Knowing is Intimacy

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year C, 14 April 2019
Isaiah 50:4-7///Philippians 2:6-11///Luke 22:1-49
Photo from Bing.com.

Today we begin the Holy Week with two celebrations merged into one, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. The Palm Sunday is a tradition started by the early Christians in Jerusalem in the fourth century while in Rome during the 12th century, the Pope proclaimed the long gospel account of the Lord’s Passion on this Sunday to signal the start of Holy Week. Almost 2000 years later in reforming the liturgy, Vatican II merged these two traditions into one to usher in our holiest days of the year.

Like in the four Sundays of Lent except last week, St. Luke guides us today in reflecting the Lord’s Passion with emphasis on the Cross with its call to conversion. For St. Luke, the cross is the object of discipleship in Christ. Join me in reflecting on the last three words our evangelist had recorded when Jesus was crucified.

First word:

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other to his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:33-34
Mosaic of the Crucifixion at the crypt of the Manila Cathedral. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, October of the Jubilee of Mercy 2016.

This is very striking. Immediately upon his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies! It is a total adherence to his preaching during his sermon on the plain, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:27-28, Seventh Week Ordinary Time, 24 February 2019). Here we find the immense love and mercy of Jesus — no hatred, no calls for revenge or threats like “karma” against those who crucified him. He simply begged for their forgiveness because “they know not what they do.”

In Jewish thought, to know means more than an intellectual knowledge for it implies relationship. Knowing somebody for them is more than knowing one’s name but having ties with the person. And to know something is always to see things in this perspective, always in relation with a person. Had they known Jesus is the Christ, they would have not crucified him! Exactly the preaching of St. Peter at the healing of a lame man after Pentecost at the temple when he told them they have “acted in ignorance” in “killing the Author of life whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15). St. Luke also notes in his Acts of the Apostles how the crowd upon hearing St. Peter’s preaching were moved or “cut to the heart” (2:37) that many were baptized on that day. Recall also how at the arrival of the wise men from the East searching for the child Jesus: the scholars of Jerusalem “knew” from the books how the Christ would be born in Behtlehem yet he was found by the pagan magis! Even the most learned man in the New Testament, St. Paul admits how ignorant he had been in persecuting and blaspheming Jesus before (1Tim.1:13) experiencing God’s loving mercy.

In the bible we always see this combination of knowing and ignorance at the same time to indicate that more than factual and cerebral knowledge, there is that deeper knowing of relating and of loving. If we really know somebody, the more we love, the lesser we sin. St. Thomas Aquinas used to say that the more we know and become intelligent, the more we realize the truth, the more we must become good and holy. That is why saints are the most intelligent people that they were able to do what is good and what is right.

In this age of Google and Wikipedia , Jesus is challenging us that if we truly know so much that we have become smart and more intelligent, then, how much do we really love and care for others?

Photo from Google.

Second word:

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:42-43

The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to claim that Dimas was indeed a great thief who was able to steal or snatch Paradise from Jesus just before dying on the Cross. It may be funny but very true. But more than “stealing” his salvation from the Lord, Dimas had displayed on the cross what we have discussed earlier about the combination of knowing and ignorance. I would say Dimas is perhaps the “most learned thief” of all time who truly knew what is most essential in life which is to know Jesus. The moment he called out to him “Jesus”, Dimas expressed his knowing Jesus, of belonging to Jesus. As we have reflected earlier, to know is to relate. Anyone who truly relates must first believe in order to love dearly. Dimas believed in Jesus that he called out to him while hanging on the Cross.

Today, Jesus is reminding us that the door to Paradise is him alone. And we begin to enter Paradise the moment we entrust our total self to Jesus like Dimas who came to know Christ at the Cross, and then believed him and loved him. If we really know, do we believe?

Altar of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the exact site where Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, October 2017.

Third word:

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and when he had said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:46

One of St. Luke’s unique feature is always presenting to us Jesus at prayer. Especially here at his crucifixion. See how his first words were prayer of forgiveness for his persecutors. Now at his death, St. Luke presents Jesus again at prayer, reciting Psalm 31:5, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Here we find the whole picture of Jesus Christ’s life which is a prayer and his prayer is his very life. From the very start, Jesus has always been one with the Father which is the essence of every prayer called communion. And that is the important aspect of his being our Savior: everything he said and did was everything the Father had told and asked him. There is that perfect communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit so that in his death, Jesus offered his total self with us to God. Everyone and everything is thus sanctified anew in Christ. This became possible only with his kenosis, his self-emptying eloquently expressed to the Philippians by St. Paul in our second reading.

On the Cross, everything in the life of Jesus Christ came to a full circle, God’s whole picture emerged. Now more than ever, we have become closest to God in love. In his dying on the Cross, Jesus made known to us God, brought him closest to us so we can relate and be intimate with him more than ever. In his becoming human like us by bearing all the pains and sufferings expressed in the first reading from Isaiah, God proved to us his love in Jesus. Most of all, he enabled us too to be capable of knowing and loving like Jesus Christ by being intimate with him always. This is why these days are called Holy Week when we are filled with God so we experience him anew and have him more than ever in our hearts, in our very selves. Amen.

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