Jesus in His farewell discourse: “Now”. “Now has the Son of man been glorified”.

Lectio Divina

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The new commandment:
to love our neighbor as Jesus loved us

John 13:31-35

 

1. LECTIO

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.

b) Reading:

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.

2. MEDITATIO

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.”

3. ORATIO

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,
Your consolations;
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.

Lecto Divina

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The death of Jesus:


when love goes to the extreme


Luke 22:14-23,56

 

1. Opening prayer

Holy Spirit,
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).

2. Reading

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 of Jesus).
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)     
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.

22:28: You 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 spiritWith 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.

Lectio Divina

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Jesus meets a woman about to be stoned
“Let the one among you who is guiltless
be the first to throw a stone at her!”

John 8:1-11

 

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word,

written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.

2. Reading

a) A key to the reading:

Today’s text leads us to a meditation on the conflict between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees. Because of his preaching and his manner of acting, the doctors of the law and the Pharisees do not like Jesus. So they seek every possible way to accuse and eliminate him. They bring before him a woman caught in adultery to ask him whether they should observe the law that said that such a woman was to be stoned. They wanted to provoke Jesus. By posing as people concerned for the law, they were using the woman to argue with Jesus. The same story happens time and time again. Under the pretence of concern for the law of God, the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have condemned and massacred many people. This goes on today too. Under the guise of concern for the law of God, many people are deprived of communion and even excluded from the community. Laws and customs are created to exclude and marginalize certain categories of people.


As we read John 8:1-11, it is good to consider the text as it were a mirror reflecting our own likeness. As we read, let us try to note well the attitudes, words and action of those who appear in the story: the Scribes, the Pharisees, the woman. Jesus and the people.

b) A division of the text as a help to the reader:

Jn 8:1-2: Jesus goes to the temple to teach the crowd
Jn 8:3-6a: His adversaries provoke him
Jn 8:6b: Jesus’ reaction, he writes on the ground
Jn 8:7-8: Second provocation, and same reaction from Jesus
Jn 8:9-11: Final epilogue

c) Text:

1 and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in the middle 4 they said to Jesus, 'Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, 5 and in the Law Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?' 6 They asked him this as a test, looking for an accusation to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. 7 As they persisted with their question, he straightened up and said, 'Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her.' 8 Then he bent down and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until the last one had gone and Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained in the middle. 10 Jesus again straightened up and said, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' 11 'No one, sir,' she replied. 'Neither do I condemn you,' said Jesus. 'Go away, and from this moment sin no more.'

3. A moment of prayerful silence

so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions

to help us in our personal reflection.

a) What struck or pleased you most in this text? Why?
b) Several persons and groups appear in this episode. What do they say and do?
c) Try to step into the woman’s shoes: how did she feel?
d) Why did Jesus begin to write with this finger on the ground?
e) What can and must our community do to welcome those excluded?

5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme

a) Literary context:

Scholars say that John’s Gospel grew gradually, that is, that it was written bit by bit. Over some time, up to the end of the first century, members of John’s community in Asia Minor, recalled and added details to events in Jesus’ life. One of these events, to which some details were added, is our text, the episode concerning the woman about to be stoned (Jn 8:1-11). A little before our text, Jesus had said: "If any man is thirsty, let him come to me! Let the man come and drink who believes in me!” (Jn 7:37). This statement provoked much discussion (Jn 7:40-53). The Pharisees even ridiculed the people, considering them ignorant for believing in Jesus. Nicodemus reacted saying: “Surely the law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?” (Jn 7:51-52). After our text we come across another statement by Jesus: "I am the light of the world!" (Jn 8:12), which again provoked discussion among the Jews. The episode of the woman whom the law would have condemned, but who is pardoned by Jesus (Jn 8:1-11), is inserted between these two statements and their subsequent discussions. These statements before and after, suggest that the episode was inserted here to shed light on the fact that Jesus, light of the world, enlightens the life of people and applies the law better than the Pharisees.

b) A commentary on the text:

John 8:1-2: Jesus and the crowd
After the discussion reported at the end of chapter 7 (Jn 7:37-52), all go home (Jn 7:53). Jesus has no home in Jerusalem, so he goes to the Mount of Olives. There he finds a garden where he can spend the night in prayer (Jn 18:1). The next day, before sunrise, Jesus is once more in the temple. The crowd draws near to listen. Usually, the crowd sat in a circle around Jesus when he taught. What would Jesus have been teaching? Whatever it was, it must have been great because the crowd went there before dawn to listen to him!

