Friday 15th of April
Lk 23,33-48

We are at the height of the story of salvation, with the liturgy of the Easter Triduum. We invite you to slow down, take the time to study and pray on these verses of the Word. The reading of Luke’s passages of these solemn days is focused on the location of the facts, immersed in creation. A vegetable garden, a mountain and a garden. Today we are in the Golgotha mountain, a place of torture and death. We are faced with the most important story of the whole Gospel of Luke, which in recent months we have tried to understand in its development: in the first part the doctor emerges, the treatment through words up to the story of the transfiguration; then the search for the face. Here, today, in this mount outside Jerusalem, we have the opportunity to encounter this face of God. The first part of the Gospel invites us to listen, the second to see. Listening, seeing, acting in prayer. Yesterday, in the garden, Jesus taught us how to pray. The whole gospel of the passion, and in particular this one on which we focus our gaze today, is an excellent opportunity for prayer: it is a θεωρέω (= theory), a “show” as it is defined at the end of this passage, which everyone has come to see. The only time in the entire New Testament that this word is used to indicate that we have a vision of God here. Contemplating this text is like praying, it is like seeing God face to face.

This is why “telling” today is an impossible task, we will only suggest a few ideas, with an invitation to all of you to slow down, to put on the brakes today and focus your gaze on every single verse. Each step would merit a day, or a week of silent meditation. In each verse, we find explanations of all Scripture, of the prophets, of the law, of Paul’s letters, of the apocalypse, patristics, medieval theology, the magisterium of the church, Laudato Si’. We find the meaning of a gospel, Luke’s, written by those who did not meet Jesus directly, but “put the stories in order” by addressing them to Theophilus, the third generation of Christians, who are essentially all of us: none of us have known Jesus directly, nor did he know whoever met him in life. We must trust the ordered stories, here we will meet the two greatest theologians of the gospel, a criminal – the only one who will call Jesus with the expression “God” – and an executioner. Here we meet the creation that speaks to us of this death, the darkening sky, the veil of the temple – made of human hands – that is torn. Those who are evangelized first, contemplating the crucifix and the creation that speaks, are a criminal and a centurion: Peter and the disciples disappear, eye witnesses and their friends disappear, and Luke puts each of us at the center of the message, with our limitations and our sins, and the evil that we ourselves bring into the world. It is up to us to choose to fix our gaze on the glory of God, which is manifested today in this lacerated body that hangs from the cross, as the evildoer and the centurion do, and to be saved; or to act as the high priests, the Pharisees and the crowd, who make fun of them, but who are in any case saved by the mercy of God, the only true, great protagonist of the whole Gospel of Luke.

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull”, just as yesterday we entered a vegetable garden called a “place”, today too we arrive at a “place”. In Luke this is an important aspect, because the only place in tradition is the temple, a space for prayer and dialogue with God, everything else is a non-place. It is a mount, God manifests himself to the world in creation, not only in a temple made by human hands. Indeed, moreover, he manifests himself outside the city gate, on the mount of capital executions, a spectacle for those who had to learn the justice of men.

And there they crucified him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.” The cross is the tree that stands on this mountain, it reminds us of the tree of life rejected by Adam, whose skull is often represented at the foot of the cross. Jesus climbs this tree of death to irrigate this skull with his blood, which is esentially the death of each of us, to give life. And in this action of glory, there are two criminals in the places anxiously desired by James and John, who wanted to be “one on the right and the other on the left.” Oh, how we need to learn to pray! Jesus in the middle, among our miseries, in solidarity with all humanity represented on the right and on the left: one who is a criminal, and one who is convinced that he is not. One who is an older brother, and one who is a younger brother, both children of a merciful father who lives in expectation.

