You in my nothingness,
And even in this I understand,
Your infinite wisdom;
I love You in the many varied or extraordinary events,
By which You accompanied my life…
I love You in everything,
Whether painful or peaceful;
Because I do not seek,
Nor have I ever sought,
Only You, the God of consolations.
That is why I never gloried
Nor delighted in
That which You made me experience entirely gratuitously in Your Divine love,
Nor did I distress and upset myself,
When left arid and small.
Sunday, April 14, 2019
The death of Jesus:
when love goes to the extreme
1. Opening prayer
poured out on the world by the divine suffering and death,
guide us to contemplate
and understand the way of the cross
of our Saviour
and the love with which He walked this way.
Grant us eyes and hearts of true believers,
so that we may perceive
the glorious mystery of the cross.
“Thanks to the cross we no longer wander through the desert,
because we know the true path;
we no longer live outside the house of God, our King,
because we have found the entrance to it;
we no longer fear the fiery spears of the devil,
because we have found a spring of water.
Through Him we are no longer alone,
because we have found the spouse again;
we do not fear the world,
because now we have found the Good Shepherd.
Thanks to the cross
the injustice of the powerful does not frighten us,
because we sit at table with the King” (St. John Chrysostom).
a) A key to the reading:
The liturgical context: the ancient tradition of proclaiming the Gospel of the passion and death of Jesus Christ during the celebration of the Sunday before Easter goes back to the time when the celebrations
of Holy Week were reduced to a minimum. The aim of the reading is to lead the hearers to contemplate the mystery of the death that prepares for the resurrection of the Lord and that, therefore, is the condition by which the believer enters into the “new
life” in Christ. The custom of reading this long Gospel passage in parts, not only helps to make the reading less monotonous so as to facilitate an attentive listening, but also in order to involve emotionally the participation of the listeners, almost
making them feel present and taking part in the narrative.
The two readings before the Gospel of this Sunday help us with an interpretation that gives a certain perspective to the text: the Servant of JHWH is Jesus, the Christ, a divine person who, through His ignominious death, comes into the glory of God the Father and communicates His own life to those who listen to Him and welcome Him.
The Gospel context: it
is well known that the literary nucleus around which the Gospels were written was the Paschal Mystery: Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We have here, therefore, a text that is ancient and homogeneous in its literary composition, even though
it was written through a gradual process. However, its importance is paramount: in it we are told the fundamental event of the Christian faith, what every believer must face and conform to (even though the text of the liturgy of this Sunday ends with the burial
As usual, Luke comes through as an efficient and delicate narrator who pays attention to details and is capable of letting the reader glimpse something of the feelings and inner motivations of the main characters, above all of Jesus. The terrible and unjust suffering Jesus undergoes is filtered through His unalterable attitude of mercy towards all, even His persecutors and murderers. Some of these are touched by the way He faces suffering and death, so much so that they show signs of faith in Him: the torment of the passion is rendered soft by the power of the divine love of Jesus.
In the third Gospel, Jesus goes to the holy city only once: that decisive moment for human history and for the history of salvation. The whole of Luke’s Gospel is like a long preparation for the events of the last days that Jesus passes in Jerusalem, preaching acting at times even grandiosely (esp. the driving of the merchants from the temple 19:45-48), and at other times mysteriously or in a provocative manner (esp. the reply concerning the tribute to Caesar, 20:19-26). It is not by chance that Luke puts together in these last days many events and words that the other synoptic Gospels place elsewhere in the public life of Jesus. All this takes place while the plot of the chiefs of the nation thickens and becomes ever more concrete, until Judas offers them a perfect and unexpected chance (22:2-6).