John 8:3-6a: His enemies’ provocation
Suddenly, the Scribes and Pharisees arrive and bring with them a woman caught in flagrant adultery. They place her in the middle of the circle between Jesus and the crowd. According to the law, this woman had to be stoned (Lv 20:10; Dt 22:22.24). They ask: "Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and in the Law Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?” This was a provocation, a trap. If Jesus said: "Apply the law", the Scribes would have said to the crowd: he is not as good as he appears to be because he orders the woman to be killed. If Jesus said: "Do not kill her”, they would have said: "He is not as good as he appears to be since he does not observe the law!" Under the appearance of fidelity to God, they manipulate the law and use a woman to accuse Jesus.

John 8:6b: Jesus’ reaction: he writes on the ground
This situation looked like a sure trap. But Jesus is neither frightened nor nervous. Rather the opposite. Quietly, like one in control of the situation, he bends down and begins to write on the ground with his finger. What does writing on the ground mean? Some think that Jesus is writing the sins of his accusers. Others say that it was just the sign of one who is in control of the situation and pays no attention to the accusations made by others. But it is possible that this may have been a symbolic action, an allusion to something much more common. If you write a word on the ground, the next morning it will be gone, swept away by wind or rain, gone! We find a similar allusion in Jeremiah where we read that the names of the attributes of God are written on the ground, that is, that they have no future. The wind and the rain carry them away (cf Jr 17:13). Perhaps Jesus is saying to those around him: the sin of which you accuse this woman, has been forgiven by God as I write these letters on the ground. From now on these sins will not be remembered!

John 8:7-8: Second provocation and the same reaction from Jesus
Faced with this quiet attitude of Jesus, it is the adversaries who become nervous. They insist and want to know Jesus’ opinion. Jesus, then, stands up and says: "Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her!" And bending down he again starts to write on the ground. He does not engage in a sterile and useless discussion concerning the law, because, in reality, the problem lies elsewhere. Jesus shifts the centre of the discussion. Instead of allowing the light of the law to be focussed on the woman so as to condemn her, he asks that his adversaries examine themselves in the light of what the law demands of them. Jesus does not discuss the letter of the law. He discusses and condemns the evil attitude of those who manipulate people and the law to defend their own interests that are contrary to God, the author of the law.

John 8:9-11: Final epilogue: Jesus and the woman
Jesus’ reply upsets the adversaries. The Pharisees and the Scribes retreat shamefaced one by one “beginning with the eldest”. The opposite of what they had planned happened. The one condemned by the law was not the woman but those who believed themselves to be faithful to the law. Finally, Jesus is left alone with the woman. Jesus stands up, goes to her and says: "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you!" She answers: "No one, sir!" Then Jesus says: "Neither do I condemn you. Go away, and from this moment sin no more!" Jesus will not allow any one to use the law of God to condemn a brother or sister, when that person is also a sinner. Any one who has a plank in his eye cannot accuse the one who only has a splinter in his. “Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye” (Lk 6:42).


This episode, better than any other teaching, shows that Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 11:12) who reveals the truth. It brings to light the hidden and most intimate things within a person. In the light of Jesus’ words, those who seemed to be defenders of the law are revealed to be full of sin. They recognise this and go away beginning with the eldest. And the woman, thought to be guilty and meriting the death sentence, stands before Jesus, absolved, redeemed, dignified (cf. Jn 3:19-21). Jesus’ action gives her new life and restores her dignity as woman and daughter of God.

c) Further information:

Laws concerning women in the Old Testament and people’s reactions

From the time of Ezdra and Nehemiah, the official tendency was to exclude women from any public activity and to consider them unsuitable to carry out any function in society, except that of spouse and mother. What contributed greatly to the marginalization of the woman was precisely the law on purity. A woman was declared impure for being mother, spouse and daughter, for being a woman. For being mother: in giving birth she became unclean (Lv 12:1-5). For being daughter: a son born made her unclean for forty days (Lv 12:2-4); and worse, a daughter born made her unclean for 80 days! (Lv 12:5). For being spouse: sexual relationship made both the woman and the man unclean for a whole day (Lv 15:18). For being woman: menstruation made a woman unclean for a whole week and rendered others unclean. Any one who touched a woman during menstruation had to go through a ritual of purification (Lv 15:19-30). It was not possible for a woman to hide her uncleanness, because the law obliged other people to denounce her (Lv 5:3). This legislation made daily life at home unbearable. For seven days every month, the mother of a family could not rest in bed or sit on a chair, much less touch her children or husband so as not to contaminate them! This legislation was the result of a mentality, according to which a woman was inferior to a man. There are some sayings that reveal this discrimination against women (Eccl 42:9-11; 22:3). Marginalization became such that women were considered to be the origin of sin and of death and the cause of all evils (Eccl 25:24; 42:13-14). Thus the privilege and dominion of man over woman kept on being preserved.

