“Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). This is the last sentence that Jesus spoke before he died on the cross, for us. In the Good Friday service of the Catholic Tradition, this is also the last sentence that the presider recites before the entire congregation kneels down in silence and acknowledges the harsh reality of Jesus’ death. These few words, simple and child-like but pregnant with poignancy speaks so much of Jesus’ reckless abandonment to his father – it reflects his radical trust and complete surrender to God.
Whenever I prayerfully reflect upon Luke 23:46, I am struck by Jesus’ intimate relationship with God his father. Indeed, to surrender utterly and completely to God presupposes that Jesus knew and loved his father in the first place. We see semblances of this loving relationship even when as a young child, Jesus explained to a very concerned Mary and Joseph that he “must be in [his] Father’s house” (Luke 2:49) and wondered why they were looking for him. Jesus made it seem as though that being in his Father’s house was the most commonplace thing to do. Yet, I am always struck by the choice of grammatical cues employed here – that Jesus must be “in” rather than “at” his Father’s house. Perhaps this subtly suggests that the Father’s house was not really a physical place to be at but a loving relationship to be in.
We also see Jesus sharing this loving relationship with his disciples when he taught them how to pray – “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come” (Luke 11:2). Here we see that the same Father that Jesus has referred to in his younger days, the same Father that Jesus has conversed with in prayer whenever he retreated to a quiet place is the same Father that he is introducing to his disciples. Jesus, therefore, did not intend to keep his special relationship to God selfishly for himself. Rather, a relationship centered in God and lubricated with God’s love is generous, magnanimous and inclusive by nature – it cannot help but expand outwards. Jesus desired that his disciples – and generations after, people like you and I – partake in this intimate relationship with God as well.
Correspondingly, to be completely abandoned in his father arms – to commend his spirit to God – also suggests that Jesus knew that he was loved by his father. As such, a two-way relationship of love is observed here – Jesus loved and was loved by his father. We see this public declaration of love from God to Jesus in Luke 3:23 when the heavens opened and a voice came from heaven exclaiming, “thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.” I am always struck by awe and wonder whenever I review Luke 3:23 because this was the one and only time (recorded in the Gospel of Luke, at least) that God spoke directly, audibly and publicly to Jesus. To me, this public display of affection from Father to Son allows Jesus to recognize that he was God’s beloved son, that his father was well pleased with him. This recognition that he was loved and this identity that he was God’s beloved son eventually pave the way for Jesus to surrender his spirit to God. The unchanging creator God who is steadfast in truth and love, who loved Jesus at the dawn of his public ministry, will surely love Jesus at the setting of his life on earth.
Perhaps, the clearest sign that Jesus shared a very intimate bond with God the Father was in his sorrowful prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane. “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). In this one sentence, we see Jesus exemplifying the fragility of humanity, we recognise the apprehension and dread that Jesus felt for an impending deadly scenario that he eventually chooses to succumb to, for the completion of his Father’s will. The forgoing of Jesus’ will for that of his father’s, therefore, is testament to the loving relationship that they have shared throughout Jesus’ life on earth. And that very relationship between Father and Son allows Jesus to practice what he preached about love – that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend (John 15:13). The intimate love between Father and son equips Jesus to lay down his life for the salvation of humanity.
May we then, be inspired by and emulate the loving relationship that Jesus had with his Father. May we too, firstly recognise this invitation to be in the Father’s house, this invitation to partake in a loving relationship with God. May we (re)claim our identities as God’s beloved daughters and sons. May we share our love for God and God’s love for us with everyone around us generously and magnanimously. And in doing all of these as well as being in this intimate relationship with God our father, may we then, surrender ourselves completely and utterly to His will, abandoning ourselves in His loving embrace and allow God’s greater will to be done, His kingdom come. May we all, commend our spirits to God, our loving Father.
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Christopher Chok