Matthew Chapter 26-28
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Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). Let us allow these words of the Apostle Paul to lead us into these holy days, when the word of God, like a refrain, presents Jesus as a servant: on Holy Thursday, he is portrayed as the servant who washes the feet of his disciples; on Good Friday, he is presented as the suffering and victorious servant (cf. Is 52:13); and tomorrow we will hear the prophecy of Isaiah about him: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold” (Is 42:1). God saved us by serving us. We often think we are the ones who serve God. No, he is the one who freely chose to serve us, for he loved us first. It is difficult to love and not be loved in return. And it is even more difficult to serve if we do not let ourselves be served by God.
But – just one question – how did the Lord serve us? By giving his life for us. We are dear to him; we cost him dearly. Saint Angela of Foligno said she once heard Jesus say: “My love for you is no joke”. His love for us led him to sacrifice himself and to take upon himself our sins. This astonishes us: God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. Without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love. And the Father upheld Jesus in his service. He did not take away the evil that crushed him, but rather strengthened him in his suffering so that our evil could be overcome by good, by a love that loves to the very end.
The Lord served us to the point of experiencing the most painful situations of those who love: betrayal and abandonment.
Betrayal. Jesus suffered betrayal by the disciple who sold him and by the disciple who denied him. He was betrayed by the people who sang hosanna to him and then shouted: “Crucify him!” (Mt 27:22). He was betrayed by the religious institution that unjustly condemned him and by the political institution that washed its hands of him. We can think of all the small or great betrayals that we have suffered in life. It is terrible to discover that a firmly placed trust has been betrayed. From deep within our heart a disappointment surges up that can even make life seem meaningless. This happens because we were born to be loved and to love, and the most painful thing is to be betrayed by someone who promised to be loyal and close to us. We cannot even imagine how painful it was for God who is love.
Let us look within. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our infidelities. How many falsehoods, hypocrisies and duplicities! How many good intentions betrayed! How many broken promises! How many resolutions left unfulfilled! The Lord knows our hearts better than we do. He knows how weak and irresolute we are, how many times we fall, how hard it is for us to get up and how difficult it is to heal certain wounds. And what did he do in order to come to our aid and serve us? He told us through the Prophet: “I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them deeply” (Hos 14:5). He healed us by taking upon himself our infidelity and by taking from us our betrayals. Instead of being discouraged by the fear of failing, we can now look upon the crucifix, feel his embrace, and say: “Behold, there is my infidelity, you took it, Jesus, upon yourself. You open your arms to me, you serve me with your love, you continue to support me… And so I will keep pressing on”.
Abandonment. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says one thing from the Cross, one thing alone: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). These are powerful words. Jesus had suffered the abandonment of his own, who had fled. But the Father remained for him. Now, in the abyss of solitude, for the first time he calls him by the generic name “God”. And “in a loud voice” he asks the question “why?”, the most excruciating “why?”: “Why did you too abandon me?”. These words are in fact those of a Psalm (cf. 22:2); they tell us that Jesus also brought the experience of extreme desolation to his prayer. But the fact remains that he himself experienced that desolation: he experienced the utmost abandonment, which the Gospels testify to by quoting his very words.
Why did all this take place? Once again, it was done for our sake, to serve us. So that when we have our back to the wall, when we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone. Jesus experienced total abandonment in a situation he had never before experienced in order to be one with us in everything. He did it for me, for you, for all of us; he did it to say to us: “Do not be afraid, you are not alone. I experienced all your desolation in order to be ever close to you”. That is the extent to which Jesus served us: he descended into the abyss of our most bitter sufferings, culminating in betrayal and abandonment. Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: “Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you”.
Dear brothers and sisters, what can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned? We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbours. Everything else passes away, only this remains. The tragedy we are experiencing at this time summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love. So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One – look upon the Crucified One! – the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and, – fixing our gaze on the Crucified One – let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.
