Apr 14, 2019: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (C)

Introduction

As we prepare to enter the sacred time of Holy Week on this final Sunday of Lent, we look again at the significance of Christ in our lives.  We recognize him as our savior, but we look more closely in order to discover just what kind of savior he is. We find that he has taken the form of a slave; he has been glorified with a name above all other names; he continues to suffer with us.

The Procession with Palms – Luke 19:28-40

Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.
As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany
at the place called the Mount of Olives,
he sent two of his disciples.
He said, “Go into the village opposite you,
and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered
on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
And if anyone should ask you,
‘Why are you untying it?’
you will answer,
‘The Master has need of it.’”
So those who had been sent went off
and found everything just as he had told them.
And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them,
“Why are you untying this colt?”
They answered,
“The Master has need of it.”
So they brought it to Jesus,
threw their cloaks over the colt,
and helped Jesus to mount.
As he rode along,
the people were spreading their cloaks on the road;
and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives,
the whole multitude of his disciples
began to praise God aloud with joy
for all the mighty deeds they had seen.
They proclaimed:
“Blessed is the king who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest.”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He said in reply,
“I tell you, if they keep silent,
the stones will cry out!”

In this reading, Jesus completes his journey to Jerusalem, where he knows his passion will occur.  Luke’s account of his entry into the city is filled with symbolic meaning and reinterprets several royal messianic traditions.

In the palm procession our heart feels a joy mixed with sadness at sight of the Master’s seemingly ephemeral triumph, prelude of suffering and death. —Servant of God Luis Martínez

Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.

This is literally a journey “up” to Jerusalem; the city is situated on the top of a mountain.

As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives,

Bethpage and Bethany were two villages east of Jerusalem.  The point of mentioning them is to describe the dramatic scene of Jesus coming over the crest of the eastern hill at the Mount of Olives, a place long associated with the appearance of the Messiah (Zechariah 14:4).

he sent two of his disciples. He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.

Jesus will not enter the Holy City on foot, as a pilgrim would; instead, he rides on a colt as a messianic king (Zechariah 9:9), peacefully and joyfully.  A king with intentions of war would ride on a horse.

“Colt” could refer to the young of any number of animals.  What is important is not the particular species of the animal, but the fact that no one has yet ridden on it.  In a sense, it has not yet been profaned.

Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’” So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?” They answered, “The Master has need of it.”

Kings had the right to press privately owned animals into their service when warranted; this could possibly explain the compliance of those who initially questioned the situation.

Note that Jesus is in complete control of this incident.  He knows in advance what is available, what can be done, and what should be said.  He gives his disciples directions to follow, and they find that in each instance he had foreknowledge and authority.

So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount.

The unbroken animal doesn’t resist Jesus as a rider — itself a remarkable event.

As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road;

This is a sign of deference to a king (2 Kings 9:13).  John’s account states that the crowds held palm branches, an emblem of victory and triumph, a detail not included in Saint Luke’s version.

and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.

The people praise him with an acclamation taken from Psalm 118:26, which reads: Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.  This blessing was part of the liturgical greeting of those who met pilgrims as they entered the Temple.  However, here the people add a reference to Jesus as king, making it a cry of homage and not merely one of greeting.

This is clearly a great messianic demonstration.

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

Their shouts also echo the announcement made by the angel to the shepherds on Christmas night (Luke 2:14).  The people are pointing to the arrival Jesus as the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom, which would be inaugurated by the arrival of the Messiah.  Thus, they exult “in the highest.”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”

The people, and particularly the Pharisees, were quite aware of the prophecies that Jesus’ actions were alluding to.  They are scandalized by the crowd’s shouts.

He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”

Jesus replies in a phrase which sounds like a proverb; so obvious is his messiahship that if men refused to recognize it, nature would proclaim it. We see this later when, upon Jesus’ death, the earth trembled and the rocks split (Matthew 27:51).

Recall that previously Jesus imposed silence on those who wanted to proclaim him as king or messiah.  Now he does not silence them, for the moment has come for his divinity and his mission to be made public.

