Thursday 15th of April
HOLY THURSDAY – YEAR C
Today we enter the culmination of the story of salvation, with the liturgy of the Easter Triduum. With the Easter Triduum we will also conclude this itinerary of deepening the Gospel, read with the gaze suggested by the Laudato Si’ of St. Francis and the Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis, in connection with creation. We invite you to slow down, take the time to study and pray on these verses of the Word. For this reason, the reading of Luke’s passages of these solemn days will be focused on the location of the facts, immersed in creation. A vegetable garden, a mountain and a garden. This evening, we find ourselves in the garden of Gethsemane, in the company of the olive trees in the hour of prayer, of abandonment, of the agony of Jesus.
Gethsemane, in Hebrew “gat šemanîm” means “oil mill”, or “press”, the place where olives are pressed. The press in the Jewish tradition recalls God’s vengeance, for example when the prophet Isaiah says: “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my rage. ”(Is 63: 3). Today we know better, in this mill, what God’s vengeance is through the experience of Jesus. A narration, that of Luke, which describes to us a deeply human man, who suffers, who sweats blood, who cries, a a painful Christ (“Christus patiens”) who thanks to the Franciscan culture helped us, centuries later, to elude the “glorious” image of the cross, almost as if God had not even suffered the passion, knowing that he would rise again. Instead Luke, and then the art and culture that developed from the thirteenth century, are keen to tell us about the agony, the suffering, the weeping of God in the face of misery.
Here return many themes that we have already seen, along the journey of Lent a few weeks ago, in the scene of the Transfiguration: the Father-Son dialogue, the search for the face, the company of the three apostles, who do not understand what they have before them. Here, almost in contrast with the light of Mount Tabor, darkness descends on this mountain, it is night, and Luke’s narration tells of all the hours of the night, of the capture, of the judgment, of the ordeal, of solitude, of the eclipse in which at noon it gets dark throughout the earth. A night that lasts all day, with disappointment, with silence. It is the night of the old creation, which precedes the dawn of a new day. It will happen as in the first creation, when there was darkness, and with a word he created light. But today, after the feast of the Upper Room (Cenacle), a little drunk and a little shocked, at the beginning of this very long night, we enter the enclosure of the mill.
Compared to the other evangelists, Luke’s account focuses on the theme of mercy. His narration, in this very delicate passage in which all the human and divine tension of Jesus shines through, is suspended in showing us the merciful face of the Father. Jesus is concerned about his disciples, more than for himself, when he tells them: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation“. His thought goes to us, that drunk we risk not understanding what we are living; what is in front of us.
“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives”. Jesus comes out of the cenacle, comes out of a house made of walls, and from this moment on he will pass through palaces and places of torture, into open courtyards, along the streets, up to a mountain. From that moment he will live completely outside, immersed in creation and in the cry generated by human justice. Luke does not even mention Gethsemane, but speaks to us of the press describing the face of Jesus. A place of habits, every evening this week Jesus retired in prayer precisely “in this place“, in this temple. The disciples are also with him. “Arrived at the site“, said by Luke, shows us the sacred value of this garden, because in tradition the place was the temple of God, all the rest was a non-place. Place is the space of dialogue with God, where we pray. And in fact Jesus asks his friends: “Pray”, he asks him almost as a supplication. He asks it of us tonight, within the cry that we live every day. We must learn to pray, to ask God not for what we want, but for what is good. Pray for what?
«Pray to not fall into temptation.» Temptations are what we saw at the beginning of Lent, in the desert, all temptations: bread, power, God with a magic wand, in a nutshell the temptation to be “me at the center”, to possess all things, relationships with others, the planet. Prayer is fundamental in our process of ecological conversion, it is not just a nice habit or something that is done because the parish or diocese tells us, but it is the basis for not falling into temptation. Jesus enters the garden, but asks not to fall into temptation.
“Then He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed“, Jesus first of all distances himself from the disciples, seeks intimate dialogue, separates himself because he is “holy”. But it is nice to dwell on this expression for a moment, why a stone’s throw? The reference is to the flight of King David, chased by his son Absalom (in Hebrew אַבְשָׁלוֹם, which means “the father is peace”), who taking refuge on the Mount of Olives is attacked by a throw of stones. Jesus, the new David, is now “almost” a stone’s throw away, he is within the reach of his disciples. Everyone can hurt him, we can all hurt him, with denial, with loneliness, with betrayal: Jesus is the lamb who lets himself be wounded by his disciples. The profound evil is abandonment, God’s suffering is in his solitude with respect to man. And in the press of Gethsemane, this evening, this abandonment is brought to the highest level, when Jesus himself will feel the abandonment from the Father. Fully human, Jesus chooses to experience this immense drama that man experiences when he abandons God. But in his case everything is more acute, being a laceration of the same trinity, the abandonment of the Father with the Son. Such is God’s love for man, that he experiences his own laceration!