Behold my servant, whom I uphold. The Father, who sustained Jesus in his Passion also supports us in our efforts to serve. Loving, praying, forgiving, caring for others, in the family and in society: all this can certainly be difficult. It can feel like a crossroads. But the path of service is the victorious and life giving path by which we were saved. I would like to say this especially to young people, on this Day which has been dedicated to them for thirty-five years now. Dear friends, look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others. Feel called yourselves to put your lives on the line. Do not be afraid to devote your life to God and to others; it pays! For life is a gift we receive only when we give ourselves away, and our deepest joy comes from saying yes to love, without ifs and buts. To truly say yes to love, without ifs and buts. As Jesus did for us.
Let us pray today for those people who in this time of pandemic are taking advantage of those in need: they are profiting from the necessity of others and sell them: the mafia, those who lend and many others. May the Lord touch their hearts and convert them.
When we think about selling people, what comes to mind is the slave trade made that took place between Africa and America – an old thing – then the trade, for example, of Yazidi girls sold to Daesh: but it is a distant thing, it is a thing ... Even today people are sold. Every day. There are Judas's who sell their brothers and sisters, exploiting them in their work, not paying the just wage, not recognizing their duties ... In fact, many time they sell those who are most dear to us. I think that to be more comfortable one is able to turn away parents and not see them anymore, put them safe in a nursing home and not go to see them ... Sell them. There is a very common saying that, speaking of people like this, says that "he is capable of selling his mother": and they sell them. Now they are quiet, they are turned away: "Take care of them you ...".
Today human trafficking is as it was in earlier times: it is done. Why is that? Because as Jesus said. They made money a lord. Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and money," two lords. There is only one thing that Jesus puts to us and each one of us must choose: either serve God, and you will be free in adoration and service, or you serve money, and you will be a slave to money. This is the option and so many people want to serve God and money. And that can't be done. In the end, they pretend to serve God to serve money. They are the hidden exploiters who are socially impeccable, but under the table they trade, even with people: it doesn't matter. Human exploitation is selling ones neighbour.
Judas went away, but he has left disciples, who are not his disciples but the devils. What Judas's life was like, we don't know. A normal boy, perhaps, with anxieties, because the Lord called him to be a disciple. He never succeeded in being one: he didn't have a disciple's way of talking and a disciple's heart, as we read in the first Reading. He was weak in his discipleship, but Jesus loved him. You can say he was a worthy person. Then the Gospel makes us understand that he liked money: at Lazarus's house, when Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with that expensive perfume, he makes the reflection and John points out: "But he does not say it because he loved the poor: because he was a thief". Love of money had led him outside of the rules, to steal, and from steeling to betraying there is only a little step. Those who love money too much betray to get more, always: it is a rule, it is a fact. The boy Judas, perhaps good, with good intentions, ends up a traitor to the point of going to the market to sell him: "He went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me for me to hand him over to you, directly?" In my opinion, this man was out of his mind.
One thing that catches my attention is that Jesus never says "traitor"; he says he will be betrayed, but does not call him "traitor." He never says, "Go away, traitor." Never! In fact, he says to him, "Friend," and kisses him. The mystery of Judas ... What is the mystery of Judas? I don't know... Don Primo Mazzolari explained it better than I did ... Yes, I console myself to contemplate that capital of Vezelay: how did Judas end? I don't know. Jesus threatens strongly here; a strong threat: "Woe to that man from whom the Son of Man is betrayed: better for that man if he had never been born!" But does that mean Judas is in hell? I don't know. I look at the capital. And I hear the word of Jesus: "Friend."
But this makes us think of another thing, which is more real today: the devil entered Judas, it was the devil who led him to this point. And how did the story end? The devil is a bad payer: he is not a reliable payer. He promises you everything, makes you see everything and in the end leaves you alone in your desperation to hang yourself.
The heart of Judas, restless, tormented by greed and tormented by love of Jesus, a love that has failed, tormented with this fog that he was in, he returns to the priests asking for forgiveness, asking for salvation. "What is that to us? Look to it yourself ...": the devil speaks like this and leaves us in despair.