1st Reading – Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Our first reading is from the third suffering servant song of the prophet Isaiah. In it, we learn more about the nature of the Messiah who is to come; namely, that he comes in the form of a self-emptying servant.

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.

God has appointed the speaker to a particular ministry (prophecy) and provided him with the tools required for his task (a well-trained tongue).  These gifts are given to the speaker, but they are for the benefit of the weary, to whom he ministers.

It is not clear who these weary might be or what the character of his rousing words are, but there seems to be an implication that the hearers are in some way downtrodden and that the words are words of comfort.

Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear;

The word of God is alive and fresh each day, for God opens his ears morning after morning.  He must be always attentive to hear the word that is given.

Note that the servant takes no credit; it is God who opens his ear, his readiness to accept God’s will is a gift of grace.

and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.

A heavy price is exacted from the speaker.  Like the prophets before him (Amos 7:10-17; Micah 2:6-10; Jeremiah 20:7-18), the servant is tested by various torments.

He willingly hands himself over to be beaten and shamed.  He does not try to escape or defend himself; he does not recoil from his call.

No explanation is given as to why his prophecy should elicit such a violent response, or even who his persecutors might be.  All we know is that his ministry generates this response and that he does not abandon it or take himself out of harm’s way.

The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced;

Despite his maltreatment, he is confident that God is with him.  This is remarkable because at the time, suffering was generally thought to be the result of some kind of sin against God.  Most in his position would have interpreted his abuse as evidence that God is on the side of their persecutors.

There are no grounds for the speaker to make this claim other than utter confidence in God.

I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

A phrase frequent in prophetic preaching (Ezekiel 3:8-9; Luke 9:51). It has special meaning here when you picture a face covered with spittle.

Note the speaker’s confidence is not that God will remove his burden, but that God is present and will help him carry out his call.

2nd Reading – Philippians 2:6-11

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Our second reading has been called “The Christ Hymn” because of the distinctive
qualities of this passage. It has a rhythmic character and use of parallelism which have led to the view that Paul may be quoting a hymn composed independently of Philippians (possibly originally in Aramaic).

The hymn has a basic twofold structure: verses 6-8 describe Christ’s humiliation; verses 9-11 recount his exaltation.

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Christ did not cling to the dignity that was rightfully his, nor did he use his exalted status for his own ends.

In Jewish tradition, being like God meant immunity to death (Wisdom 2:23). This perspective certainly also applies here, as Christ embraced death on the cross.

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,

Not only did he relinquish his divine privilege and status, he emptied himself of it.  The contrasts made here are noteworthy: though Christ had the form of God, he chose the form of a slave. Without losing his divine nature, he took on the human condition.

coming in human likeness;

The qualification suggested by “likeness” points to the fact that he was human like no one else was human.  In order to truly die, he had to become truly human; however, unlike the rest of humanity, he is free of sin.

and found human in appearance, he humbled himself,

Essentially, Christ divested himself of the honors and glory of his divinity and clothed himself with the rags of human nature.

becoming obedient to death,

Compliance with God’s will in a world alienated from God requires that one be open to the possibility of death.

even death on a cross.

Crucifixion, the form of execution reserved for slaves and those who had totally forfeited all civil rights, was a cursed, painful, and shameful death. The body was nailed through the hands and feet, and hanging with all its weight upon the cross, was exposed as a public spectacle.

Having taken on the form of a slave, Jesus made himself vulnerable to all the particulars of that station in life, including a death that marked the extremity of human abasement.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

The self-denying act of Christ is matched by the active response of God: Christ’s exaltation is as glorious as his humiliation was debasing.

Note that Christ is the one who performs the self-emptying, but God the Father is the one who takes the action in exalting him.  The superexaltation is attributed to God.

and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

This aspect of his exaltation is honor: a title of dignity.

Recall that in Jewish tradition, one’s name contains part of the essence of the individual.  Explicit mention of the name is held back until the end of the hymn.

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,

This aspect of his exaltation is power: every knee bows to him, which echoes Isaiah 45:23. The homage given to God alone is now transferred to Christ.

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

The extent to which Christ is to be revered is total; the entire universe is brought under his lordship.  This includes the spiritual beings in heaven, all living beings on earth, and even the dead under the earth.  Distinctions between spiritual or physical, living or dead, are meaningless here.  All will praise Christ.

and every tongue confess

Another echo of Isaiah 45:23.

