Christ the Olive: Sexagesima

bowl being poured with yellow liquid

The countdown to Easter continues this Sunday with Sexagesima, Latin for sixty: which leaves us with just a week and a half to the beginning of Lent. That’s why since last Sunday, our readings have turned from the Advent to Epiphany theme of the Incarnation towards the Cross and the Resurrection. The Gospel reading continues from last week with S Luke’s account of the “Sermon on the Plain,” better known in S Matthew’s version as the Sermon on the Mount. Today, we hear Luke’s version of the Gospel in a nutshell: 

“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Luke 6:35-46

As last week’s readings stressed, if we put our trust in rewards of the flesh, such as our wealth, popularity or reputation, we lose the far greater rewards of the spirit. If we yield to the natural inclination to hate our enemies and to want recompense for everything we give, we are slaves to the flesh. We are not to judge by our own standards, or by the standards of the world: only God’s judgments, as He has revealed them to us in Holy Church and Scripture, can truly set us free. And, as the Prayer of Humble Access has it, His “property is always to have mercy.” This week’s Old Testament reading about Joseph forgiving the brothers who sold him into slavery reinforces the point.

So what is this spiritual reward of which Our Lord speaks? 

For a start, it is to be “sons” of the Most High: for as sons were anciently their fathers’ prime inheritors, so we (whether men or women) are adopted as the prime inheritors of God’s Kingdom. What this means, Jesus explains, is that we receive a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” But a good measure – of what?

There’s a clue in the unusual word “pressed down” (Greek: pepiesmenon). It occurs only this once in the New Testament, and only three in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament: Sirach 23:21, where it refers to a man captured unaware; Song of Solomon 2:15, referring to foxes being caught in a vineyard; and Micah 6:15, where it refers to olives and wine being pressed

All three of these senses can be brought to bear on Sunday’s reading if we take it in the context of the pre-Lent season and our renewed focus on the Cross. On Maundy Thursday, the night before He was “pressed down” on the Cross, Our Lord was “captured” in the Garden of Gethsemane, which means precisely “olive press.” From the pressed olive, the ancients derived fuel for heat and light, oil for anointing and washing the body, seasoning to give flavour to food and to bind the grains of bread. Like the pressed olive, Christ crucified and risen gives us the warmth, light, nourishment, flavour and unity of eternal life in His Kingdom. 

As S Paul puts it (1 Corinthians 15:45-49), Adam was born of the flesh with a soul, but at the Resurrection, Christ, the new Adam, breathes into us the new life of the Holy Spirit. Gethsemane is a new Eden. This Lent, we kneel with Our Lord in the garden, praying for those who would capture and crush us; and through the sacrifice of the Mass, the Church is made truly Jesus’ Body, united with our Head, as one gift sanctified and offered to the Father in love.

May that be reward enough. 

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