Unlike the other synoptic gospels, in Luke it is said: “and, kneeling, He prayed,” skipping the reference to terror and anguish that is dramatically highlighted in the other stories. Jesus kneels, while the prayer was usually recited standing up, and it is a continuous prayer, defined with the verb in the imperfect. A cosmic prayer, in contact with mother Earth, in which Jesus calls God “Abbà”, or “Dad”, a word that reminds us of the creative word, a new creation, starting from the darkness and evil of the world. First of all, Jesus distances himself from evil, asks the Father: “if you want, take this cup away from me!”, That is, the cup of suffering that is wanted by men. God does not want evil, it is men who build crosses, inflict suffering on their brothers and on creation. God suffers this evil, and if he could choose he would prefer this cup to be far from himself. But he also flees the temptation of a God with a magic wand, temptation of power and immunity, praying: “Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.” The root of all evil in the world lies in the exclusion of God, when we put our ego at the center. “My” will that excludes the will of God, the will of good. Jesus has his gaze centered, as Francis will understand with the vow of “nothing of his own.” It is not enough to be poor, but in life one must aspire to retain nothing of one’s own possession, because possession is the opposite of love. In Gethsemane, this becomes incredibly clear.
Having faith in God even beyond evil, even beyond injustice. This dear handmaid with whom we learned to walk on this path towards Easter, handmaid named Justice: after all, if we think about it, it is not right for Jesus to be condemned and killed as innocent, but the grace of God is even greater than the obvious injustice. Human will would have made Jesus flee, God’s will makes him resist in the garden. What a great teaching Jesus gives us in this evening of solitude, silence and pain: “let not our will be done,” our often selfish prayers, which ask for the good for ourselves, “our” health, “our “work, or in cases of greater altruism, the health and work of “our loved ones,” or the victory of “our” wars, the well-being of “our” cities. But rather “Thy will be done,”, as we always pray in the Our Father, a will of good for all, which goes beyond our idea of justice. Great teaching of Jesus, precisely in the highest demonstration of his humanity: it was not only God who knew he was resurrecting, but here was a man who felt torn in his relationship with his father, experiencing an immense injustice. In our injustices, in our prayers, we know we have Jesus by our side, but he, on the other hand, was terribly alone here.
Luke’s gospel is the gospel of mercy, of sweetness, and here too it is confirmed: in this scene of anguish, darkness and loneliness, “An angel then appeared from heaven to comfort him.” There is a ray of light, a gash in the darkness, illuminating this man kneeling a stone’s throw from his sleeping friends, an angel announcing, reminding of the promise. And in this agony, in the struggle, “in anguish, he prayed more intensely”: prayer, the only weapon in our possession in the face of suffering, the evil of the world, wars, injustices, for remind us that the problem is not dying – rightly or unjustly sooner or later one must die anyway – but the problem is living, without having a dialogue with God. Prayer is our opportunity for dialogue with God, for the certainty of his presence iby our side. In Jesus this is even more dramatic because God is himself, and in this mill he feels the laceration of himself, a pain that we ourselves cannot even imagine. To the point that “his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground“, life itself, which for the Jews resided in the blood, already spurts out of the body and falls into mother earth, as if already anticipating the burial. The sweat that expresses active life, work, our daily life, our efforts, through sister water that comes out of the pores of our skin, in this press, becomes a prophecy of death. Jesus comes as “squeezed”, like the olives in the mill, he consciously sees all the evil in the world that he will receive in the next few hours. This is what God’s vengeance is, which is shown to us by the face of Jesus.
“When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow”. The sadness and agony. At a stone’s throw: this is the great difference between the disciples and Jesus: our humanity often lives in sadness, which already makes us defeated in pain, lets us sleep; Jesus’ divinity lies in the struggle, in the desire to get back up – Luke uses the same verb to indicate the resurrection – a strong desire, to the point that it is repeated twice in a short time, when “he said to them:” Why are you sleeping ? Get up and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation»”. Get up and pray. Here’s what to do in the face of evil, even the most unjustifiable one. This is the greatest teaching that we receive, on this night, among the olive trees of the oil mill in Jerusalem.
St. Francis, in the stupendous paraphrase to Our Father, reminds us that: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: so that we love you with all our hearts, always thinking of you; with all my soul, always desiring you; with all my mind, directing all our intentions to you and in everything seeking your honor; and with all our strength, spending all our energy and sensitivity of soul and body in the service of your love and for nothing else; and so that we can love our neighbors as ourselves, dragging everyone with all our power to your love, enjoying the goods of others as our own and suffering together with them and causing no offense to anyone “(FF 270). We thank the Lord for this great teaching that he offers us in this night of silence and solitude. Let us pray on this night, also dedicating silence, so that we can learn from him how to live in the injustices and evil of the world.