Meditation of the week

The suffering Christ

Luke 22,14-23,56

The four evangelists tell the story of the Passion and Death of Jesus in a very similar way, agreeing on the key events, while differing in some of the details relating to them.  Luke’s Passion narrative follows the main outline provided by Mark’s gospel, but, adds details from his own sources to tell the story in his own unique way.

The first prophecy of the Passion follows immediately after Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus’ identity as “the Christ of God”, (9,21), the Messiah.  This is followed, almost immediately, by the Transfiguration, during which, in Luke’s gospel, Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus about “his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem” (9,31), i.e. his Passion, Death and Resurrection. From Luke 9,51, “Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem.” The Passion perspective colours his gospel from there onwards. The Passion Narrative has a basic four-act structure: (1) the  Preliminaries – the betrayal, the celebration of the Last Supper, the Agony; (2) the Arrest,  the High Priest/Sanhedrin trial of Jesus and the denial by Peter; (3) The Roman trial of Jesus; his rejection in favour of Barabbas, his condemnation and mockery; (4) Jesus carries his cross, is crucified , mocked, died and is buried.

It is only possible here to mention a few of the many special features in Luke’s Passion Narrative.  His  Passion Narrative has no mention of Jesus’ death being propitiatory (for the forgiveness of our sins,) whereas ( Mt 26,28) speaks of Jesus blood being poured out for the forgiveness of sins, and (Mk 10,45) states that Jesus will give his life as “a ransom for many.”  However the theme of mercy and forgiveness feature prominently in his gospel and especially in his Passion Narrative. Jesus forgives all involved in his sentence and death, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” (23,34). He promises Paradise to the repentant criminal. (23,42-43). In Luke’s gospel Jesus is saving people right to the end of his life.

Jesus prays to the Father at the beginning of the Passion on the Mt of Olives (22,42) and at the point of death, in his last earthly words he prays, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” (23,46). This prayer proclaims that the “power of darkness” in the Passion is not able to separate him from his heavenly Father.

The innocence of Jesus is a key theme in Luke’s Passion Narrative ; three times Pilate declares him innocent; Herod could not find him guilty, and the Roman centurion, on seeing Jesus dying declared, “Truly, this was man is innocent” (23,47). These declarations of innocence could convince the Romans (in the 80’s AD when Luke wrote his gospel) that the founder of Christianity was innocent, i.e. not a rebel or subversive as accused before Pilate- with the implication that the Romans have nothing to fear from Christianity.

Jesus’ exemplary resignation to God’s will, by accepting without complaint, compromise, or blame all that happened to him in his Passion and Death, will, (in Luke’s mind), inspire the persecuted Church at the end of the first Christian century to imitate his example.

It will do the same for many Christians of today who suffer for their faith, and for us, too, in our  smaller trials.  “The supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him shows us the point to which the mercy of God can reach.” (Pope Francis).  “Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free.  You are the Saviour of the world.”  And my Saviour.

Fr Geoff O’Grady