by Br Julian McDonald cfc

The Criminal said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 22,14 – 23, 56

The themes of today’s readings are love and human frailty and fickleness. The following poem is an introduction into the first of those themes.

Love’s as Warm as Tears C.S. Lewis

Love’s as warm as tears, Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain, Tension at the throat, Deluge, weeks of rain, Haystacks afloat, Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love’s as fierce as fire, Love is fire: All sorts–Infernal heat Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet, Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame Whence all loves came.

Love’s as fresh as spring, Love is spring: Bird-song in the air, Cool smells in a wood, Whispering “Dare! Dare!” To sap, to blood, Telling “Ease, safety, rest, Are good; not best.”

Love’s as hard as nails, Love is nails: Blunt, thick, hammered through The medial nerves of One Who, having made us, knew The thing He had done, Seeing (what all that is) Our cross, and His.

The themes that run consistently and persistently through Luke’s Gospel are those of forgiveness, mercy and love. Luke, and the other Gospel writers, present Jesus as the complete and utter human personification of God’s love. In today’s gospel, the words we hear from Jesus on his way to Calvary and from the Cross are an expression of totally selfless love:

To the disciples, when one of them took a sword and cut of the ear of the high priest’s servant, he said: “Leave off! That will do!” He refused to fight violence with violence. To the women on the roadside watching him struggle to his place of execution, he said: “Don’t weep for me, weep for yourselves and for your children.” For those who crucified him, he prayed: “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” And to the criminal who supported him: “I promise you today you will be with me in paradise.” And all those directives, advice and prayers are for our benefit, too.

The readings of today are held up to us like a mirror which reflects to us the fickleness of our feelings, attitudes and actions. We all have the potential to swing from one extreme to the other, from palm-waving enthusiasm and adulation to the peer-pressure fuelled vindictiveness of: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” We may well recoil from the prospect of the latter, but today’s readings assure us that, even if we slip to that extent, the forgiveness and understanding of a merciful God await us.

Reflection on our own life experience teaches us that we can delude ourselves into acting as though we are messiahs, acting as though we can save others from visiting disaster and destruction on themselves and others. Alternatively, we can put on others such heavy expectations that we elevate them to the status of messiah. Even if we don’t go that far, there are times when we catch ourselves wanting others to live up to our expectations. When they don’t measure up, we can dismiss them and go in search of others in whom we see greater potential for delivering what we want. There are also moments in our lives when we can be drawn into crucifixion. They occur when we launch into demolishing the reputations of those we perceive as threats to us, of those we regard as competitors, of those on whom we look with jealousy and envy. Whenever we engage in stifling the life in others or blocking the life-giving actions of others, we are pursuing the way of crucifixion. The liturgy and readings of today and the next few weeks are a powerful reminder to us that we have a God who knows the rhythm of what we call the paschal mystery. Our God is one whose love and mercy for us is so powerfully expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As we try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus as his disciples, we, too, experience the pattern of death and new life as circumstances deprive us of our hopes and aspirations and lead us through the pain of loss to claim new life and new hope.

The Jesus whom Luke presents in today’s gospel reading is entirely consistent with the Jesus who presents story after story illustrating the compassion, forgiveness, mercy and love of God. One after the other, the three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost, prodigal son reinforce the message that God does not give up on us, however lost and alienated we may be. It is this same Jesus who invites us to imitate the compassion and selflessness of the Prodigal’s father and of the Samaritan who rescued the beaten traveller, with no thought of ritual contamination to himself. The point of all this, of course, is that we are invited to express those attitudes to everyone who comes into our life. We have no control over how they relate to us, what they feel about us or what they think of us, but it is our choice as to how we relate and respond to them.

Today’s gospel reading is an invitation to us to reflect on the extent to which our story resonates with the story of Jesus. We will always experience people and situations that threaten our integrity or the values and principles on which we want to base our lives. The extent to which our lives reflect the love, compassion and forgiveness that Jesus expressed as he was humiliated, degraded, tortured and executed is the extent to which our story coincides with his. Neither God nor Jesus expects us to do any of those things perfectly. However, Luke’s account of the last day in the life of Jesus asks us if we are courageous enough to reflect even a little of the selfless love that characterized Jesus’ life to the bitter end.

In one part of his letter to the Romans, Paul concludes one of his exhortations with: “Don’t let yourselves be mastered by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12, 21). Luke’s account of the passion of Jesus is the story of the triumph of mercy and goodness over jealousy, injustice and evil. Today we are asked if we can imitate Jesus in at least some small way.