THE PASSION ACCORDING TO LUKE
Each week you receive TEA — Text, Explanation and Application. This week the text alone would extend over five pages and the explanation would be much more. So I decided not to send “TEA” as such but a way of reading and listening to the Passion by Luke. This is what I did last year also when I gave a commentary on Mark’s way of stressing the Passion.
Each of the four evangelists has his own distinctive way of presenting the Passion Narrative, and, indeed, other narratives as well. This is normal in everyday communication; we all add our own characteristic and personal insights. The beauty of this is that we get a much fuller understanding of the text.
Obviously Jesus is central to the Passion, Death and Burial scenes. He is presented as an innocent martyr, the suffering servant of Isaiah who is filled with compassion. We will look at these.
The chief priests and multitudes of the people brought Jesus to Pilate who asked him a question or two and then said “I find no crime in this man” (Lk. 23: 4). The chief priests argued and mentioned that Jesus had preached in Galilee. Pilate used this as an excuse to send Jesus to Herod who was in Jerusalem. Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus who would not speak to them and sent him back to Pilate as innocent (Lk. 23: 8–12). Pilate declared so (Lk. 23: 15). Pilate immediately declared a second time that Jesus was innocent but, to placate the crowd he had Jesus scourged. This did not satisfy the crowd and Pilate offered Jesus or Barabbas and the crowd chose Barabbas. So a third time Pilate declared Jesus to be innocent and again promised to chastise him. The crowd got angrier and Pilate gave way to their demands for a crucifixion.
One of the criminals, the “good thief”, also declared Jesus innocent. When his companion in crime mocked Jesus the “good thief” said, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
After the crucifixion, a Gentile (pagan) centurion, probably in charge of the proceedings, declared, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Lk. 23: 48).
Now many in the mob who had asked for Jesus’ death realised what had happened and “returned home beating their breasts” They realised their participation in such a heinous crime (Lk. 23: 48).
Luke has seven witnesses (Pilate three times, Herod once, the Good Thief and the Centurion, once each and the crowd) testify that Jesus was an innocent martyr.
That Jesus suffered is obvious and needs no commentary. There is an aspect of his suffering that should be equally obvious: Jesus presents himself as “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk. 22: 27). His service of us is one of humble and practical love. To bring out Jesus’ service of love, Luke emphasises Jesus compassion to so many people, some perhaps surprising for a dying and tortured man. It was Jesus’ love for each one of us that brought him to give his life, to suffer and to die. His love for us was primary; his suffering a sign and proof of his love. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian, stated that compassion is the highest form of love.
Filled with Compassion
It is insightful to study Jesus’ reaction to each and all the abuses levelled against him and the ways in which so many friends and disciples were unfaithful. We will look at some of these.
We can begin with Peter. At the Last Supper he insisted that no matter who would abandon Jesus, it certainly would not be him; he would die rather than deny Jesus. A very short time afterwards, before the following morning, three times he denied he knew anything about Jesus. Jesus must have been close and may have heard the whole conversation between Peter and his accusers. When the cock crowed “the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly (Lk. 22: 61–62). What Luke adds here that is special to hum is that the Lord “looked at Peter”. It was a special look — not a look of anger or contempt or “I told you so!” It had to be a look of love and compassion. That “look” touched Peter’s heart and he “went out and wept bitterly”. Peter was not condemned for helping to condemn Jesus. Jesus showed him love and no doubt Peter recalled a promise made at the Last Supper, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” (Lk. 22: 31–32).
What was it that made Peter go out and weep bitterly? Obviously it was the look of mercy and compassion that Jesus had for him. He realised his brashness and the sin it led to. He realised how in that look Jesus forgave him. Perhaps for the first time in his life he realised how Jesus really loved him in spite of all his sinfulness.
Luke opens chapter 22 with Judas going to the chief priests and offering to betray Jesus when the multitude of the Jewish people would not be present to defend him. Next we meet Judas at the Last Supper. Jesus invited him. He pointed out that someone was about to betray him. He gave Judas the knowledge that he knew he was being betrayed. He did not try to stop him. He did not ask the other apostles to tie him up or get rid of him or anything like that. He treated Judas with dignity and respect.
We next meet Judas in the Garden when he comes with the chief priests and Temple guard. This is the only time in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus calls Judas by name. Luke has Jesus prevent Judas from kissing him. This is an act of sensitivity, that the betrayal should come about by a hypocritical act of mutual love.
In the middle of the arrest scene there is an act of Jesus’ compassion that cannot be overlooked. “And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Lk. 22: 50–51). Jesus had preached “love your enemies”. Here is a perfect example of that being fulfilled by him in his moment of arrest.
The Women of Jerusalem
“The women of Jerusalem” were a number of women who frequently attended executions by crucifixion to “bewail and lament” the victim. It is unlikely that they knew Jesus and he gave no indication that he knew them. However, he did react to their concern and compassion by extending his compassion to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Lk. 23: 27–31).
He forewarned them about the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem and then advised them how they were to prepare for that event. He showed more concern for them than for himself.
The Good Thief
The whole purpose of Christ’s passion and death was the salvation of souls. On the cross he met compassion from a most unlikely source — one of those being executed with him. He could not meet love and compassion without outdoing it with his own super–generous love and compassion. The Good Thief admitted his sin and asked Jesus not to forgive but to “remember” him. He was humble in his request; he asked for a remembrance and he was given heaven! Jesus opened the gates and the Good Thief was the first to enter.
An important teaching of Jesus throughout his public ministry was the forgiveness of enemies. He demonstrated that in his own person as he was crucified. He did not call anyone an enemy nor did he regard anyone as such. As he saw the soldiers and the crowd vilifying him he was not angry nor did he damn them in hell. He prayed to his Father for them, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23: 34).
Simon of Cyrene
I have deliberately left Simon of Cyrene to this last posting in this section on the compassion of Jesus. He was returning to the city from his work in the country when the soldiers seized him and made him carry the Cross of Jesus behind him. He was “minding his own business” and not involved in the crucifixion event. He may not have been aware who it was that was to be crucified. We are not aware if he even knew of Jesus.
But he is a model for all of us. No one offered to help Jesus carry his Cross; Simon had it thrust upon him. He was not to walk ahead of Jesus, nor side–by–side with him but “to carry it behind Jesus” (Lk. 23: 26). It was his vocation, his call to follow Jesus. And he accepted. From carrying the Cross, showing help to Jesus, he received his faith and that of his children. Simon was well–known to the early Christian community and his sons were very involved in the Church. He was rewarded for his kindness to Jesus.
Sometimes we choose our crosses; sometimes they are thrust upon us. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk.9: 23). Once we accept and follow Jesus we too will be amply rewarded in faith, hope and love.