“In his anguish he prayed more earnestly...”Luke 22:44
This week, let’s take time to meditate on chapters 22 and 23 of Luke’s gospel. The evangelist chose the events of the Passion to bear witness not so much to the cruelty of men as to the goodness of Jesus towards these same people. They all are the object of his mercy: the women, the executioners, the thieves crucified with him, and even the leaders of the people.
At the heart of his agony, Jesus is first and foremost prayerful. He possesses the utmost trust in his Father and this is demonstrated by his intense prayer: he “prayed more earnestly” (Lk 22:44). It was the Father’s will for his Son to take on all that was necessary to bring salvation to the very heart of the worst darkness. So Jesus prays to his Father for the strength to endure everything that must occur so that this plan may be accomplished in him. After spending the last few years proclaiming the good news extensively, this merciful love is abruptly brought, in mere hours, to Jerusalem. We are invited to take up these Passion narratives more frequently, asking Jesus to let us be reached more profoundly by his mercy, which alone truly transforms us.
Despite witnessing such intensity of prayer and trust, the disciples still do not understand: they take up arms to defend themselves (Lk 22:49-51)—exactly the opposite of Jesus! In order to be freed from this reflex of self-defense, we are reminded to turn more often to Jesus in his Passion. Jesus wants to sow his peace in us and he does so throughout his Passion. He goes to his Passion in order to encounter sinners, including us.
Encounters with Jesus during his Passion
After the betrayal, Peter is the first subject of Jesus’ compassion (Lk 22:61–62). It is Jesus who first turns to Peter, just as Jesus turns to each of us. His gaze is not accusatory—quite the contrary: Jesus’ merciful gaze is always on us. The reception of this gaze will prompt us to return to him and be converted. Let’s let Jesus look at us, especially when we are aware of our faults. Jesus uses this to instill in us a desire to live in deeper fellowship with him.
Another Simon is present, Simon of Cyrene (Lk 23:26). He represents the very thing Jesus keeps inviting us to do: to carry our cross after him, to follow him no matter what happens so that we can receive from him the strength to persevere in the time of trial. A multitude also follows Jesus (Lk 23:27). The little ones, the simple folk, and ordinary people follow Jesus while the apostles have fled. It is in simplicity, poverty, and being ordinary that we can best follow Jesus in our daily lives.
Jesus also meets the women (Lk 23:27), who are always valued by Luke in his gospel. The women here are very courageous. They are close to Jesus in his suffering—whatever the risks involved. And here the passion narrative ceases to focus on Jesus: Jesus turns to the women and speaks about them (Lk 23:28–32). He endures suffering in order to be one with those who suffer and who will suffer in the future. The profound meaning of his Passion is revealed to us here. Jesus is in solidarity with all that we experience in order to impart deep within us his filial way of living, even in trials and suffering. The green tree, the tree of life that he is, comes to impart his life to the dry, dead trees that we are due to our sins. Meditating on the Passion truly opens our hearts to mercy.
Jesus goes out to meet all of us, and all that we have become. Therefore, it’s true, too, with respect to the leaders of the people. They attack Jesus by mocking or questioning what is most profound in him: his mission as savior (Lk 23:25), his identity as son, as God’s Chosen One, and finally as Messiah (Lk 23:35). Jesus didn’t come to save himself but to save us all by assuming the most horrible death: in this way, he can join us in the worst situations of our lives, however far away we may be. Jesus doesn’t respond to the insults of his adversaries who are like Satan’s representatives at the foot of the Cross. Jesus turns to his Father alone, just as he did during the temptations in the desert; he judges no one. By his silence—in which there is no condemnation—Christ expresses only goodness for those who would condemn him to death.
For the first time in Luke’s gospel, Jesus connects with the soldiers. Here too, Jesus doesn’t respond to their mockery but he prays for them, instead. Jesus’ first word on the Cross is reserved in the form of pardon for unbelievers! This is God’s first word to us: forgiveness! “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). We should know how to listen in our lives to what God always offers us: Forgiveness. Mercy. If we find it difficult to accept this unconditional mercy, why not choose to pray the Divine Mercy Novena from Good Friday to Divine Mercy Sunday (the 2nd Sunday of Easter)? We also can pray this novena to ask for an even deeper experience of mercy and to become greater witnesses to it.
Finally, Jesus ultimately reaches the two criminals crucified with him. They represent us because we are sinners. By contrast, we have the choice of being on the right or on the left: one rants and mocks Jesus; the other recognizes the extent of his own faults and chooses to put his trust in Jesus who is in the same position: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” (Lk 23:42) In Luke’s gospel, the thief is the only one who calls Jesus by name. Also, he’s the only one who recognizes Jesus’ kingship. Why? Because he concretely experiences the closeness of Jesus even in the worst experience of his life. Jesus is there in communion with him and he gives this confirmation: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). Today, with me! This is what Jesus always offers everyone, in every situation! Our responsibility is to listen to this good news, choosing to place it at the center of our hearts and daily lives.
Jesus never stopped praying! His life concludes with two prayers—his own: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46) and ours: “But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Lk 23:49).
I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at Him.Saint Teresa of Avila
The Way of Perfection, 26:3
“I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at Him,” St. Teresa of Avila said to her Carmelite sisters. This is our prayer: to remain there and look at him and, as Luke says, we will become Jesus’ friends, more and more each day.
Fr. Denis-Marie Ghesquières, OCD
Prior, Convent of St. Joseph, Paris, France
Frère Denis-Marie Ghesquières is the prior of the historic community of the Discalced Carmelite friars of Paris, which in pre-revolutionary Paris was known in French as Saint Joseph des Carmes. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection was a member of this community, serving as a lay brother.
Translation from the French text is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.
Featured image: What Our Lord Saw from the Cross (Ce que voyait Notre-Seigneur sur la Croix), was executed in opaque watercolor over graphite on gray-green wove paper between 1886–1894 by James Tissot (French, 1836–1902). The gallery label from the Brooklyn Museum provides the following details:
In the most memorable, and even notorious, of Tissot’s images, Christ looks out at the crowd of spectators arrayed before him: Mary Magdalene, in the immediate foreground, with her long red tresses swirling down her back, kneels at his feet, which are clearly visible at the bottom center of the composition. Beyond her, the Virgin Mary clutches her breast, while John the Evangelist looks up with hands clasped.
The artist here adopts the point of view of Christ himself. Few painters have conceived a composition this daring. In his audacity, however, Tissot remains true to his artistic vision: ultimately, the image is an exercise in empathy. Its point is to give viewers, accustomed to looking at the event from the outside, a rare opportunity to imagine themselves in Christ’s place and consider his final thoughts and feelings as he gazed on the enemies and friends who were witnessing, or participating in, his death.