In this last and definitive stage of the life of the Lord, the third Evangelist uses various terms such as a “passing” or an “exodus” (9:31), a “taking up” (9:51) and an “attaining of the end” (13:32). Thus, Luke leads us to understand, before the fact, how to interpret the terrible and scandalous death of the Christ to whom they had entrusted their life: He accomplishes a painful and difficult stage to understand, but one “necessary” in the economy of salvation (9:22; 13:33; 17:35; 22:37) in order to bring to success (“fulfillment”) His journey towards glory (cf. 24:26; 17:25). This journey of Jesus is the paradigm of the journey to be achieved by each of His disciples (Acts 14:22).
b) A division of the text to help us in its reading:
The story of the Last Supper: from 22:7 to 22:38;
The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani: from 22:39 to 22:46;
The arrest and the Jewish trial: from 22:47 to 22:71
The civil trial before Pilate and Herod: from 23:1 to 23:25
The sentence, crucifixion and death: from 23:26 to 23:49
Events after the death: from 23:50 to 23:56.
c) The text:
The story of the Last Supper
When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfilment in the kingdom of God." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you that from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. "And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table; for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed." And they began to debate among themselves who among them would do such a deed. Then an argument broke out among them about which of them should be regarded as the greatest. He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as 'Benefactors'; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves. It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers." He said to him, "Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you." But he replied, "I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me." He said to them, "When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?" "No, nothing, " they replied. He said to them, "But now one who has a money bag should take it, and likewise a sack, and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, He was counted among the wicked; and indeed what is written about me is coming to fulfilment." Then they said, "Lord, look, there are two swords here." But he replied, "It is enough!"
The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani
Then going out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived at the place he said to them, "Pray that you may not undergo the test." After withdrawing about a stone's throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test."
The arrest and the Jewish trial
While he was still speaking, a crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked, "Lord, shall we strike with a sword?" And one of them struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said in reply, "Stop, no more of this!" Then he touched the servant's ear and healed him. And Jesus said to the chief priests and temple guards and elders who had come for him, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? Day after day I was with you in the temple area, and you did not seize me; but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness." After arresting him they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. When a maid saw him seated in the light, she looked intently at him and said, "This man too was with him." But he denied it saying, "Woman, I do not know him." A short while later someone else saw him and said, "You too are one of them"; but Peter answered, "My friend, I am not." About an hour later, still another insisted, "Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean." But Peter said, "My friend, I do not know what you are talking about." Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." He went out and began to weep bitterly. The men who held Jesus in custody were ridiculing and beating him. They blindfolded him and questioned him, saying, "Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?" And they reviled him in saying many other things against him. When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought him before their Sanhedrin. They said, "If you are the Christ, tell us, " but he replied to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?" He replied to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth."
The civil trial before Pilate and Herod
Then the whole assembly of them arose and brought him before Pilate. They brought charges against him, saying, "We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king." Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He said to him in reply, "You say so." Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, "I find this man not guilty." But they were adamant and said, "He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here." On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly. Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, "You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him." But all together they shouted out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us." — Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. — Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate addressed them a third time, "What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him." With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.
The sentence, crucifixion and death
As they led him away
they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian,
who was coming in from the country;
and after laying the cross on him,
they made him carry it behind Jesus.
A large crowd of people followed Jesus,
including many women who mourned and lamented him.
Jesus turned to them and said,
"Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me;
weep instead for yourselves and for your children
for indeed, the days are coming when people will say,
'Blessed are the barren,
the wombs that never bore
and the breasts that never nursed.'
At that time people will say to the mountains,
'Fall upon us!'
and to the hills, 'Cover us!'
for if these things are done when the wood is green
what will happen when it is dry?"
Now two others, both criminals,
were led away with him to be executed.
When they came to the place called the Skull,
they crucified him and the criminals there,
one on his right, the other on his left.
Then Jesus said,
"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
They divided his garments by casting lots.
The people stood by and watched;
the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said,
"He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God."
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
"If you are King of the Jews, save yourself."
Above him there was an inscription that read,
"This is the King of the Jews."
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
"Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us."
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
"Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal."
Then he said,
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
He replied to him,
"Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise."
It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon
because of an eclipse of the sun.
Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit";
and when he had said this he breathed his last.
Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said,
"This man was innocent beyond doubt."
When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened,
they returned home beating their breasts;
but all his acquaintances stood at a distance,
including the women who had followed him from Galilee
and saw these events.
Events after the death
Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried. It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may enter into our hearts and shed light on our lives.