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

The name that is “above every name” is Kýrios (Lord), which came to be substituted for YHWH in Christian copies of the Septuagint Old Testament.

This climax of the hymn is an early Christian confession of faith (see 1 Corinthians 12:3;
Romans 10:9).

to the glory of God the Father.

It is to the glory of God the Father to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Whatever respect is paid to Christ reflects honor of the Father (John 5:23).

He who in selfless obedience took on the powerlessness of a slave now through divine commission and investiture holds universal lordship (see 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Romans 14:9).


Gospel – Luke 22:14 – 23:56

When the hour came,
Jesus took his place at table with the apostles.
He said to them,
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,
for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again
until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said,
“Take this and share it among yourselves;
for I tell you that from this time on
I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine
until the kingdom of God comes.”
Then he took the bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them, saying,
“This is my body, which will be given for you;
do this in memory of me.”
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
which will be shed for you.

“And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me
is with me on the table;
for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined;
but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed.”
And they began to debate among themselves
who among them would do such a deed.

Then an argument broke out among them
about which of them should be regarded as the greatest.
He said to them,
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them
and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’;
but among you it shall not be so.
Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest,
and the leader as the servant.
For who is greater:
the one seated at table or the one who serves?
Is it not the one seated at table?
I am among you as the one who serves.
It is you who have stood by me in my trials;
and I confer a kingdom on you,
just as my Father has conferred one on me,
that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom;
and you will sit on thrones
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded
to sift all of you like wheat,
but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail;
and once you have turned back,
you must strengthen your brothers.”
He said to him,
“Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.”
But he replied,
“I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day,
you will deny three times that you know me.”

He said to them,
“When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals,
were you in need of anything?”
“No, nothing, they replied.
He said to them,
“But now one who has a money bag should take it,
and likewise a sack,
and one who does not have a sword
should sell his cloak and buy one.
For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me,
namely, He was counted among the wicked;
and indeed what is written about me is coming to fulfillment.”
Then they said,
“Lord, look, there are two swords here.”
But he replied, “It is enough!”

Then going out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives,
and the disciples followed him.
When he arrived at the place he said to them,
“Pray that you may not undergo the test.”
After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling,
he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing,
take this cup away from me;
still, not my will but yours be done.”
And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him.
He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently
that his sweat became like drops of blood
falling on the ground.
When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples,
he found them sleeping from grief.
He said to them, “Why are you sleeping?
Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”

While he was still speaking, a crowd approached
and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas.
He went up to Jesus to kiss him.
Jesus said to him,
“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked,
“Lord, shall we strike with a sword?”
And one of them struck the high priest’s servant
and cut off his right ear.
But Jesus said in reply,
“Stop, no more of this!”
Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.
And Jesus said to the chief priests and temple guards
and elders who had come for him,
“Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?
Day after day I was with you in the temple area,
and you did not seize me;
but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness.”

After arresting him they led him away
and took him into the house of the high priest;
Peter was following at a distance.
They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it,
and Peter sat down with them.
When a maid saw him seated in the light,
she looked intently at him and said,
“This man too was with him.”
But he denied it saying,
“Woman, I do not know him.”
A short while later someone else saw him and said,
“You too are one of them”;
but Peter answered, “My friend, I am not.”
About an hour later, still another insisted,
“Assuredly, this man too was with him,
for he also is a Galilean.”
But Peter said,
“My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.”
Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed,
and 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.”
He went out and began to weep bitterly.
The men who held Jesus in custody were ridiculing and beating him.
They blindfolded him and questioned him, saying,
“Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”
And they reviled him in saying many other things against him.

When day came the council of elders of the people met,
both chief priests and scribes,
and they brought him before their Sanhedrin.
They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us, “
but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe,
and if I question, you will not respond.
But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated
at the right hand of the power of God.”
They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied to them, “You say that I am.”
Then they said, “What further need have we for testimony?
We have heard it from his own mouth.”