In the context of the times, the situation of women in the world of the Bible was neither better nor worse than that of other people. It was a general culture. Even today, there are many who continue in this same way of thinking. But like today, so also previously, from the beginning of the Bible history, there have always been those who opposed this exclusion of women, especially after the exile, when foreign women, considered dangerous, were expelled (cfr. Ez 9:1-3 and 10:1-3). Women’s resistance grew at times when their marginalization was worst. In several wisdom books we discover the voice of such resistance: the Canticle of Canticles, Ruth, Judith, Esther. In these books, women appear not so much as mothers or spouses, but as persons who could use their beauty and femininity to fight for the rights of the poor and thus defend the Covenant of the people. These were fights not so much for the temple, nor for abstract law, but for the life of the people.

The resistance of women against their exclusion finds an echo and a response in Jesus. Here are some episodes of Jesus’ response towards women:
The prostitute: Jesus welcomes and defends her against the Pharisee (Lk 7:36-50).
* Jesus defends the woman bent double against the chief of the synagogue (Lk 13:10-17).
* The woman considered impure is welcomed without criticism and is healed (Mk 5:25-34).
* The Samaritan woman, considered a heretic, is the first to receive Jesus’ secret that he is the Messiah (Jn 4:26).
* The pagan woman is helped by Jesus and she helps him to discover his mission (Mk 7:24-30).
* The mothers with children, rejected by the disciples, are welcomed by Jesus (Mt 19:13-15).
* Women are the first persons to experience the risen Jesus (Mt 28:9-10; Jn 20:16-18).

6. Praying Psalm 36 (35)

God’s goodness will unmask hypocrisy

Sin is the oracle of the wicked in the depths of his heart;
there is no fear of God before his eyes.

He sees himself with too flattering
an eye to detect and detest his guilt;
all he says is malicious and deceitful,
he has turned his back on wisdom.
To get his way
he hatches malicious plots even in his bed;
once set on his evil course
no wickedness is too much for him.

Yahweh, your faithful love is in the heavens,
your constancy reaches to the clouds,
your saving justice is like towering mountains,
your judgements like the mighty deep.

Yahweh, you support both man and beast;
how precious, God, is your faithful love.
So the children of Adam take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the bounty of your house,
you let them drink from your delicious streams;
in you is the source of life,
by your light we see the light.
Maintain your faithful love to those who acknowledge you,
and your saving justice to the honest of heart.
Do not let the foot of the arrogant overtake me
or wicked hands drive me away.
There they have fallen, the evil-doers,
flung down, never to rise again.

7. Final Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

_____________________________________________________________

Lectio Divina

Monday, March 25, 2019

God’s covenant with humanity


Mary’s yes and our yes


Luke 1:26-38

 

1. Opening prayer

Merciful Father, in this holy time of prayer and of listening to Your Word, send also to me Your holy angel that I may receive the proclamation of salvation and that, after opening my heart, I may offer my yes to Love. Let, I beg You, the Holy Spirit overshadow me as an overwhelming power. From now on, Father, I do not wish to express anything other than my “Yes!” and to say to You: “Behold, I am here for You. Do unto me whatever pleases You.”  Amen.

2. Reading

a) The context of the passage:

The story of the annunciation takes us from the temple, a holy place par excellence, to the house, to the intimacy of a personal meeting of God with His creature; it leads us into ourselves, into the deepest part of our being and our story, where God alone can reach and touch us. The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist had opened the sterile womb of Elizabeth, thus overcoming the absolute powerlessness of humankind and transforming it into the ability to collaborate with God. On the other hand, the announcement of the birth of Jesus, knocks on the door of a fertile womb of the one who is “full of grace” and awaits a reply: it is God who waits for our yes so as to work everything in us.

b) An aid to the reading of this passage:

vv. 26-27: The first two verses place us at the time and sacred space of the event on which we are meditating and which we relive: we are in the sixth month from the conception of John the Baptist and in Nazareth, a city in Galilee, the land of the marginalized and unclean. Here God has come down to speak with a virgin, to speak to our hearts.

