Faith, Agency, Courage, and Resistance

Editor’s note: This meditation was first written and recorded by Rev. Alex da Silva Souto, and produced by Rev. Jim Keat for the podcast Be Still and Go: meditations for the movement, a digital ministry of Riverside Church in New York City. Please check out all the entire Lenten podcasts of this series and Riverside’s amazing digital ministry library. Rev. Keat did an amazing job producing and publishing this episode, and below you find the script as an assistive listening tool. Click here to listen.

photo credit: “Praise & Blame” by Rev. Alex da Silva Souto, Connecticut, USA.

46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said,
“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”
Having said this, He breathed His last.
~Luke 23:46 (NRSV) 

These words are known as the seventh, of the seven last sayings of Jesus.
They echo the fifth verse of Psalm 31, which reads:

5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O LORD, God of truth.

However, these words from Luke are not recorded in the other Gospels.
Matthew and Mark opt for a quotation echoing the first verse of Psalm 22:

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
~Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

While the writer or writers of the Gospel of John maintain that book’s succinct style with the definitive statement: 

It is finished. ~John 19:30

This short verse derives from a Greek expression; which can also be translated as “It is accomplished”, or “It is complete”. The four gospels use a similar term to communicate Jesus’ death:

“He breathed His last.”
“...He delivered up His spirit.”
“…He yielded up the ghost.”
“…He expired… He breathed out His spirit.”
or “... gave up the ghost.”

But we only find: “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.” in Luke’s gospel.

Is there an unique lesson we can learn from how the writer(s) of Luke convey Jesus’ last words?

It is commonly known that “a first impression” can only happen once, but through continued relationship one can repair any initial misunderstanding. However, the last impression, or the last lesson, or the last words, are always the last impression, the last lesson, and the last words.

Therefore, is it possible Jesus used His last words to communicate one last message He wanted to be sure we’d learned?

Another interesting aspect is that seven is a deeply symbolic number in the Bible.

Should, then, we understand the seventh saying to be Jesus’ ultimate saying?

Some scholars have argued that Jesus’ crucifixion was inevitable. Others have argued that despite of it all Jesus still managed to exercise His free will, commending His soul to God instead of the victimization of being killed.

Jesus was not robbed of His life, they argue. “He gave up His Spirit.”
That would be consistent with the translation “He breathed His last”
Which shows up in the four Gospels as I mentioned earlier… But Luke, seems to take things a step further by quoting Jesus saying:

“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”

Not “they crucified me and now I am about to die,” but “into Your Hands I commend My Spirit.”

They may have claimed, flogged, pierced, broken and killed my body, Jesus might say, but my true nature and true being is not theirs, It first came from the Creator, and It shall return into the arms of the Creator, the Source of All Things.

Could it be that what is easily perceived as resignation and inevitability is an ultimate act of faith, agency, courage, and resistance?

These are some of the most important lessons that Jesus taught throughout His ministry on earth.
Have faith in God.
Reclaim your agency especially when you are considered a non-being… when you are marginalized and persecuted.
Have heart!
Don’t lose courage because your spirit cannot be robbed from you.
Resist death dealing powers, and know that even when you are met with the limitations of your human frailty, God is at hand to take your spirit the rest of the way.

Didn’t Jesus live as we ought to live?
Shouldn’t, then, we learn how to die as He died?

The lesson on dying is not about stoicism, but an exercise of faith, agency, courage, and resistance.

 As I started to write this reflection I had a song on a continuous loop on Spotify. I often do this as I work. The song becomes like a mantra helping me focus my mind. Sometimes it is a gospel song, sometimes a classical piece, and quite often a song that is normally categorized as secular.

Today, the song on repeat was “Love & Hate” by Michael Kiwanuka. Serendipitously or coincidentally, this song is 7 minutes and 7 seconds long, and it seems to summarizes much of what I’ve attempted to convey with this reflection. Kiwanuka sings: 

You can't steal the things that God has given me
No more pain and no more shame and misery
You can't take me down
You can't break me down
You can't take me down 

Maybe the lesson is: Suffering and Death do not have the last word.
Jesus has/is the Last word! And these are words of faith, agency, courage, and resistance.

As we journey through this Lenten season, may we keep practicing our faith and reclaiming our agency, with courage and resistance.

Rev. Alex da Silva Souto

Rev. Alex da Silva Souto