4. A few questions
to help us in our meditation and prayer.
a) At the end of this long reading, what feeling prevails in me: is it relief for having come to the end, admiration for Jesus, pain for His pain, joy for the salvation achieved, or something else?
b) I re-read the text and pay special attention to the way the many “powerful” acted: the priests, the scribes and Pharisees, Pilate, Herod. What do I think of them? How would I have thought, acted, spoken and decided in their place?
c) I read the passion once more and, this time, pay attention to the action of the “little ones”: the disciples, the people, individuals, the women, the soldiers and others. What do I think of them? How would I have acted, thought and spoken in their place?
d) Finally, I look at my way of acting in my daily life. With which of the main or lesser characters can I identify myself with? Which character would I like to identify myself with?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.
A commentary on the text with special emphasis on some key points:
22:14: When the hour came He took His place at table, and the apostles with Him: Although Luke is writing for a Christian community mostly of gentile origin, he stresses that the Last Supper of Jesus is part of the Jewish rite of pesach. Just before the supper he describes the preparations (vv. 7-13).
22:15: I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: this recalls the words in 12:50: “There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is My distress till it is over! (cf. Jn 12:32). Luke gives us a ray of light on the interior dimension of Jesus as He prepares to suffer and die: what impels Him is, as always for Him, the radical choice of conforming to the will of the Father (cf. 2:49), but in these words we glimpse a very human desire for fraternity, for sharing and for friendship.
22:17: Then, taking a cup, He gave thanks: we have not yet come to the Eucharistic chalice strictly speaking, but only to the first of four cups of wine that are drunk at a paschal meal.
22:18: From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes: this is the second explicit reference to His nearing death. It is a repetition of the proclamations concerning the passion (9:22.44; 12:50; 18:31-32) and, like those, it refers implicitly to the resurrection. However, the proclamation, even in all the seriousness of the moment, contains intimations of hope and of the eschatological expectation, together with the certainty that the Father will not abandon Him to death. Jesus is aware of what He has to face, but is quite serene, interiorly free, certain of His final destiny and of the final results of what He is about to experience.
22:19-20: the story of the Eucharistic institution is quite similar to the one mentioned in Paul (1Cor 11:23-25) and has a pronounced sacrificial character: Jesus offers Himself, not things, as an oblation for those who believe in Him.
22:21: Here with Me on the table is the hand of the man who betrays Me: eating with him, Jesus allows even Judas to enter into communion with Him, and yet He knows well that this disciple is about to betray Him definitively. The contrast is strident and made so on purpose by the Evangelist, as is true also elsewhere in this passage.
are the men who have stood by Me faithfully in My trials: unlike Judas, the other disciples have “stood by Jesus in His trials”, because they have stayed with Him at least up to the present moment. The Lord, then, acknowledges that they have
reached a high level of communion with Him so that they deserve special honour in the glory of the Father (v. 29).
It is Jesus Himself, then, who creates a close parallel between the constant communion of His disciples (those of then and those of today) with His suffering and the final and eternal sharing in His glory (“eat and drink”, v. 30).
22:31-37: Simon, Simon! Satan, you must know, has got his wish to sift you all like wheat; but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail: this passage seems to come from another context. Jesus’ reference to Satan and his actions against the disciples recalls what the evangelist had said concerning the cause of Judas’ betrayal (22:3) and is almost parallel with Luke’s view of the passion as the final assault of Satan against Jesus (cf. 4:13; 22:53).
Peter is protected from the snares of the tempter by the prayers of Jesus Himself and because he chose firmly to be a disciple of the Lord, also because he has a special mission towards his brothers and sisters in the faith (v. 32b). Jesus hastens to warn him: for him, as for the other disciples too, the terrible passion of Jesus will cost them a hard fight against Satan and many ambushes that, in various forms, will assail the disciples who will be close to Jesus during the various stages of the passion (vv. 35-36) on account of the terrible trial that He will have to endure (v. 37); these last words explicitly refer to the text in Isaiah concerning the “suffering Servant” (Isa 53:12), with whom Jesus is clearly identified.