The people involved in this unsettling event are presented to us: Gabriel, the messenger of God, a young woman called Mary and her spouse Joseph of the royal house of David. We too are made welcome into this company and are called to enter into the mystery.

vv. 28-29: These are the very first words of the dialogue between God and His creature: just a few words, a mere breath, but all-powerful words that disturb the heart, that question deeply the meaning of human life, plans and expectations. The angel announces joy, grace and the presence of God; Mary is disturbed and asks herself how can any of this be happening to her. Where can such a joy come from? How can such a great grace, that can change her very being, be hers?

vv. 30-33: These are the central verses of the excerpt: it is the explosion of the announcement, the manifestation of the gift of God, of His omnipotence in the life of human beings. Gabriel, the strong, speaks of Jesus: the eternal king, the Savior, the God made child, the humble all-powerful. He speaks of Mary, of her womb, of her life that she was chosen to be the gateway to welcoming God in this world and into the lives of all people. Even at this stage of the events, God begins to draw near, to knock. He stands, attentive, by the door of the heart of Mary,  and even now by our house, our hearts…

v. 34: Mary, faced with God’s proposal, allows herself to stand naked. She allows herself to be read to her very depths. She speaks of herself, her heart, her wishes. She knows that for God the impossible is possible; she does not doubt or harden her heart and mind;  she does not count the cost; she only wants to be fully available, open, and allows herself to be reached by that humanly impossible touch, but one already written, already realized in God. In a gesture of utter poverty, she places before God her virginity, her not knowing man. This is a complete and absolute surrender of self, full of faith and trust. It is her preliminary yes.

vv. 35-37: God, most humble, gives an answer; the all-powerful bends over the fragility of this woman, who represents each one of us. The dialogue continues; the covenant grows and is strengthened. God reveals the how. He speaks of the Holy Spirit, of the fruitful overshadowing, which does no violence, does not break, but preserves intact. He speaks of the human experience of Elizabeth. He reveals another impossible thing made possible; almost like a guarantee or security. And then comes the last word when one must make a choice: to say yes or no, believe or doubt, dissolve or harden oneself, to open the door or close it. “Nothing is impossible for God.”

v. 38: The last verse seems to contain an infinity. Mary says her “Here I am.” She opens herself wide to God and then the meeting, the union takes place forever. God enters into the human and the human becomes the place of God: these are the most sublime nuptials possible on earth. And yet, the Gospel ends on a sad and hard note: Mary stays alone; the angel leaves. What remains, however, is the yes pronounced to God and God’s presence; what remains is real life.

c) The Text:

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end." But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

3. A moment of prayerful silence

I have read and listened to the words of the Gospel. Now I stand in silence … God is present, at the door, and asks for shelter, yes, even from me and from my poor life …

4. A few questions

a) God’s announcement, His angel, enters my life, stands before me and speaks to me. Am I prepared to welcome Him, to give Him space, to listen to Him attentively?

b) Suddenly I receive an upsetting announcement. God speaks to me of joy, grace and presence: all the things that I have been seeking for so long, always. Who can make me really happy? Am I willing to trust in His happiness and His presence?

c) Not much is needed, just a movement of the heart, of my being; He is already aware of this. He is already overwhelming me with light and love. He says to me, “You have found favor in My sight.”  So, I please God? He finds me pleasant, loveable? Yes, that is how it really is. Why is it that I would not believe it before? Why have I not listened to Him?

d) The Lord Jesus wants to come into this world also through me; He wants to reach my brothers and sisters through the paths of my life, of my being. Would I lead Him astray? Would I refuse Him, keep Him at a distance? Would I wipe Him out of my story, my life?

5. A key to the reading

Some important and strong words that resonate in this Gospel passage.

● Rejoice!

This is a really strange greeting from God to His creature; it seems hard to explain and perhaps even senseless. And yet, for centuries it resonated in the pages of Sacred Scripture and thus also on the lips of the Hebrew people. Rejoice, be glad, exult! Many times the prophets had repeated this gentle breath of God and had shouted the silent beat of His heart for His people, His remnant. I read this in Joel: “Land, do not be afraid; be glad, rejoice, for Yahweh has done great things… (2:21-23); in Zephaniah: “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! Yahweh has repealed your sentence” (3:14); in Zechariah: “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion, for now I am coming to live among you – Yahweh declares!” (2, 14). I read and listen to it today; I say it also in my heart, in my life; a joy is announced to me, a new happiness, never before experienced. I rediscover the great things that the Lord has done for me; I experience the freedom that comes from His pardon: I am no longer sentenced, but graced forever; I live the experience of the presence of the Lord next to me, in me. Yes, He has come to dwell in our midst; He is once more setting up His tent in the land of my heart, of my existence. Lord, as the psalm says, You rejoice in Your creatures (Ps 104:31); and I too rejoice in You, give thanks to You; my joy is in You (Ps 104:34).

