Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Seven Words from the Cross, Part VII - Into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46)

Well, this week we come to the conclusion of our series on Jesus' seven words from the cross. The seventh and final word comes from the Gospel of Luke: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Unlike the first two words from Luke, this one is not unparalleled in the other gospels. In fact, all four gospels conclude their passion narratives with Jesus giving up his spirit (Matt 27:50; Mark 15:37; John 19:30). Only Luke, however, has Jesus say something about it. So, while Luke's point is not totally unique, he has something unique to offer about the final moment of Jesus' life.

So, what can learn from this word?

(1) Jesus really died.

This is the main point that Luke shares with all the other evangelists. By indicating that Jesus "gave up the ghost," the Gospels are bearing witness to the genuine deadness of Jesus. He really did die. He did not just appear to die (as some have suggested). He really died. Why does this matter? Well, the death-defeating significance of the cross and resurrection hangs on Jesus actually facing death on its own terms. He defeats death from within, and thereby extinguishes its power. If he did not really face death, then we cannot be sure he has really defeated it. Maybe death still reigns. Maybe death retains its sting. Only the Christ who really died is the Lord over death. And so when we hear and see Jesus release his spirit, we are reminded of the death of death in the death of Christ.

(2) Jesus entrusts his spirit to his Father.

In this final moment, Jesus makes a statement of confidence in God. Instead of quoting the apparently more desperate Psalm 22:2 (ala Matthew and Mark), Luke's Jesus quotes Psalm 31:6. Now if there is any dissonance here, the two would need to be held together in dialectical tension, not resolving one into the other. But that tension is not our task here. Here we want to hear from Luke. And Luke presents a Jesus who entrusts his spirit to his Father. As he dies, Jesus trusts God the Father with his life. We could take this as a specified trust in God's power to resurrect him from the dead. Or we could take it as a more general trust in God's Lordship over his future. Either way, we hear words of trust in God. And this is not just the words of a human trusting in his God, for here we hear words of trust spoken in God. The Son trusts the Father. The eternal Son of God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ entrusts his spirit (Spirit?) to God the Father. God is both the one who is trusted and the one who trusts (and the trust itself?). God is Father and Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit. And as such, God is both trustworthy and trusting.

(3) It only this God in whom we can entrust our life.

The point of following this seemingly 'speculative' line of trinitarian reflection is that the triune God manifest in this word from the cross is the kind of God in whom we can entrust our life. When the forces of death threaten our life and liveliness, it only this God in whom we can entrust our life.

It is only this God in whom we can entrust our life. God is the one who has life in himself, and so any life we have is not ours to have and hold but his to give, take away, and give again if he so pleases.

It only this God in whom we can entrust our life. This God is the kind of God who both understands our plight and overcomes it from within. The triune God is neither aloof from nor overwhelmed by our suffering and death.

It only this God in who we can entrust out life. This "only" calls into question all other persons and things that we count on to protect us, whether they be religious, political, military, economic, familial, etc. Inasmuch as we entrust our life to these persons and things, they are idols. Instead, we can and must entrust our life to this God, and to this God alone.

Any thoughts?
- What other insights emerge from this text?
- Are my trinitarian moves helpful? Or are they unnecessary for making the final pastoral point? Or are they just plain wrongheaded?
- Could "commit" be taken in a different sense that would not imply the "trust" I have emphasized?


Bob MacDonald said...

Are my trinitarian moves ... unnecessary for making the final pastoral point?

I think they are not needed. They are not particularly called forth by the faith of Jesus expressed through the psalms. (By the way, I do not find Psalm 22 despratate - that any man or woman can call to God as 'mine' is still filled with expectation.)

I hear the necessary correction against docetism. Specifically the Qur'an fails on this point.

The Trinity blog articles featured recently were really interesting to me - but Trinity writing must glorify the One who is One, not fancy mathematics. I do not find 'triune' an appealing name. In my recent reading of Genesis I note that days are 7 in one. (Gen 2:4 - in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven - fun diagram here )

Anonymous said...


As always very insightful. I had never contemplated the Three-in-One being reflected in the entrusting of his spirit to the Father. I like...

Anote about Psalm 22. While it begins with a desperate call, and is filled with a theme of struggle, there is a hopefulness in the second half of the psalm. The writer speaks of his future praise activity which will begin at the deliverance for which he has been praying. Also, there is a pattern of describing the deperation and a following "yet..." of hope in the nature and faithfulness of God.

I have always found Jesus' quote of it an honest cry in desperate times and a hopeful cry as well.

Just a thought...

Chris Shinn

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Since perversion of justice always happens when we seek justice, rather than seek to recitify injustice, Jesus trusted God over and above the religious leaders and his death.
The religious leaders thought that justice was in their hands, in protecting God's righteousness....the Romans thought justice was in their hands as an abstract universal represented by their form of government. These were misguided ways of understanding true justice. Jesus paid a price for bringing justice to those outside the system of Jewish identity or Roman law.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

In understanding the practical nature of justice, we should always not spritualize justice, but, understand it as it pertains to relationships....and relationships are not meant only for those within our "community" and its understanding of justice, but seeking to understand the other as another human being made as God's image bearer...(That is par for the reality of Jesus' death...not the spritualizing it)...