for Holy Thursday Night
Father Richard Veras
Before his public ministry began Jesus lived his own Lent. For forty days he faced the temptations of the devil. At the end of this time, we are told, When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time (Lk 4: 1 3).
The time the devil was waiting for has come. His Passion and Death was the “hour” of which Jesus himself has spoken.
On this night, let us stay an hour with Jesus. Let us do now what he invited his Apostles to do then-to be with him in this hour of seeming defeat, so that we can experience with him his invincible glory.
“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Mt 4:3
“Take and eat; this is my body.” Mt 26:26
The devil tried to get Jesus to doubt his Father, to doubt his Sonship. However, Jesus never faces temptation alone. Jesus never has been and never will be alone, neither in his divinity nor in his humanity. Not in his divinity, because God is never alone but was, is, and ever shall be a community of Persons. Not in his humanity, because Jesus recognized everything as a sign of his Father.
This night is not the first night that Jesus went with his Apostles to pray. He invited them to come away with him on another occasion, and when they got to the place, they saw a hungry crowd waiting and begging for food (Mk 6:30-44). Jesus did not look upon those people as an annoyance, but as the very face of his Father. He recognized in the presence of that crowd the presence of his Father relating to him, loving him, expressing his will, which Jesus knew would be greater than what he himself had planned. While the Apostles wanted to send the people away, Jesus embraced the circumstances and thus affirmed that all reality is a sign of his Father.
This is why the devil hates reality. This is why the devil deals in “ifs.” Earlier in the evening of Holy Thursday, Jesus showed how small is the tempter’s imagination as compared to reality. For the devil challenged Jesus to turn stones to bread. At the Last Supper, Jesus instead turns bread to God! Not because anyone has challenged him to do it. Not because anyone asked him to prove his Father’s love; but rather it was the merciful initiative of God, freely giving himself to us in the Eucharist.
In the garden of Gethsemane, the devil is playing on Jesus’ imagination, as he once played on Adam and Eve’s in the garden of Eden. On this night, he is counting on Jesus fearfully imagining all the suffering that lay before him. However, Jesus vanquishes the devil when he says to the Father, “not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Original sin came because our first parents trusted their imagination of God over the reality of the gift of the beautiful garden around them. Salvation comes because that man who seems to be praying all alone is affirming the merciful love of God the Father even in the midst of the most harrowing circumstances. Reality belongs to the Father. In the end, all this suffering and death will belong to the glory of the Father shining forth in the victory of his Son.
God our Father, let us not be gripped in the fear of our own imaginations, let us not be attached to our own ideas of how things are supposed to be. Let us face the reality of our lives with the certainty that all reality and all of our lives belong to you. Let the Real Presence of the Eucharist be the beginning of our welcoming your real presence in all of reality.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:/ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’/ and, ‘with their hands they will support you,/ lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Mt 4:6
“Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” Mt 26:52-53
Jesus has already received the consolation of one angel from the Father (Lk 22:43). He did not ask for this, but once again, we see the Father’s merciful initiative.
Perhaps this is the same angel who came to stop Abraham from taking the life of his son Isaac (Gn 22: 11). In the end, the Father did not require Abraham to sacrifice his own beloved son to God. The idea of a god who needs the blood of humans was a mistaken idea thought up by a fallen imagination. This is the night on which God prepares to show us who he really is. God’s love is so immense that what would be entirely too my h for us to consider, the voluntary sacrifice of a beloved son, is precisely what he does for us. What we will not do for God, God does for us.
It is this unimaginable love that the devil tries to put into question when he challenges Jesus to throw himself off the Temple and test his Father’s promise to
send angels. Tomorrow, Jesus, the New Temple, will be thrown up onto the cross, and the Father will answer this with much more than angels, with a bodily Resurrection.
Jesus does not need Peter to d fend him; he has his Father. Jesus is so certain of his Father’s love that he does not need to ask for the legions of angels. Jesus never needs to test his Father’s love, because his very life is a witness to certainty in the Father’s love. His very perception of his own life and all of creation constantly points him to the Father, to whom he is constantly pointing us.
Jesus’ certainty will be justified in the victory of the Resurrection, which itself will be heralded by angels!
God our Father, forgive us our distrust of you. Forgive us our suspicion of you. Forgive us for accusing you when you do not answer us according to our own plans and ideas. Forgive us for trying to reduce you, Immeasurable Love and Mercy itself, to our own stingy measures. God our Father, grant us the grace of certainty in your love and forgiveness.
The devil.. .showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ”All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”… “Get away, Satan! It is written: / ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship/ and him alone shall you serve.’” Mt 4:8-10
My God, My God, why have you abandoned me? Ps 22:2
All the ends of the earth/ will worship and turn to the LORD;/ All the families of nations/ will bow low before you./ For kingship belongs to the LORD,/ the ruler over the nations./ All who sleep in the earth/ will bow low before God;/ All who have gone down into the dust/ will kneel in homage. Ps 22:28-30
Jesus answered the first temptation with the gift of the Eucharist a few hours before his hour here in the garden. He will answer the second temptation at the end of this agonizing hour, when they come to arrest him and he withstands the temptation to violence and the temptation to test the Father’s love. The third temptation will be answered tomorrow, not with words, but with the very gesture of love which is his suffering and Death on the cross.
Jesus seems to give in to the tempter, when he cries, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me …” but he is once again proclaiming his certainty in his Father. These words are the first words of Psalm 22. Jesus could not have recited this entire psalmfrom the cross. But the psalm ends by saying, The Whole wide world will remember and return to God, all the families of nations bow down before him. For to God, ruler of nations, belongs kingly power. All who prosper on earth will bow down before him. All who go down to the dust will do reverence before him. And those who are dead, their descendants will serve him, will proclaim his name to generations still to come; and these will tell of his saving justice to a people yet unborn: he has fulfilled it (cf. Ps 22:27-31).
Jesus will no bow down and do homage to the devil. Jesus will bow before no one but the Father, because outside the Father there is not certainty but doubt, not mercy but measure, not reality but imaginings which lead to nothingness. Jesus’ certainty in the Father has generated us, the Church. We are those people yet unborn who tell of his saving justice. Whatever faith, hope, and love that we have is generated by Jesus’ certainty in the Father, made present to US by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Resurrection of Christ is made visible in the Christian People.
Ultimately, Jesus does not answer the devils temptations with words, but with his very Person. He was sent by the Father and he lives to reveal the Father to us.
The final culmination of these days is not Jesus’ sacrifice of his life on the cross. As always, Jesus’ gestures point us to the Father. These days culminate in the merciful, loving, and infinite initiative of the Father, who raises Jesus to Life and, through his Son, gives us the possibility of a certainty that will always save us from doubt, a mercy that will always save us from sin, a destiny that has always been and will always be beyond what we could ever ask for or imagine.
Into your hands Lord, I commend my spirit.
- Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
You have redeemed us, Lord God of Truth.
- Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
- Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
(Father Richard Veras is director of Pastoral Formation at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York. He is author of Jesus of Israel: Finding Christ in the Old Testament and Wisdom for Everyday Life from the Book of Revelation)