● The Lord is with you

These simple and enlightened words,  pronounced by the angel to Mary, release an all-powerful force; I realize that these words alone would suffice to save my life, to lift me up again from whatever fall or humiliation, to bring me back when I go astray. The fact that He, my Lord, is with me, keeps me alive, gives me courage and trust to go on being. If I am, it is because He is with me. Who knows but that the experience of Isaac told in Scripture might not be valid for me, when one day Abimelech came to Isaac with his men to tell him, “It became clear to us that Yahweh was with you” (Gen 26:28) and then asked to become friends and form an alliance. Would that the same thing might be said of me; would that I could show that the Lord is truly with me, in my life, in my desires, in my affections, in my choices and actions; would that others might meet Him through me. Perhaps for this, it is necessary for me to absorb more of the presence of God, for me to eat and drink of Him.

Let me go to the school of Scripture, to read and re-read some passages where the voice of the Lord tells me again and again of this truth and, while He speaks, to be transformed, ever more in-dwelt. “Remain for the present in that country; I shall be with you and bless you” (Gen 26:3). “To Joshua son of Nun, Yahweh gave this order: Be strong and stand firm, for you are to be the one to bring the Israelites into the country which I have promised them on oath, and I myself shall be with you” (Deut 31:23). “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, because I am with you to save you and rescue you” (Jer 15:20). “The angel of Yahweh appeared to him and said: Yahweh is with you, valiant warrior!” (Judg 6:12). “Yahweh appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I shall bless you and multiply your offspring for My servant Abraham’s sake’” (Gen 26:24). “Be sure, I am with you; I shall keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this country, for I shall never desert you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen 28:15). “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; do not be alarmed, for I am your God. I give you strength, truly I help you, truly I hold you firm with my saving right hand” (Is 41:10)

● Do not be afraid

The Bible is packed with this pronouncement full of kindness; like a river of mercy, these words are found throughout the sacred books, from Genesis to the Apocalypse. It is the Father who repeats to His children not to be afraid, because He is with them; He will not abandon them; He will not forget them; He will not leave them in the hands of their enemies. It is like a declaration of love from God to humanity, to each one of us; it is a pledge of fidelity that is relayed from hand to hand, from heart to heart, and finally comes down to us. Abraham heard these words and after him his son Isaac, then the patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and, with them, Jeremiah and all the prophets. No one is excluded from this embrace of salvation that the Father offers His children, even those farthest from Him, most rebellious against Him. Mary knows how to listen to these words and knows how to believe full of faith, in an attitude of absolute surrender.  She listens and believes, welcomes and lives for us too. She is the strong and courageous woman who opens herself to the coming of God, letting go of all fears, incredulity and a closed spirit. She repeats these same words of God in our lives and invites us to believe like her.

● You enjoy God’s favor

“Lord, if I enjoy favor in your sight…”. This is the prayer that time and time again comes out of the lips and hearts of those who seek refuge in the Lord. The Scriptures tell us about such people.  We come across them in our crossroads when we know not where to go, when we feel hounded by solitude or by temptation, when we experience abandonment, betrayals, heavy defeats of our own existence. When we no longer have anyone and we fail to find even ourselves, then we too, like them, find ourselves praying by repeating these same words: “Lord, if I enjoy favor in your sight…”. Who knows how often we have repeated these words, even alone and in silence. But today, here in this simple passage of the Gospel, we are forestalled, we are welcomed in anticipation; we need no longer plead, because we have already found everything that we always sought and much more. We have received freely. We are overwhelmed and now we can overflow!

● Nothing is impossible to God

I have nearly come to the end of this strong journey of grace and liberation; I now come across a word that shakes me in my depths. My faith is being sifted; the Lord is testing me, scrutinizing me, testing my heart. What the angel says here in front of Mary, had already been proclaimed many times in the Old Testament; now the time has come for the fulfilment;  now all the impossible things come to pass. God becomes man; the Lord becomes friend, brother; the distant is very close. And I, even I, small and poor as I am, am given to share in the immensity of this gift, this grace; I am told that in my life too the impossible becomes possible. I only have to believe, to give my consent. But this means that I have to allow myself to be shattered by the power of God; to surrender to Him, who will transform me, free me and renew me. Not even this is impossible. Yes, I can be reborn today, here and now, by the grace of the voice that has spoken to me, that has reached me even to the very depths of my heart. I seek and transcribe the passages of Scripture that repeat this truth. And as I write them, as I re-read them and say them slowly, devouring every word, and what they say takes place in me… Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17; Jeremiah 32:27; Zechariah 8:6; Matthew 19:26; Luke 18:27.