22:33-34: Lord… I would be ready to go to prison with you, and to death… I tell you, Peter, by the time the cock crows today you will have denied three times that you know Me: Peter is a generous man, also a little impatient, as we see from his words, which seem to force Jesus to tell him about the denials. As in verses 24-27 the chiefs of the Christian community were faced with their responsibility as “servants” of the faith of the brothers and sisters entrusted to them, so now they are reminded of their duty to be prudent and vigilant towards themselves and towards their weakness.
22:39-46: the story of the moral-spiritual agony in the garden of Gethsemani follows the text of Mark (14:32-42) closely, except for some details, especially those referring to the consoling appearance of the angel (v.43).
As the most difficult and insidious moment of his life approaches, Jesus intensifies his prayer. As Luke says, Gethsemani was the “usual” (v.37) place where Jesus often spent nights in (21:37) prayer.
22:47-53: The real passion begins with the arrest of Jesus. This passage presents the following events as “the reign of darkness” (v.53) and shows Jesus as He who overcomes and will overcome violence by patience and the ability to love even His persecutors (v.51); that is why the sad but loving words He addresses to Judas stand out: "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (v.48).
22:54-71: The Jewish trial does not evolve that night. Nothing is said of Jesus as prisoner until morning. This lack of news concerning Jesus immediately after His arrest and until the beginning of the case is typical of Luke.
22:60-62: “My friend,” said Peter, “I do not know what you are talking about"… the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter and Peter remembered what the Lord had said… And he went outside and wept bitterly: the two looks meeting each other, who knows how they happened in the confusion of that interminable night, mark the moment when Peter becomes aware: notwithstanding his gallant declarations of fidelity, he realizes what Jesus had told him a little earlier. In that look, Peter experiences first hand the mercy of the Lord of which he had heard Jesus talking: it does not hide the reality of sin, but heals it and brings men and women back to a full awareness of their own condition and of the personal love of God for them.
22:70-71: So you are the Son of God then? … It is you who say I am… What need of witness have we now? We have heard it for ourselves from His own lips: the Jewish trial begins officially at first dawn of
that day (v.66) and concentrates on seeking proofs (some true, in Luke, but cf. Mk 14:55-59) to sentence Jesus to death. According to Luke, then, the chiefs of the Jews did not bring forth false witnesses, but – even in their savage aversion towards
Jesus – they behaved towards Him in a somewhat correct juridical manner.
In replying positively to the question “You are the Son of God then?”, Jesus shows that He is fully aware of His divine dignity. Through this awareness, His suffering, death and resurrection are eloquent witness of the benign will of the Father towards humanity. Thus, however, He “signs” his own sentence of death: it is a blasphemy that profanes the Name and the very being of JHWH since He declares himself explicitly to be “son”.
23:3-5: Are you the king of the Jews? … It is you who say it… He is inflaming the people with His teaching:
we are passing from a Jewish juridical process to a Roman one: the Jewish chiefs hand over the condemned person to the governor so that he may carry out their sentence and, to give him an acceptable reason, they “domesticate” the movements of their
sentence, presenting them in a political light. Thus, Jesus is presented as subverting the people and usurping the royal title of Israel (which by then was but a memory and a purely honorific title).
The means used by Jesus to carry out His crime, as chance would have it, is His preaching: the words of peace and mercy that He spread freely are now used against Him!
Jesus confirms the accusation, but it is certain that He is not accused of seeking royal status, only one of the reflections of His divine nature. This, however, neither Pilate nor the others are able to understand.
23:6-12: He passed Him over to Herod: Perhaps Pilate intuited that they were trying to play a “dirty trick” on him, so he probably tries to distance himself from the prisoner by invoking respect for jurisdiction: Jesus comes from a district, which at that historical time, did not come under Roman responsibility but that of Herod Antipas.