Then the whole assembly of them arose and brought him before Pilate.
They brought charges against him, saying,
“We found this man misleading our people;
he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar
and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.”
Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
He said to him in reply, “You say so.”
Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds,
“I find this man not guilty.”
But they were adamant and said,
“He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea,
from Galilee where he began even to here.”

On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean;
and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction,
he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time.
Herod was very glad to see Jesus;
he had been wanting to see him for a long time,
for he had heard about him
and had been hoping to see him perform some sign.
He questioned him at length,
but he gave him no answer.
The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile,
stood by accusing him harshly.
Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him,
and after clothing him in resplendent garb,
he sent him back to Pilate.
Herod and Pilate became friends that very day,
even though they had been enemies formerly.
Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people
and said to them, “You brought this man to me
and accused him of inciting the people to revolt.
I have conducted my investigation in your presence
and have not found this man guilty
of the charges you have brought against him,
nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us.
So no capital crime has been committed by him.
Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

But all together they shouted out,
“Away with this man!
Release Barabbas to us.”
— Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion
that had taken place in the city and for murder. —
Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus,
but they continued their shouting,
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate addressed them a third time,
“What evil has this man done?
I found him guilty of no capital crime.
Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”
With loud shouts, however,
they persisted in calling for his crucifixion,
and their voices prevailed.
The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted.
So he released the man who had been imprisoned
for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked,
and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.

As they led him away
they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian,
who was coming in from the country;
and after laying the cross on him,
they made him carry it behind Jesus.
A large crowd of people followed Jesus,
including many women who mourned and lamented him.
Jesus turned to them and said,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me;
weep instead for yourselves and for your children
for indeed, the days are coming when people will say,
‘Blessed are the barren,
the wombs that never bore
and the breasts that never nursed.’
At that time people will say to the mountains,
‘Fall upon us!’
and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’
for if these things are done when the wood is green
what will happen when it is dry?”
Now two others, both criminals,
were led away with him to be executed.

When they came to the place called the Skull,
they crucified him and the criminals there,
one on his right, the other on his left.
Then Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
They divided his garments by casting lots.
The people stood by and watched;
the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon
because of an eclipse of the sun.
Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”;
and when he had said this he breathed his last.

[Here all kneel and pause for a short time.]

The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said,
“This man was innocent beyond doubt.”
When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened,
they returned home beating their breasts;
but all his acquaintances stood at a distance,
including the women who had followed him from Galilee
and saw these events.
Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who,
though he was a member of the council,
had not consented to their plan of action.
He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea
and was awaiting the kingdom of God.
He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
After he had taken the body down,
he wrapped it in a linen cloth
and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb
in which no one had yet been buried.
It was the day of preparation,
and the sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind,
and when they had seen the tomb
and the way in which his body was laid in it,
they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils.
Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.

The passion narrative is really a series of discrete individual stories, but together they weave a tapestry of riveting scenes.  They include the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper; Jesus’ farewell instruction; the events on the Mount of Olives and Peter’s denial; Jesus’ trial, flogging, and sentencing; the way of the cross and crucifixion; and Jesus’ death and burial.

When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

These verses occur only in Saint Luke’s gospel. The Last Supper was a Passover meal, a connection which underscores the meal’s eschatological significance.

The annual Passover ritual was the principal festival for the Jews because it celebrated one of the most important moments in Israel’s history: the first Passover in Egypt.  On that night, God instructed the enslaved Israelite people to sacrifice a lamb, eat it, and put its blood on their doorposts. It was their last supper in Egypt, for on that night, the Israelites escaped from bondage, and the angel of death struck down all the Egyptian first-born sons.  Every year thereafter, the Jews retold and reenacted the Passover story in their homes and at the temple, to celebrate God’s great act of liberation in the Exodus.

It’s important to note that the Jews celebrated the Passover feast as a liturgical memorial, which did much more than simply recall a past event — it made that past even mystically present to those celebrating the ritual.  For the Jews, celebrating the Passover placed them in Egypt on that fateful night, so that they could be at one with the ancestors and participate in that foundational moment of their nation’s history.