● Here I am

Now I cannot escape, nor can I avoid the conclusion. I knew from the beginning that here, in this word, so small and yet so full, so final, that God was waiting for me. The appointment of love, of the covenant between Him and me had been fixed precisely on this word, just a gentle voice, just a kiss. I am unsettled by the richness of the presence I feel in this “Here I am!”; I need not make much effort to recall the number of times that God first pronounced and repeated these words to me. He is the ‘Here I am’ made man, absolutely faithful, unforgettable. I only need to tune into Him, only find His footprints in the sand of my poverty, of my desert; I only need to welcome His infinite love that never ceases to seek me, to stay close to me, to walk with me wherever I go. The “Here I am” has already been pronounced and realized. It is already real. How many before me and how many today have experienced this! I am not alone. I still remain silent, listening before I reply…

“Here I am!” (Is 65:1) God repeats; Mary replies, “Here I am, I am the servant of the Lord”; and Christ says, “I come to do Your will” (Ps 39:8)…

6. A time of prayer: Psalm 138

 Father, into Your hands I commend my life.

Yahweh, You examine me and know me,
You know when I sit, when I rise,
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You watch when I walk or lie down,
You know every detail of my conduct.
A word is not yet on my tongue before You,
Yahweh, know all about it.
You fence me in, behind and in front,
You have laid Your hand upon me.
Such amazing knowledge is beyond me,
a height to which I cannot attain.
Where shall I go to escape Your spirit?
Where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I scale the heavens You are there,
if I lie flat in Sheol, there You are.

You created my inmost self,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
For so many marvels I thank You;
a wonder am I, and all Your works are wonders.
You knew me through and through,
How hard for me to grasp Your thoughts,
how many, God, there are!
If I count them, they are more than the grains of sand;
if I come to an end, I am still with You.
God, examine me and know my heart,
test me and know my concerns.
Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin,
and guide me on the road to eternity.

7. Closing prayer

Father, You came down to me; You have come to me; You have touched my heart; You have spoken to me and promised joy, presence and salvation. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, who overshadows me, I, together with Mary, have been able to say to You yes, the “Here I am” of my life for you. Now there remains only the force of Your promise, of Your truth: “You are to conceive and bear Jesus.” Lord, here is the womb of my life, of my being, of all that I am and have, open before You. I place all things in You, in Your heart. Enter, come, come down again, I beg You, and make me fruitful, make me one who gives birth to Christ in this world. May the overflowing love I receive from You find its fullness and truth in touching the brothers and sisters that You place beside me. May our meeting, Father, be open, a gift to all. May Jesus be the Savior. Amen.

Lectio Divina

 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

 

The Transfiguration of Jesus


A new way of fulfilling the prophecies


Luke 9:28-36

 

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us read the scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence in us so that we may listen to Your voice in creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all, in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.

 

2. Reading

a) A key to the reading:

 

A few days earlier, Jesus had said that He, the Son of Man, had to be tried and crucified by the authorities (Lk 9:22; Mk 8:31). According to the information in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, the disciples, especially Peter, did not understand what Jesus had said and were scandalized by the news (Mt 16:22; Mk 8:32). Jesus reacted strongly and turned to Peter calling him Satan (Mt 16:23; Mk 8:33). This was because Jesus’ words did not correspond with the ideal of the glorious Messiah whom they imagined. Luke does not mention Peter’s reaction and Jesus’ strong reply, but he does describe, as do the other Evangelists, the episode of the Transfiguration. Luke sees the Transfiguration as an aid to the disciples so that they may be able to get over the scandal and change their idea of the Messiah (Lk 9:28-36). Taking the three disciples with Him, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, and while He is praying, is transfigured. As we read the text, it is good to note what follows: “Who appears with Jesus on the mountain to converse with Him? What is the theme of their conversation? What is the disciples’ attitude?”

b) A division of the text as an aid to the reading:

i) Luke 9:28: The moment of crisis
ii) Luke 9:29: The change that takes place during the prayer
iii) Luke 9:30-31: The appearance of the two men and their conversation with Jesus
iv) Luke 9:32-34: The disciples’ reaction
v) Luke 9:35-36: The Father’s voice

 

c) The text:

 

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

 

3. A moment of prayerful silence

so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

 

4. Some questions

to help us in our personal reflection.

a) What did you like most in this episode of the Transfiguration? Why?
b) Who are those who go to the mountain with Jesus? Why do they go?
c) Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain next to Jesus. What is the significance of these two people from the Old Testament for Jesus, for the disciples, for the community in the 80s and for us today?
d) Which prophecy from the Old Testament is fulfilled in the words of the Father concerning Jesus?
e) What is the disciples’ attitude during this episode?
f) Has there been a transfiguration in your life? How have such experiences of transfiguration helped you to fulfill your mission better?
g) Compare Luke’s description of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Lk 9:28-36) with his description of the agony of Jesus in the Garden (Lk 22:39-46). Try to see whether there are any similarities. What is the significance of these similarities?