The latter is presented in the Gospels as someone quite ambiguous: he admires and at the same time is averse to John the Baptist, because the prophet had taken him to task over his matrimonial position, which was irregular and almost incestuous, and finally has him arrested and then put to death so as not to show a poor figure before his guests (3:19-20; Mk 6:17-29). Then he tries to get to know Jesus just out of curiosity, because he had heard of His fame as a worker of miracles, and he concocts a case against Him (v.10), He questions Jesus personally, but then – before the obstinate silence of Jesus (v. 9) – leaves Him to the mockery of the soldiers as had happened at the end of the religious process (22:63-65) and as will happen when Jesus is crucified (vv. 35-38). He ends up sending Jesus back to Pilate.
Luke concludes this episode with an interesting footnote: Pilate’s gesture begins a new friendship between him and Herod. The circumstances speak clearly as to the purity of the motivation of this friendship.
23:13-25: You brought this man before me… as a political agitator; …I have found no case
against the man in respect of the charges you bring against Him: as he suspected from the first meeting with Jesus (v.4) and as he will repeat later (v.22), Pilate pronounces Him innocent. He tries to convince the chiefs of the people to let Jesus go,
but they have already decided that He should die (vv.18,21,23) and insist on a sentence of death.
What is the substance of the governor’s interrogation? Not much, according to the few phrases that Luke reports (v.3). And yet, Jesus replied positively to Pilate, declaring Himself “king of the Jews”! At this point, it is clear that Pilate does not consider Jesus a dangerous man on the political level, nor for public order, perhaps because the tone of Jesus’ declaration left no doubt on these scores.
The intention of the Evangelist is quite clear in that he seeks to attenuate the responsibility of the Roman governor. The latter, however, is known from historical sources as a “man of inflexible nature and, on top of his arrogance, hard, capable only of extortion, violence, robbery, brutality, torture, executions without trial and fearful and unlimited cruelty” (Philo of Alexandria) and that “he liked to provoke the nations entrusted to him, sometimes by being rude and at other times by hard repression” (Josephus Flavius).
23:16.22: I shall have Him punished and then let Him go…: the fact that Jesus was held to be innocent would not have spared Him a hard “punishment”, inflicted solely so as not to let down the expectations of the chiefs of the Jews.
23:16.18.25: Away with Him! Give us Barabbas! He released the man they asked for, who had been imprisoned for rioting and murder, and handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they pleased: in the end,
Pilate gives in completely to the insistent demands of the chiefs of the people, even though he does not pronounce any formal sentence on Jesus.
Barabbas, a real delinquent and political agitator, thus becomes the first person saved (at least at that moment) by the sacrifice of Jesus.
23:26-27: They seized on a man, Simon from Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and made him shoulder the cross and carry it behind Jesus. Large numbers of people followed Him, and of women too, who mourned and lamented for Him: Simon and the women were not only privileged witnesses of the passion, but, in Luke, they are models of discipleship, people who show in action to the reader how to follow the Lord. Besides, thanks to them and to the crowd, Jesus is not alone as He approaches death, but is surrounded by men and women who are deeply and emotionally close to Him, even though they need conversion, a matter that He recalls to them in spite of His terrible condition (vv.28-31).
Simon of Cyrene is “seized”, but Luke does not say that he was reluctant to help the Lord (cf. Mk 15:20-21).
The “large numbers of people” are also quite involved in what is happening to Jesus. This is in strident contrast with the crowd that, a little earlier, was demanding the sentence of death from Pilate.
23, 34: Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing: Luke brings out the main concern of the crucified Lord who, in spite of being in atrocious physical pain from the process of crucifixion, prays for them to the Father: He is not concerned with His own condition nor with the historical causes that produced it, but only with the salvation of all humankind. Stephen the martyr will act like Him (Acts 7:60) to show the paradigmatic character of the life and death of Jesus for the existence of every Christian.
To emphasize this strong orientation of Jesus, Luke omits the anguished cry reported by the other synoptic Gospels: “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?”
23:33.39-43: They crucified Him there and the two criminals… Jesus… remember me when You come into Your kingdom… Indeed, I promise you… today you will be with Me in paradise: the episode of the dialogue with one of His condemned companions is emblematic of the way Luke understands the death of Jesus: an act of self-giving made for love and in love to bring salvation to the greatest number of people in whatever condition or situation they may find themselves.