Let us think of so many institutionalized Judas in this world, who exploit people. And let us also think of the little Judas that each of us has within ourselves at the hour of choosing: between loyalty or self-interest. Each of us has the capacity to betray, to sell, to choose for our own interest. Each of us has the possibility of being attracted to the love of money or goods or future well-being. "Judas, where are you?" But each of us has to ask the question: "You, Judas, the little Judas I have inside: where are you?"
Let us pray today for the rulers, the scientists, the politicians, who have begun to study the way out, the post-pandemic, this "after" that has already begun: so that they may find the right way, always in favour of the people, always on behalf of the people.
Today's Gospel presents us with an option, an everyday option, a human option but which holds from that day: the option between joy, the hope of Jesus' resurrection, and the nostalgia for the tomb.
Women go ahead and bring the announcement (cf. Mt. 28:8): God always begins with women, always. They open the way. They do not doubt: they know; they saw him, they touched him. They also saw the empty tomb. It is true that the disciples could not believe them and said: "But these women are perhaps a little too imaginative" ... don't know, they had their doubts. But they were sure and they eventually carried this message to the present day: Jesus is resurrected, he is alive among us. Mt. 28: 9-10).
And then there is the other matter: it is better not to live with the empty tomb. This empty tomb will bring us too many problems. And the decision to hide the fact. It is as always: when we do not serve God, the Lord, we serve the other god, money. Let us remember what Jesus said: they are two lords, the Lord God and the lord money. You can't serve both. And to get out of this evidence, from this reality, the priests, the doctors of the Law chose the other way, the one that god of money offered them and they paid: they paid for silence (cf. Mt. 28: 12-13). The silence of the witnesses. One of the guards had confessed, as soon as Jesus died: "Truly this man was Son of God!" (Mark.15:39).
These poor men do not understand, they are afraid because their life is at stake there... and they went to the priests, to the doctors of the law. And they paid: they paid for silence, and this, dear brothers and sisters, is not a bribe: this is pure corruption, pure corruption. If you do not confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, think why: where is the seal of your tomb, where there is corruption. It is true that so many people do not confess to Jesus because they do not know him, because we have not proclaimed him consistently; and that's our fault. But when before the evidence you take this path, it's the devil's way, it's the road of corruption. You are paid to keep quiet.
Even today, before the end – we hope it will be soon – the end of this pandemic, there is the same option: either our choice will be for life, for the resurrection of people or it will be for the god of money: return to the tomb of hunger, slavery, wars, weapons factories, children without education ... that's the tomb.
The Lord, both in our personal life and in our social life, always helps us to choose the proclamation: the proclamation that is the horizon, is open, always forward; helps us to choose for the good of the people. And never to fall into the tomb of the god of money.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Young Friends,
“Go and make disciples of all nations”. With these words, Jesus is speaking to each one of us, saying: “It was wonderful to take part in World Youth Day, to live the faith together with young people from the four corners of the earth, but now you must go, now you must pass on this experience to others.” Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission! Today, in the light of the word of God that we have heard, what is the Lord saying to us? What is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve.
1. Go. During these days here in Rio, you have been able to enjoy the wonderful experience of meeting Jesus, meeting him together with others, and you have sensed the joy of faith. But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history (cf. Rom 10:9).
Careful, though! Jesus did not say: “go, if you would like to, if you have the time”, but he said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you; but it is a command that is born not from a desire for domination, from the desire for power, but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and did not give us just a part of himself, but he gave us the whole of himself, he gave his life in order to save us and to show us the love and mercy of God. Jesus does not treat us as slaves, but as people who are free , as friends, as brothers and sisters; and he not only sends us, he accompanies us, he is always beside us in our mission of love.
Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.