 

5. A key to the reading

for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.

a) The context of Jesus’ discourse:

In the two previous chapters of Luke’s Gospel, the innovation brought by Jesus highlights the tensions between the New and the Old Testaments. In the end, Jesus realized that no one had understood His meaning, much less His person. People thought that He was like John the Baptist, Elijah or some other prophet (Lk 9:18-19). The disciples accepted Him as the Messiah, but a glorious Messiah, according to the expectations issued by the government and the official religion of the temple (Lk 9:20-21). Jesus tried to explain to His disciples that the journey foreseen by the prophets was one of suffering because of its commitment to the excluded, and that a disciple could only be a disciple if he/she took up his/her cross (Lk 9:22-26). But Jesus did not meet with much success. It is in such a context of crisis that the Transfiguration takes place.
In the 30s, the experience of the Transfiguration had a very important significance in the life of Jesus and the disciples. It helped them overcome the crisis of faith and to change their ideals concerning the Messiah. In the 80s, when Luke was writing for the Christian communities in Greece, the meaning of the Transfiguration had already been deepened and broadened. In the light of Jesus’ resurrection and of the spread of the Good News among the pagans in almost every country, from Palestine to Italy, the experience of the Transfiguration began to be seen as a confirmation of the faith of the Christian communities in Jesus, Son of God. The two meanings are present in the description and interpretation of the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel.

 

b) A commentary on the text:

Luke 9:28: The moment of crisis.
On several occasions Jesus entered into conflict with the people and the religious and civil authorities of his time (Lk 4:28-29;5:21-20;6:2-11;7:30.39;8:37;9:9). He knew they would not allow Him to do the things He did. Sooner or later they would catch Him. Besides, in that society, the proclamation of the Kingdom, as Jesus did, was not to be tolerated. He either had to withdraw or face death! There were no other alternatives. Jesus did not withdraw. Hence the cross appears on the horizon, not just as a possibility but as a certainty (Lk 9:22). Together with the cross there also appears the temptation to go on with the idea of the Glorious Messiah and not of the Crucified, suffering servant, announced by the prophet Isaiah (Mk 8:32-33). At this difficult moment Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, taking with Him Peter, James and John. Through His prayer, Jesus seeks strength not to lose sense of direction in His mission (cf. Mk 1:35).

Luke 9:29: The change that takes place during the prayer.
As soon as Jesus starts praying, His appearance changes and He appears glorious. His face changes and His clothes become white and shining. It is the glory that the disciples imagined for the Messiah. This transformation told them clearly that Jesus was indeed the Messiah expected by all. But what follows the episode of the Transfiguration will point out that the way to glory is quite different from what they imagined. The Transfiguration will be a call to conversion.

 

Luke 9:30-31: Two men appear speaking with Jesus.
Together with Jesus and in the same glorious state there appear Moses and Elijah, the two major exponents of the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets. They speak with Jesus about “the Exodus brought to fulfilment in Jerusalem”. Thus, in front of the disciples, the Law and the Prophets confirm that Jesus is truly the glorious Messiah, promised in the Old Testament and awaited by the whole people. They further confirm that the way to glory is through the painful way of the exodus. Jesus’ exodus is His passion, death and resurrection. Through His “exodus” Jesus breaks the dominion of the false idea concerning the Messiah spread by the government and by the official religion and that held all ensnared in the vision of a glorious, nationalistic messiah. The experience of the Transfiguration confirmed that Jesus as Messiah Servant constituted an aid to free them from their wrong ideas concerning the Messiah and to discover the real meaning of the Kingdom of God.

Luke 9:32-34: The disciples’ reaction.
The disciples were in deep sleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus in His glory and the two men with Him. But Peter’s reaction shows that they were not aware of the real meaning of the glory in which Jesus appeared to them. As often happens with us, they were only aware of what concerned them. The rest escapes their attention. “Master, it is good for us to be here!” And they do not want to get off the mountain any more! When it is question of the cross, whether on the Mount of the Transfiguration or on the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:45), they sleep! They prefer the glory to the cross! They do not like to speak or hear of the cross. They want to make sure of the moment of glory on the mountain, to extend it, and they offer to build three tents. Peter did not know what he was saying.