Jesus is that merciful father, who shouts: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the judgment, on the Mount of Justice outside the city walls: Jesus asks for forgiveness! Jesus, who said “do not judge,” “forgive,” “be merciful like the father”, “love your enemies.” God has only children, he cannot have enemies. This is judgment, salvation: responding to evil with good. We men, like the Galilean terrorists killed by Pilate, would like to respond to evil with evil, to war with war, to sin with the punishment of hell. The “good news” of the gospel is this: God did not come to execute anyone, but it is we who condemn each other deluded and confused by wrongful images of God. This does not mean justifying evil, the cross remains the supreme evil. But God is placed, with respect to evil, in a very different position from men. “And they cast lots to divide his garments” This image of God upsets us all, every day, whether we are “people”, whether we are “religious” or “power”.

Holy Cross Crucifix, Cimabue, 1272-1280, basílica de la Santa Cruz de Florencia

In fact, “the people stood by,” in Luke there is no negative judgment of the crowd, which seems to almost contemplate, even if from a distance. Almost a detached seeing, as we often do, in indifference, when we leaf through the pages of newspapers that tell immense tragedies far from our home.

Instead, the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” Seeing and mocking. All of us, lay people or religious people who help in the parish, essentially do not understand a God like this, who does not show his power, who does not listen to our just prayers. “To save oneself” is the greatest claim of selfishness, personal and collective, everyone, first and foremost, wants to save himself, his family, his city, his nation from enemy invasion, his own religion that is better than the ‘others.’’ But save from what? We all live with the terror of death, which will come sooner or later. Fortunately, God does not save himself; it would be the supreme evil that annihilates all other “lesser evils.”

And also the representatives of power, “The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.»” Same question, “save yourself”, what basically a King does, the apex of a power founded on selfishness. In the event of an attack, the first to protect himself is the king. What king can he be, one who does not save himself? They offer him vinegar, wine gone bad, a “B series life,” to piously mock him about the temptation of the desert, the temptation of power, “if you adore me, everything will be yours.” This offense is carried out with an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Francisco de Zurbarán, Crucifix, 1627, Chicago, Art Institute

How much we, Christians and citizens of the world, have to learn from this prophetic image! When we understand that true politics is not about occupying positions of power to defend with the crusades and with political parties, but putting the “last of the last” in first place, truly listening to the cry of the poor and the earth. Then we can truly hope for a better world. How important it is that Christians commit themselves to a prophetic policy! If our king is Jesus crucified, then there truly is hope. It is a solid hope, because together with a world made up of a minority of kings who feed wars, abuses, corruption, in history man has also known human rights, solidarity, and integral ecology, built by many kings who choose, in silence and every day, to put themselves at the service of others.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” It is probably the two accomplices of Barabbas, arrested with him for rioting. And they are two, as often happens in Luke, to express two points of view that coexist in our humanity. The first blasphemes, saying “It is certain that you are the Christ!”, and it is as if he meant: “I fought rightly against the Romans, and now I am suffering an unjust sentence inflicted by the oppressor.” He tried to defeat evil with the weapons of evil. He is a little “less selfish,” he has a common value, an honor, he asks to save “us too.”

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” The “good thief” appears, in accordance with all the sweetness of Luke’s text compared to the other gospels. It is the first time, in the gospel, that a man calls Jesus with the title of God, no one before him had gone so far, neither Peter nor the demons. How  is it that only he can understand it? Because he finds himself in a trial, because he recognizes that he is a sinner, when he says: “We rightly, because we receive the right (consequence) for our actions,” and because he is in close contact with an unjustifiable absurdity: “He, instead, did nothing bad.” Why then, is God there? Just to be with me, to give me dignity within my limits, because love is stronger even than death. In this the evildoer understands that it is God.