The Passover also looked to the future.  In Jesus’ day, the Passover feast was charged with messianic expectations. There was hope that on some Passover night in the future, God would send the Messiah to the city of Jerusalem to liberate the people.  As we know, that is exactly what will happen: The new exodus is about to begin in the Upper Room tonight.  Christ’s entire public ministry reaches its culmination in this Last Supper.  No wonder he says, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you.”

Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you that from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you;

In the Passover liturgy, the head of the house took the bread for distribution as a symbol of how he provided for his own. Jesus now provides not only bread, but his own body to sustain his family.

Note that this is the bread of eternal life promised at Capernaum a year earlier (John Chapter 6).

do this in memory of me.”

This is the institution of the ordained priesthood.  In Greek, the phrase is touto poieite eis ton emen anamnesin.

Poiein means “to offer,” and has sacrificial overtones. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, there are about seventy sacrificial uses of poiein. One example is Exodus 29:38: Now this is what you shall offer (poieseis) upon the altar: two lambs a year old, day by day, continually.

Anamnesis means “reminder,” also with sacrificial overtones. It occurs only eight times in the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament, and seven of those times it is in a sacrificial context.  Hebrews 10:3 reads: There is in these sacrifices a reminder (anamnesis) of sin year after year.

Numbers 10:10: On the day of your gladness . . . you shall blow over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; they shall serve you for remembrance (anamnesis) before your God.  Therefore, the term anamnesis can be translated as “memorial offering” or “memorial sacrifice.”

Therefore, Christ’s words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” can be translated as “Offer this for my memorial sacrifice.” Given the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, there is little doubt this translation is appropriate. Jesus is commanding the apostles to make present the sacrifice of his body and blood, his total gift of love, which he offers at the Last Supper and will carry out on Calvary.

This is why Catholics speak of the Mass as a sacrifice.  It is not a new sacrifice but makes present the one sacrifice of Christ.

“When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1364]

And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”

The institution of the Eucharist is the only time in the New Testament where Jesus uses the word “covenant.” Recall that covenants were sealed with the blood of the animal that was killed for the covenant offering.

But there is no animal at this meal, which is exceedingly odd. The most important part of the Passover celebration was the lamb, the primary reminder of how the Passover lambs were sacrificed in Egypt so that the Israelite firstborn sons would not be killed in the tenth plague.

The sacrificial language and overtones of Jesus’ discourse tell us that the body being offered is not that of a lamb or any other animal: it is his own body being sacrificed and his own blood being poured out. Just as the Passover lamb was sacrificed in Egypt to spare the firstborn sons of Israel, so now Jesus is about to be sacrificed on the cross to spare all humanity.

The Eucharist is the new Passover of the new covenant.

“And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table;

Judas’ name is not specifically mentioned, perhaps as a reminder to Christians that every sin is like Judas’, in the sense that a hand that is with Christ on the Eucharistic table is used to strike against him.

for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed.”

Jesus would fulfill prophecy and go as it had been decreed, but this does not lessen the guilt of the one who betrayed him.

And they began to debate among themselves who among them would do such a deed.

In Mark’s gospel (14:19), the disciples question Jesus about the betrayal; here, they debate each other.

Then an argument broke out among them about which of them should be regarded as the greatest.

What Mark places during Jesus’ journey (Mark 10:42-45), Luke places at the Last Supper.  Just before Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, we are reminded of the human limitations of those for whom he suffered.  Even the ones that were closest to him were indispensable.

He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves.

A number of kings in antiquity took the title “Benefactor,” often with little justification. The disciples must serve, as Jesus did, if they want to lead.

It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

That the disciples should serve rather than seek greatness does not mean they will go unnoticed. Jesus makes it clear that he knows how they have stood with him, and that there will be a place for them in the kingdom. They are promised a future that includes judging the tribes of Israel.

“Simon, Simon,

The repetition gives solemnity and emphasis. It is a form of intimate, personal address.

behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat,

Note that Jesus is speaking in the plural here: all the apostles will be subjected.

but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”

Here, the address is in the singular, to Peter.  When he has come through the trial he is to strengthen others.

He said to him, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.” But he replied, “I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.”

It is clear that no disciple, not even the one for whom Jesus has prayed, will be safe from a test of their loyalty and fidelity.