While Peter was speaking, a cloud descended from on high and covered them with its shadow. Luke says that the disciples became afraid when the cloud enfolded them. The cloud is the symbol of the presence of God. The cloud accompanied the multitude on their journey through the desert (Ex 40:34-38; Num 10:11-12). When Jesus ascended into heaven, He was covered by a cloud and they no longer saw Him (Acts 1:9). This was a sign that Jesus had entered forever into God’s world.

 

Luke 9:35-36: The Father’s voice.
A voice is heard from the cloud that says: “This is My Son, the Chosen, listen to Him”. With this same sentence the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed the Messiah-Servant (Isa 42:1). First Moses and Elijah, now God Himself presents Jesus as the Messiah-Servant who will come to glory through the cross. The voice ends with a final admonition: “Listen to Him!” As the heavenly voice speaks, Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus is left. This signifies that from now on only He will interpret the scriptures and the will of God. He is the Word of God for the disciples: “Listen to Him!”


The proclamation “This is My Son, the Chosen; listen to Him” was very important for the community of the late 80s. Through this assertion God the Father confirmed the faith of Christians in Jesus as Son of God. In Jesus’ time, that is, in the 30s, the expression Son of Man pointed to a very high dignity and mission. Jesus Himself gave a relative meaning to the term by saying that all were children of God (cf. John 10:33-35). But for some the title Son of God became a resume of all titles, over one hundred that the first Christians gave Jesus in the second half of the first century. In succeeding centuries, it was the title of Son of God that the Church concentrated all its faith in the person of Jesus.

 

c) A deepening:

i) The Transfiguration is told in three of the Gospels: Matthew (Mt 17:1-9), Mark (Mk 9:2-8) and Luke (Lk 9:28-36). This is a sign that this episode contained a very important message. As we said, it was a matter of great help to Jesus, to His disciples and to the first communities. It confirmed Jesus in His mission as Messiah-Servant. It helped the disciples to overcome the crisis that the cross and suffering caused them. It led the communities to deepen their faith in Jesus, Son of God, the One who revealed the Father and who became the new key to the interpretation of the Law and the Prophets. The Transfiguration continues to be of help in overcoming the crisis that the cross and suffering provoke today. The three sleeping disciples are a reflection of all of us. The voice of the Father is directed to us as it was to them: “This is My Son, the Chosen; listen to Him!”

 

ii) In Luke’s Gospel there is a great similarity between the scene of the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36) and the scene of the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Olives (Lk 22:39-46). We may note the following: in both scenes Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and takes with Him three disciples, Peter, James and John. On both occasions, Jesus’ appearance is transformed and He is transfigured before them; glorious at the Transfiguration, perspiring blood in the Garden of Olives. Both times heavenly figures appear to comfort Him, Moses and Elijah and an angel from heaven. Both in the Transfiguration and in the Agony, the disciples sleep, they seem to be outside the event and they seem not to understand anything. At the end of both episodes, Jesus is reunited with His disciples. Doubtless, Luke intended to emphasize the resemblance between these two episodes. What would that be? Perhaps it is to show that understanding takes time and effort, even for the Apostles, so we should persevere and not be asleep, especially at those crucial moments in our lives when He is revealing Himself to us personally. It is in meditating and praying that we shall come to understand the meaning that goes beyond words, and to perceive the intention of the author. The Holy Spirit will guide us.

iii) Luke describes the Transfiguration. There are times in our life when suffering is such that we might think: “God has abandoned me! He is no longer with me!” And then suddenly we realize that He has never deserted us, but that we had our eyes bandaged and were not aware of the presence of God. Then everything is changed and transfigured. It is the transfiguration! This happens every day in our lives.

 

6. Psalm 42 (41)

“My soul thirsts for the living God!”

As a dear longs for flowing streams,
so longs my soul for Thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me continually, "Where is your God?"
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember Thee from the land of Jordan
and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your torrents;
all Thy waves and breakers have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands His steadfast love;
and at night His song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
"Why hast Thou forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
"Where is your God?"

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my help and my God.

7. Final Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

Latest comments

26.03 | 17:36

Have a Blessed Holy Week!
Holy Week is the most important week in the Church year! It is a time when we celebrate in a special way the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We remember his actions, reflect on his messages, and recommit to living as his d

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01.09 | 02:56

I enjoy these prayers, and resort to them whenever I want to pray but don't know how!

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15.08 | 13:01

Thank you for your valuable comments much appreciated.

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14.08 | 13:57

My daily devotion and yearly novena.

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