October 28, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 23:44-49.
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. 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.
Particularly in Luke, Jesus frequently quotes or references the scriptures. So it is with his last words from Psalm 31: “Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, LORD, faithful God.” The Psalm ends, “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” Even in his dying he was encouraging the people to be strong and to take heart in God’s great love for them.
It is apparent that Jesus knew the scriptures by heart. He heard the voice of his Father in them and received guidance and encouragement from them. Scripture and prayer is where he drew his strength, his determination to fulfill his mission. Those were the sources for his unfailing dedication to submit his will to God’s. In that way he modeled for me how I can likewise succeed in submitting my will to God’s — or at least desire to succeed most of the time.
“Commend” means to give in trust, to deliver into one’s care. I can’t ever remember using it in that sense or hearing anyone else use it. (More often it is used in the sense of presenting as worthy of favorable acceptance.) Perhaps that’s because I don’t trust completely that I will be accepted and cared for unconditionally. Some translations like the New Jerusalem Bible, the Revised Standard Version, and the New International Version use the word “commit.” The Sacra Pagina uses “entrust.” I like entrust; to me it signifies a confident, intimate regard for the one trusted and a sense of peaceful surrender or submission. I value Luke’s account of Jesus’ death because it conveys as a final summation all that Jesus’ life was about — surrendering himself to his Father’s care and will. As Richard Rohr writes in The Good News According to Luke, “There, in one line, is the meaning of Jesus’ spirituality: he trusted in the Father and was not put to shame. He trusted in the Father’s faithful love; he believed against all odds that the Father was Father….Against all evidence to the contrary, he believed God was faithful.”
To the centurion Jesus was not just innocent as this translation states. Others use the word “righteous,” which means guiltless but also sinless and conforming to the standard of the divine law according to the Oxford English Dictionary. That was the significance that the centurion realized. Jesus wasn’t just innocent of the charges brought by the Sanhedrin and the Romans; he was sinless because he faithfully lived his life in complete accordance with God’s will.
“Spirit.” Jesus didn’t entrust himself, his life, his body to God; he entrusted his spirit. The Dictionary defines it as the animating principle that gives life to the material body. Jesus was returning in spirit to God, his Father, the creative and animating life force of the universe. This helps me as I have been thinking a lot about the bodily resurrection lately. A New Catechism states, “This body of the resurrection is not molecules which are buried and scattered in the earth…Man begins to awake as a new man. And at this point we must be silent. The ‘how’ is unknown….[T]his involves something the human mind cannot picture clearly….All who have died, belonging to the fellowship of the human race and to the fellowship of the Church, all the good from the apostles, martyrs and saints to the least of believers, now live in God.” Even I, one of the least of believers, will live in God, will become part of the animating force of the universe along with Jesus.
I hope I have a clear mind at the time of my death to be able to pray, “Father, into your welcoming love I entrust my spirit,” trusting that He indeed will receive me as He did His only begotten Son.