He said to them, “When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?” “No, nothing,” they replied.

Jesus acknowledges that he had sent them out in a very poor condition, barefoot and penniless (Luke 9:3, 10:4).  They were not to go far or be out for very long, and the lesson was to teach them to depend on the providence of God and the kindness of others.  The disciples, for their part, acknowledge that they had lacked nothing.

He said to them, “But now one who has a money bag should take it, and likewise a sack, and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one.

Their circumstances are about to change.  The future will be more difficult than the past.

For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, ‘He was counted among the wicked’; and indeed what is written about me is coming to fulfillment.”

A reference to Isaiah 53:12.  Jesus is portraying himself as the suffering servant in Isaiah’s prophecy.

In other words, the disciples have been faithful servants and Jesus has been their faithful master, but he is about to suffer and die as a criminal.  They should therefore expect trouble and unease ahead.

Then they said, “Lord, look, there are two swords here.”

The disciples interpret Jesus’ words literally and take stock of what they have.  Among them there are two swords, one of which was Peter’s.

But he replied, “It is enough!”

It is clear that the disciples fail to grasp the real meaning of Jesus words about opposition from and service to others.

What is not clear is exactly what Jesus means in his reply of, “It is enough!”  Three possibilities:

1) Jesus ends the conversation abruptly, with a sign of frustration and sadness that his closest friends don’t “get it.”

2) He is speaking ironically or sarcastically, as if to say: “Two swords among twelve men! Oh sure, that’s plenty, considering our enemies are coming in droves.”

3) He literally means that two swords will get the job done, despite the strength of the enemy, because God is on their side.

Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.

Jesus spent his days in Jerusalem preaching and teaching, but retreated to the Mount of Olives each evening, perhaps for protection.  In Mark’s gospel, he refers to this place as Gethsemane.

John 13:21-30 tells us that Judas departed the Last Supper before the others; he is not part of the group that followed Jesus.

When he arrived at the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.”

The word in Greek for “test” is peirasmos, which is also translated as “temptation.”  It is the same word used to describe the temptations that Satan inflicted on Christ in the desert at the beginning of his ministry; and is also the same word found at the end of the Our Father (“lead us not into temptation”, Luke 11:4).

Jesus is encouraging his disciples to resist the testing that they are about to face as they witness their master being arrested, condemned, scourged, and crucified.

After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed,

The normal Jewish posture for prayer was standing (Luke 18:11-13), but at this solemn time, Jesus knelt.

saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me;

“This cup” is a symbol of suffering and divine anger (Isaiah 51:17, Ezekiel 23:33).

As one who had taken upon himself a complete human nature, it was natural for Jesus to shrink from the horror of the cross, a horror magnified by his knowledge that he would experience the weight of divine anger on sin.

still, not my will but yours be done.”

Nevertheless, Jesus’ human will is perfectly united to the Father’s; he is determined to follow the will of his father and submits to God’s plan.

Jesus faces his suffering, feels the full force of it, and freely embraces it for the sake of our salvation.

In this critical moment, we see Jesus reliving the test of Adam and proving himself to be a faithful Son of God precisely where Adam was unfaithful:

  • Both were tested by Satan in a garden (Gethsemane, Eden)
  • Adam did not trust the Father in his time of testing, preferring his own will to God’s; whereas Jesus says to the Father, “your will be done”
  • Adam’s disobedience led him to the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, while Christ’s prayer of obedience led him to the wood of the cross, which Christians will later call the Tree of Life

And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.

Luke alone tells of this angel who strengthened Jesus and of the sweat “like drops of blood.”

When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”

Luke seems to indicate that the disciples were so grieved over the mournful farewells at the Last Supper that they were exhausted; and since it was now late, they slept.  Matthew and Mark do not afford them this benefit of the doubt in their accounts.

While he was still speaking, a crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

The kiss was a common greeting (1 Thessalonians 5:26); to use it in this way was a horrible form of treachery and betrayal.

His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked, “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?”

The disciples recall Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (Luke 22:38) and are trying their best to follow his instruction.

And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.