In particular, I would like Christ’s command: “Go” to resonate in you young people from the Church in Latin America, engaged in the continental mission promoted by the Bishops. Brazil, Latin America, the whole world needs Christ! Saint Paul says: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). This continent has received the proclamation of the Gospel which has marked its history and borne much fruit. Now this proclamation is entrusted also to you, that it may resound with fresh power. The Church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you. A great Apostle of Brazil, Blessed José de Anchieta, set off on the mission when he was only nineteen years old. Do you know what the best tool is for evangelizing the young? Another young person. This is the path for all of you to follow!
2. Do not be afraid. Some people might think: “I have no particular preparation, how can I go and proclaim the Gospel?” My dear friend, your fear is not so very different from that of Jeremiah, as we have just heard in the reading, when he was called by God to be a prophet. “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth”. God says the same thing to you as he said to Jeremiah: “Be not afraid ... for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:7,8). He is with us!
“Do not be afraid!” When we go to proclaim Christ, it is he himself who goes before us and guides us. When he sent his disciples on mission, he promised: “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). And this is also true for us! Jesus never leaves anyone alone! He always accompanies us .
And then, Jesus did not say: “One of you go”, but “All of you go”: we are sent together. Dear young friends, be aware of the companionship of the whole Church and also the communion of the saints on this mission. When we face challenges together, then we are strong, we discover resources we did not know we had. Jesus did not call the Apostles to live in isolation, he called them to form a group, a community. I would like to address you, dear priests concelebrating with me at this Eucharist: you have come to accompany your young people, and this is wonderful, to share this experience of faith with them! Certainly he has rejuvenated all of you. The young make everyone feel young. But this experience is only a stage on the journey. Please, continue to accompany them with generosity and joy, help them to become actively engaged in the Church; never let them feel alone! And here I wish to thank from the heart the youth ministry teams from the movements and new communities that are accompanying the young people in their experience of being Church, in such a creative and bold way. Go forth and don’t be afraid!
3. The final word: serve. The opening words of the psalm that we proclaimed are: “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 95:1). What is this new song? It does not consist of words, it is not a melody, it is the song of your life, it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus, it is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts, his actions. And the life of Jesus is a life for others. The life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.
In our Second Reading today, Saint Paul says: “I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor 9:19). In order to proclaim Jesus, Paul made himself “a slave to all”. Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did.
Three ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve. Go, do not be afraid, and serve. If you follow these three ideas, you will experience that the one who evangelizes is evangelized, the one who transmits the joy of faith receives more joy. Dear young friends, as you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel. In the first Reading, when God sends the prophet Jeremiah, he gives him the power to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). It is the same for you. Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world. Dear young friends, Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you! May Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, always accompany you with her tenderness: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning.
Today, in Italy and in other Countries, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, 40 days after Easter. The Acts of the Apostles recounts this episode, the final separation of the Lord Jesus from his disciples and from this world (cf. Acts 1:2-9). The Gospel of Matthew, however, reports Jesus’ mandate to his disciples: the invitation to go out, to set out in order to proclaim to all nations his message of salvation (cf. Mt 28:16-20). “To go” or, better, “depart” becomes the key word of today’s feast: Jesus departs to the Father and commands his disciples to depart for the world.
Jesus departs, he ascends to Heaven, that is, he returns to the Father from whom he had been sent to the world. He finished his work, thus, he returns to the Father. But this does not mean a separation, for he remains forever with us, in a new way. By his ascension, the Risen Lord draws the gaze of the Apostles — and our gaze — to the heights of Heaven to show us that the end of our journey is the Father. He himself said that he would go to prepare a place for us in Heaven. Yet, Jesus remains present and active in the affairs of human history through the power and the gifts of his Spirit; he is beside each of us: even if we do not see him with our eyes, He is there! He accompanies us, he guides us, he takes us by the hand and he lifts us up when we fall down. The risen Jesus is close to persecuted and discriminated Christians; he is close to every man and woman who suffers. He is close to us all; he is here, too, with us in the square; the Lord is with us! Do you believe this? Then let’s say it together: the Lord is with us!