In this dramatic dialogue lies a great deal of hope. Even in the darkest hour, in the hour of death, God is Emmanuel, He is with us, Jesus can say: ” “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” He can use the future when everything is over for our categories. There is a kingdom of truth to inhabit, death does not tell us the last word. Death, if in solitude, is a tragedy, but if it is in the company of Christ it becomes “our sister bodily death.” Ours, of all mankind, without the terror of getting there, but with the awareness that all life is a gift. There is a “parades” to inhabit, a garden, creation, what we humans originally refused, the happiness of feeling that we are also creatures. In this dialogue, on this Good Friday, each of us has an opportunity to give flavor to our life!

Pietro Perugino, Crucifixion, 1482 ca, Washington, National Gallery of Art

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.Creation speaks to us every day. But today everything takes on a particular meaning, we find ourselves in a night that begins in the garden of the oil mill in Jerusalem, which was marked by trials and outrages, by the confusion of the road, by the Mount of the Skull. Apparently we are in the sixth hour, the hour when the sun is at its highest point, the hour of greatest light, but also the hour of Adam’s disobedience. Sin as a moment in which creation detaches itself from the Creator, and in fact Adam hides himself. Darkness hides from the strongest light. The end of the world takes place on the mountain of Golgotha. The world of sin ends. We do not have to wait for another end of the world, in the Gospels it is already described here, with this eclipse.

A new world begins, a new creation, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” The veil that hid the Holy of Holies is torn apart, God “reveals himself,” shows his face. The waters break. It is a painful birth; the Son is born, “calling out with a loud voice, said: “Father.” A birth in the pain and sin of the world. We are convinced, with our mental categories, that we are witnessing a death scene, when it is instead a birth.

“‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ Having said this, he expired.” We won’t dedicate a minute of silence; we invite you to dedicate today, as you read this reflection, ten minutes of silence. An hour of silence, contemplating this theoria, this “show,” with the time it deserves.

Let’s dedicate silence in front of this image.

Diego Velázquez, Christ on the Cross, 1631, Madrid, Museo del Prado

He expired. Even God passed away. Life is about inhaling and exhaling. Having the terror of death is equivalent to being insatiable, often we just want to breathe in even to the point of bursting. We keep the planet’s resources, relationships, well-being, our own life to ourselves, in fear of losing them. God, who created everything with an action of kenosis, stripping himself of his infinity to leave room for finite things, now in the stripping of the cross gives us a new creation. A new birth. Without veils, God reveals himself to us. Expiring.

The passage closes, mirroring how it opened, with the categories that attended this show: power, symbolized by the centurion, and crowds, that is, the people. In the story, the religious of the time disappear, their presence is lost in the events of this new creation.

“When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’Luke is keen to highlight not only that Jesus is the son of God, but that he is a righteous one. Together with the evildoer, the executioner is the only one in the scene who makes a profession of faith. A phrase that comes from the observation and contemplation of this cross. He says so, a man who exercised power and death by profession. We are the torturers of God, and despite everything it is we who can recognize him in the face of those who suffer. In this way Luke speaks to the first Christians, those of Theophilus’ generation, who despite their faith experience persecutions and difficulties. Even within that pain, the face of God can be seen.

And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.” In those crowds, who observe “this spectacle”, this theoria (θεωρέω), there are all of us, people who return. First we runn away from death, then after seeing these facts, we return home beating our chest, acknowledging our own faults. For the Jews, this תשובה (= Teshuvah), literally “homecoming”, has the flavor of repentance and conversion. After contemplating the face of God, man can only convert. And since the manifestation that took place on the mount of Golgotha today is also cosmic, with the sun obscured and the veil of the temple torn, we can also say that it is an ecological conversion. 

St. Francis, in the stupendous paraphrase to the Our Father, reminds us that: “And lead us not into temptation: hidden or manifest, sudden or insistent. But deliver us from evil: past, present and future.” (FF 274). We thank the Lord for the immense gift of his life for us, and for teaching us that an alternative path to evil can be taken. Let us pray on this day of silence that this new creation may be a seed of conversion for us.

Laudato si’!

San Damiano Crucifix, unkown, XII secolo, Basilica Santa Chiara, Assisi