According to John 18:10, it is Peter who attacks the servant.  Notice that he didn’t wait for Jesus to respond to their question: he struck out in fear and haste.

But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!”

Jesus preserves his nonviolent ministry.  In doing so, he probably spared the life of one or more of his disciples.

Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.

This is the only miracle that occurs during the passion narrative.  It demonstrates:

1) Jesus’ power — he had the power to heal a severed ear, and he could have used the same power to thwart his enemies; instead he submits to them;

2) compassion — he heals an enemy, even one who has come to lead him towards agony and certain death;

3) living out his teaching — he has done good for those who hate him.

And Jesus said to the chief priests and temple guards and elders who had come for him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? Day after day I was with you in the temple area, and you did not seize me; but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness.”

Jesus points out the absurdity of sending a Roman detachment for the arrest of a nonviolent rabbi such as himself.

Further, they have done so under the cover of darkness, the symbol of evil and death.  They didn’t dare to arrest him in the light of day.

After arresting him they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest;

Jesus was taken first to the high priest who had ordered his arrest.

All four Gospels give more space to the trial than to the Crucifixion. They are answering questions about why the Jews condemned Jesus and why the Romans executed him, as well as demonstrating his identity as the Son of God and King of the Jews.

Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. When a maid saw him seated in the light, she looked intently at him and said, “This man too was with him.” But he denied it saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A short while later someone else saw him and said, “You too are one of them”; but Peter answered, “My friend, I am not.” About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed,

Peter’s threefold denial fulfills Jesus’ prediction at the Last Supper (Luke 22:34).

and 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.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.

Jesus’ prayer has been effective by preserving Peter in his sifting. There is an implicit contrast with Judas – Peter repented of his deed, Judas did not.

The men who held Jesus in custody were ridiculing and beating him. They blindfolded him and questioned him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they reviled him in saying many other things against him.

Jesus was evidently left to a guard of soldiers who made sport of him, which Jesus predicted in Mark 10:34.

When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought him before their Sanhedrin.

The Lucan account of the trial differs markedly from Mark’s. Luke’s is a morning trial, there are no false witnesses, there is no claim that Jesus claimed to destroy the temple, the entire Sanhedrin handles Jesus’ trial in contrast to Mark’s singling out the High Priest as
spokesman.

Jewish custom forbade night trials on serious charges which negated their legal validity.  Luke’s purpose is to describe a solemn, valid, and formal trial of Jesus by Israel.

They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us,”

Jesus was generally believed by his followers to be the Christ, but his opponents could not prove that he had ever explicitly made this claim for himself; here, they urge him to do exactly that — and incriminate himself in the process, according to their understanding of the Messiah.

Recall that during his ministry, Jesus had given amazing proofs of a divine power, which were worthy of inquiry by the Sanhedrin.  However, it should have been a free and impartial inquiry, to examine Jesus as the potential messiah, not at the bar as a criminal.

In other words, they are not asking about his messiahship so that they could believe in him, but to justify killing him.

but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond.

Jesus is pointing out to his accusers that they have already prejudged him (“if I tell you, you will not believe”) and that if he asks for their objections to the evidence of his messiahship, they will not answer him.  (Recall their lack of answer in Luke 20:1-8, when Jesus’ authority was previously scrutinized.)

Essentially, if he is not the Messiah, they should answer to the evidence that he is.  If he is the Messiah, they should let him go free.  However, it is clear that the Sanhedrin will neither answer him nor let him go.

But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”

A reference to Psalm 110:1.  His questioners will only believe when they see Christ at his second coming.

They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”

Jesus had just referred to himself as the Son of Man.  Is he also, then, the Son of God?

The Sanhedrin meant no more by this title than it signified in the Old Testament: the
specially chosen one, the Davidic king. In the Sanhedrin’s eyes, that Jesus should claim such a privilege insulted God; for this humiliated, rejected man to presume to reveal and
mediate the Lord’s glory to Israel was the supreme irreverence to God.

He replied to them, “You say that I am.”

Another way to translate this would be: “I am, as you say.”  This corresponds with Mark’s gospel, in which Jesus simply replies, “I am” (Mark 14:62).

