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Abba, the name that saves

 Abbà, il nome  che salva  DCM-011
04 December 2021

The Message of Jesus' Preaching

If we were to summarize the message of the Gospel, we would have to say that the entire proclamation of the Good News is contained in the fact that Jesus tells us that God is our Father. The powerful image of fatherhood is the most valuable content of Christ's preaching. It has been calculated that Jesus uses the expression “father” about 170 times in the Gospels. It is not an authoritarian reference; instead, it is a reference to belonging, we belong to someone, our life is not without foundation, we are wanted, and desired to be, from the beginning. This recognition sees Saint Paul say in his letter to the Romans, The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, ‘Abba,[b Father’.” (Rom 8:15).

Paul senses that the greatest maturity of the Christian life, of the spiritual life, is to allow the Spirit to make so much room in our hearts that we turn to Him with the most affectionate expression that a child uses to address his father. I remember that one day I was in Jerusalem and I was struck by a Jewish child of three or four years old who held his father's hand and called him “Abba!” This word is not simply the Italian equivalent of “papa”, but it is an even more intimate, confidential way of addressing him; it is a sort of “papino!” What an impression Jesus must have made on his contemporaries by addressing God in this way, with this confidence, with this intimacy. 

This is also the reason why throughout the Gospel, Jesus constantly uses, in his examples and parables, words that can clearly explain to us how we are to understand fatherhood. Even when his disciples ask him to teach them how to pray, he answers them with the famous prayer of the Our Father: You therefore pray this way; Our Father. (Mt 6:9)

Every image, however, also has a limit, and the limit of an evocative image in this case is our own experience. In fact, only if we have had a positive experience of fatherhood will we be able to understand Jesus' words in the right way. If this is not the case, this image, instead of helping us to position ourselves in the best possible way towards God, can instead be3come his impediment. If this reasoning is true for each one of us, it is also true for Jesus. He certainly had a positive experience of human fatherhood to be able to draw so abundantly on the word “father” to explain God to us. This is why it is wrong to think that the figure of Joseph of Nazareth is a marginal figure. Only the Luke and Matthew Gospels speak to us explicitly about his story, and not a single word is reported about him. What speaks in this man are his choices, his works, his being. However, we could also say that he does not need to speak because it will be Jesus himself who will constantly give him the word through that very thread of fatherhood that runs through all the preaching of the three years of his public life. Jesus' adoptive father is the one who gave Jesus a positive experience of fatherhood, and who helped him to become aware of his true Father God in the best way possible.  In this sense, the theme of fatherhood in Christ's preaching is an immense one. However, I would like to dwell on two aspects that I consider decisive. Jesus uses the image of fatherhood to serve two important moments of human life; the first, the experience of misery, the second, the experience of abandonment.

Nell’esperienza della miseria ognuno di noi tocca la propria creaturalità, il proprio limite, la propria finitudine. Esso è il momento in cui crolla il nostro ideale e prende piede invece un giudizio su noi stessi spietato, senza vie d’uscita, mortifero. Ecco allora che l’unica cosa che può salvarci è il perdono, è avere cioè un’altra possibilità vedendo così la vita ripartire, riprendere, ricominciare. Nella parabola del figliol prodigo (Lc 15,11-32) noi vediamo messa in scena da Gesù esattamente questo tipo di esperienza. Quando il figlio minore nel suo delirio narcisistico se ne va da casa e vive in maniera dissoluta, giunge fino al punto di perdere tutto, toccare il fondo e invidiare i maiali. Trova però il coraggio di ammettere che non è degno di essere trattato da figlio ma almeno da servo, e così potrà tornare a casa. Giungendo a casa si trova però spiazzato dalla reazione del padre che invece di punirlo, colpevolizzarlo e umiliarlo, lo abbraccia, lo bacia, gli mette l’anello al dito, i calzari ai piedi e fa fare festa per lui. Ecco allora che Gesù ci dice che la vera paternità non è tale solo perché mette un argine, stabilisce delle regole, o spinge a un ordine, ma è tale se è capace anche di perdono, di ripartenza, di riconciliazione tra il nostro io ideale e il nostro io reale. Quel figlio torna a casa e scopre di essere nuovamente figlio, ma non è come prima, c’è qualcosa di più realistico nella sua consapevolezza. È suo padre che gli ha dato questo realismo, questa nuova consapevolezza di sé.

In the experience of misery, each of us touches our own creatureliness, our own limitation, our own finitude. It is the moment in which our ideal collapses and a merciless, deadly, deadly judgment of ourselves takes hold. This is when the only thing that can save us is forgiveness, that is, having another chance to see life begin again, resume, start over. In the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) we see exactly this kind of experience staged by Jesus. When the younger son, in his narcissistic delirium, leaves home and lives in a dissolute manner, he goes so far as to lose everything, hit rock bottom and envy the pigs. However, he finds the courage to admit that he is not worthy of being treated as a son, but at least as a servant, and so he can return home. When he gets home, however, he is surprised by the reaction of his father who, instead of punishing him, blaming him and humiliating him, embraces him, kisses him, puts a ring on his finger, shoes on his feet and throws a party for him. Here, then, Jesus tells us that true fatherhood is not only what has been put to one side, establishes rules, or pushes for an order, but it is such if it is also capable of forgiveness, of restarting, of reconciliation between our ideal self and our real self. That son comes home and discovers that he is a son again, but it is not like before, there is something more realistic in his awareness. It is his father who has given him this realism, this new awareness of himself.

The second decisive moment of life is in the experience of abandonment. In this case, Jesus does not tell a story but becomes a witness himself. Nailed to the cross, he feels alone, abandoned, and cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34). It is the experience of no longer feeling a sense, a meaning, and thus perceiving that everything is absurd, unlivable, and unbearable. Yet Jesus concludes this dialogue on the cross with the word “father”, saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). Only if you have a father can you cry out against him and abandon yourself to him. Jesus seems to be telling us that the worst thing for a man is not to suffer, but to have no one to whom he can address his cry, his suffering, his anguish; it is to have no one to whom we can abandon all of ourselves. Jesus can “lose” on the Cross only because he has a “Father”, and precisely because of this he wins, because it is the “Father” who gathers him from death and resurrects him.  This is why fatherhood is the most effective hermeneutical key of the entire Gospel, and Jesus is a convinced witness of this.