”Today” (v. 43): the thief had spoken in the future, but Jesus replies using a verb in the present: the salvation He gives is immediate, the “final days” begin with this saving event.
”You will be with Me” (v. 43): this expression indicates the full communion in force between God and those He welcomes to Himself in eternity (cf. 1Thess 4:17). According to some apocryphal writings of the late Judaic period, the Messiah Himself had “to open the gates of paradise”.
23:44-46: It was now about the sixth hour… Jesus cried out in a loud voice, He said, Father into Your hands I commit My spirit. With these words He breathed His last: Jesus’ last words, by their good nature, seem to contrast with the preceding declaration that He cried aloud.
Having come to the end of His human life, Jesus makes a supreme act of trust in the Father, for whose will He had suffered so much. In these words we can glimpse a hint at the resurrection: the Father will hand Him back this life that Jesus now entrusts to Him (cf. Ps 16:10; Acts 2:27, 13:35).
Luke writes very concisely of the last moments of Jesus: he is not interested in dwelling on details that would offer satisfaction to some macabre curiosity, like the one that drew and still draws so many spectators at a capital sentence in many places of the world.
23:47-48: When the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God: “This was a great and good man”. So too the crowds… went home beating their breasts: the saving efficacy of the sacrifice of Jesus acts almost immediately, simply on the evidence of what had happened: pagans (such as the centurion who commanded the platoon in charge of the execution), and the Jews (the people), begin to change. The centurion “glorifies God” and seems to be just a step from becoming a Christian believer. The Jewish people, perhaps without being aware, go back using gestures of repentance as Jesus had asked of the women of Jerusalem (v. 38).
23:49: All those who knew Him watched from afar: at a prudent distance, knowing the Roman attitude
that forbade excessive gestures of mourning for those condemned to be crucified (on pain of being crucified themselves), the group of disciples is present dumbfounded by the whole scene. Luke gives no hint as to their emotions or attitudes: perhaps the pain
and violence dazed them to the point of making them incapable of any outward reaction.
Similarly, the women disciples do not take part in any way in the work done by Joseph of Arimathea for the burial of Jesus: they just watch (v. 55).
23:53: Joseph took Him down from the cross, wrapped Him in a sheet and placed Him in a tomb dug in the rock: Jesus has really undergone torture. He is really dead, like so many others before and after Him, on the cross, in a common body of flesh. This event, without which there would be no salvation or eternal life for any one, is verified by the fact that it is necessary to bury Him. This is so true that Luke expands on some details concerning the speed with which the rite of burial was carried out by Joseph (vv. 52-54).
23:56: On the Sabbath they observed the day of rest, according to the commandment: as
the Creator rested on the seventh day of creation, thus consecrating the Sabbath (Gen 2:2-3), so now the Lord observes the Sabbath in the tomb.
None of His people, now, seem to be able to hope for anything: Jesus’ words concerning the resurrection seem to have been forgotten. The women limit themselves to preparing some oils to make the burial of the Master a little more dignified.
The Gospel of this “Passion Sunday” concludes here, leaving out the story of the discovery of the empty tomb (24:1-12) and allowing us to savour the bitter sweet sacrifice of the lamb of God, we are left in a sad and suspended state where we remain immersed, even though we know the final result of the Gospel story. This terrible death of the young Rabbi of Nazareth does not lose its significance in His resurrection, but acquires an entirely new and unexpected value, which does not take away anything from the dimension of having been killed in sacrifice freely accepted, because of the “excessively” high respect for our human powers of understanding: it is pure mystery.
6. Isaiah 50:4-10
"The Lord God helps me"
The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word Him that is weary.
Morning by morning He wakens,
He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
For the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been confounded;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His servant,
who walks in darkness and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon his God?
7. Closing prayer
of the Eucharistic prayer for this Sunday
Almighty and eternal God, You have given the human race Jesus Christ our Saviour as a model of humility. He fulfilled Your will by becoming man and giving His life on the cross. Help us to bear witness to You by following His example of suffering and make us worthy to share in His resurrection.