When Jesus returns to Heaven, he brings the Father a gift. What is the gift? His wounds. His body is very beautiful, no bruises, no cuts from the scourging, but he retains his wounds. When he returns to the Father he shows him the wounds and says: “behold Father, this is the price of the pardon you have granted”. When the Father beholds the wounds of Jesus he forgives us forever, not because we are good, but because Jesus paid for us. Beholding the wounds of Jesus, the Father becomes most merciful. This is the great work of Jesus today in Heaven: showing the Father the price of forgiveness, his wounds. This is the beauty that urges us not to be afraid to ask forgiveness; the Father always pardons, because he sees the wounds of Jesus, he sees our sin and he forgives it.
But Jesus is present also through the Church, which He sent to extend his mission. Jesus’ last message to his disciples is the mandate to depart: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). It is a clear mandate, not just an option! The Christian community is a community “going forth”, “in departure”. More so: the Church was born “going forth”. And you will say to me: what about cloistered communities? Yes, these too, for they are always “going forth” through prayer, with the heart open to the world, to the horizons of God. And the elderly, the sick? They, too, through prayer and union with the wounds of Jesus.
To his missionary disciples Jesus says: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (v. 20). Alone, without Jesus, we can do nothing! In Apostolic work our own strengths, our resources, our structures do not suffice, even if they are necessary. Without the presence of the Lord and the power of his Spirit our work, though it may be well organized, winds up being ineffective. And thus, we go to tell the nations who Jesus is.
And together with Jesus Mary our Mother accompanies us. She is already in the house of the Father, she is the Queen of Heaven and this is how we invoke her during this time; as Jesus is with us, so too she walks with us; she is the Mother of our hope.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today, in Italy and in other countries, we celebrate the solemnity of the Lord's Ascension. The passage of the Gospel ( Mt 28: 16-20) shows us the Apostles who gather in Galilee, "on the mountain that Jesus had told them to go to" (v. 16). Here on the mountain the final meeting of the Risen Lord with his followers takes place. The "mountain" has a strong symbolic, evocative meaning. On a mountain Jesus proclaimed the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5,1-12); on the mountains he would retreat to pray (cf. Mt 14.23); there he welcomed the crowds and healed the sick (cf. Mt 15.29). But this time, on the mountain, he is no longer the Master who acts and teaches, but he is the Risen One who asks the disciples to act and to proclaim, entrusting them with the mandate to continue his work.
He invests them with the mission to all the people. He says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (28: 19-20). The contents of the mission entrusted to the Apostles are these: to proclaim, baptize, and to teach how to walk the path laid down by the Master, that is the living Gospel. This message of salvation implies first of all the duty of witness - without witness one cannot proclaim - to which we, today's disciples, are also called to explain the reason for our faith. Faced with such a demanding task, and thinking of our weaknesses, we feel inadequate, as the Apostles themselves surely felt. But we should not be discouraged, remembering the words Jesus addressed to them before ascending to Heaven: "I am with you always until the end of the age" (see 20).
This promise ensures the constant and consoling presence of Jesus among us. But how is this presence be realized? Through his Spirit, which leads the Church to walk through history as a companion of every person. That Spirit, sent by Christ and the Father, works the remission of sins and sanctifies all those who are repentant and open themselves with confidence to his gift. With the promise to remain with us until the end of time, Jesus inaugurates the style of his presence in the world as the Risen One. Jesus is present in the world but in another style, the style of the Risen One, that is, a presence that is revealed in the Word, in the Sacraments, in the constant and inner action of the Holy Spirit. The feast of Ascension tells us that Jesus, although having ascended to Heaven to dwell gloriously at the right of the Father, is still and is always among us: this is the source of our strength, our perseverance and our joy, precisely from the presence of Jesus among us with the strength of the Holy Spirit.
May the Virgin Mary accompany our journey with her maternal protection: from her may we learn the gentleness and courage to be witnesses in the world of the Risen Lord.