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Friday, March 25, 2016

Into Thy Hands . . .

The Seventh and Last Word of Jesus on the Cross
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
(Luke 23:46)

It is 9AM on Friday and Roman soldiers hammer spikes into His limbs. Then they lifted His cross and He hung between heaven and earth until 3PM. Six hours. Crucified prisoners often lasted much longer than the six hours Jesus hung between heaven and earth. That’s why when Joseph asked Pilate if he could take Jesus’ body and bury it, Pilate was surprised to learn Jesus was already dead.

It is critical that we remember Jesus was in complete control of the timing of His capture, of His scourging, and of the time of His death. “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:18)

The Lord of heaven and earth could have at any time called for those 12 legions of angels to rescue Him (Matthew 26:53).  But He did not call for them. He determined to complete the course set out for Him from the foundation of the earth. And just a moment earlier, what did He shout?  It is FINISHED!

Before we move on with His last words, let’s reflect on what else we know was happening that hill. Here is what the prophet David tells us in Psalm 22: All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; “He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

In the third psalm, the David prophesied: O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, there is no help for him in God.  (Psalm 3:1-2)

The gospels give us additional information. They tell us of Jesus’ agony from the whip that tore slices of flesh from his body. We know of His desperate loneliness as He sensed the Father had forsaken Him. We know of His overwhelming thirst. And we know of the crowd’s jeers:

Jesus,” they said, “There is no help for you in God! . . . “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself  . . . “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” . . . (Luke 23:37, 39) . . . . “Ha! You who were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself . . . .and come down from the cross.”  (Matthew 27:40)

It is against this backdrop that Jesus lifted His face toward heaven and said what holds for us at least two critically important lessons when He uttered: “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

The first lesson is this:

Have people ever mocked your faith – especially in times of your greatest need? Have they ever said – not in these words, but in meaning – There is no help for you in God?  It is here that we can look to Jesus, who suffered far more than you or I will ever suffer. Jesus the man could have given in to the mockery. But there was something about His relationship with His father that enabled Him – and will enable us – to say just as He said -- even when faced with the pits of hell: “Father, I trust you. To the very gates of hell, I trust you. And into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

How did He establish that relationship?  It is not at all enough to simply say, “Well, that’s Jesus. Of course He had a relationship with the Father.”

No, that is not sufficient, for if that was all there is to it, then you and I can never hope to imitate Him. We could never hope to follow in His steps, as St Peter tells us:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,  . . . and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously . . . .”
(1 Peter 2:21)

No, Jesus the Man had developed a relationship with the Father in exactly the same way you and I and all of the prophets and saints of Judeo-Christian faith develop a relationship with the Father: By spending time with Him. There is simply no substitute for spending time with God if we hope to ever have a deepening relationship with Him.

Spending time.  

Not once a week in a church pew, but daily – in your prayer closet. Just you and Jesus. It requires reading and meditating on His scriptures. And if you are a Catholic reading this, it requires frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation. There is simply no substitute.  Our problem is – we most often choose not to sacrifice the time required.

As Mother Theresa once said: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

And the second lesson is this:

Remember into whose hands we are committing our lives, our health, our families, our destinies. It is into the hands that created all things we see and can’t see – “all things visible and invisible”.  There is no power in heaven, on earth, or under the earth that can open what He has shut, or shut what He has opened.

This passage from Isaiah barely touches the surface of God’s power:  Isaiah 40:15-17:  Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.. . . All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.

No wonder we can commit ourselves into His hands. There are no hands stronger, or more comforting, than our heavenly Father’s hands.

Believing in God, and loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, has enormous consequences for our life. I like what St. Theresa of Jesus wrote: Let nothing trouble you.  Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes; God never changes. Patience obtains all; Whoever has God wants for nothing. God alone is enough.

Yes, believing in God and loving Him has ENORMOUS consequences for our whole life. Here is what Jesuit Fr. Perdro Arrupe once wrote:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love [with God], stay in love, and it will decide everything.

What darkness envelopes you today? What sadness, or emptiness, or loneliness, or pain overshadows your soul?  Jesus had fallen in love with His Father. That is why He could trust Him, despite His pain, His loneliness, the mocking and the jeering of others who told Him, “There is no help for you in God.”

What can separate us from God’s love?  St. Paul asked that question, and then he definitively answered it. You can find his answer in the eighth chapter of Romans, beginning with verse 35: “Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And as our relationship with God deepens, Paul’s words make greater sense with each passing trial and each passing year.

Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.

Oh, thanks be to God for Jesus’ example – deep and abiding love for God, a love birthed in a lifetime of prayer and meditation of the Scriptures and seeking His face above all other faces – Jesus is our example of what we too can say when faced with depression, heartache, terror, loss . . . we can learn to say it from the depths of our being: Father, “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”


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