Then they said, “What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth.”

Jesus had conceded to the Sanhedrin’s charge that he claimed to be the Son of God.  As far as they were concerned, he has confessed and is guilty of blasphemy.

Then the whole assembly of them arose and brought him before Pilate.

The Sanhedrin has determined that Jesus is a blasphemer and deserves to die. However, under Roman law, only the Romans had the authority to carry out executions, and they would not execute a man for blasphemy.

In order to secure Jesus’ execution, there had to be a further trial before the Romans for a different charge, a violation of Roman law worthy of capital punishment.

Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea from A.D. 26 to A.D. 36 and had the authority to pronounce a death sentence.  Note that “the whole assembly” brought him before Pilate; this was unnecessary, but their united front was intended to convey their seriousness to the Roman authorities.

They brought charges against him, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king.”

All of these charges were false:

1) “misleading our people” — curiously imprecise, with little if any criminality,

2) “opposes payment of taxes” — Jesus did just the opposite (Luke 20:20-25),

3) “maintains that he is the Messiah, a king” — the Jews are deliberately portraying Jesus’ kingship as a political one, in order for it to be seen as a potential threat to Roman authority.  They are faking zeal for Caesar and trying to ingratiate themselves to Pilate.

Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.”

In one sense, Jesus was King of the Jews, but not in the sense in which Pilate understood the title.

Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, “I find this man not guilty.”

From Jesus’ reply, Pilate concludes that Jesus was neither a revolutionary nor a threat to Roman authority. Pilate pronounces acquittal for Jesus.

But they were adamant and said, “He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here.” On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time.

In the Roman Empire, a trial was usually held in the province where the offense was committed, but it could be transferred to the province from which the accused came. Pilate uses this opportunity to send Jesus to Herod, ridding himself of a troublesome case and as we will later see, building a friendship with Herod that might prove useful to his political career.

It is ironic that the one who is to judge heaven and earth is dragged from one judgment seat to another.  Through it all, he never challenges the authority of his questioners, and he never loses his composure, despite being whipped and mocked by his captors.

Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign.

The miracles Jesus performed had been the talk of the country; Herod is not interested in learning from Jesus or gaining insight to God — he is merely curious and wants to see a show.  Herod had never expended any effort to seek out Jesus during his public ministry; it was a passive curiosity at best.

He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus never denied a miracle for the relief of even the poorest beggar.  In contrast, here he not only refuses to perform a miracle for Herod, he doesn’t even speak to him. Jesus will not cheapen himself or his mission.

The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly.

Herod, who had been acquainted with John Baptist, had more knowledge of Christ than Pilate had, yet was more abusive to Christ than Pilate was.

The “resplendent garb” is intended as a mockery of Jesus’ kingship.

Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them,

Note that all of Israel is represented.

“You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

The fullness of the judicial procedure engaged in by Pilate is manifest: arrest, charges, examination, verdict of innocence, supporting verdict of Herod, acquittal of Jesus, judicial warning. Luke has taken pains to present Jesus’ hearings before Pilate as legally correct in all aspects.

But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” — Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. —

Barabbas is a notorious insurrectionist.  There is much symbolism in this choice, because the name Barabbas means “son of the father.” In choosing him, the crowds favor this false “son of the father,” who represents violence and vengence, over Jesus, The Son of The Father, who represents peace and forgiveness.

Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

The earlier adulation of the crowds now turns to hatred and rejection as they cry out for the release of Barabbas and for the death of Jesus.

Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

Pilate again pronounces Jesus innocent.

With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted.

This is not a judicial sentence, as Pilate had already pronounced Jesus innocent.

So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.

Rather than take a stand to protect the innocent Jesus, Pilate cowardly caves to the pressure and allows Jesus to be scourged and crucified.

As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.

Roman crucifixions generally took place outside the city walls along crowded roads so that many people could see what happened when someone revolted against Rome.  At the crucifixion site, the vertical part of the cross was planted in the ground.  The condemned criminal was given the crossbeam in the city and had it placed over his shoulders like a yoke, with his arms hooked over it.  He would be forced to carry the crossbeam through the streets and out the city gates.

It would be highly unusual for the Romans to permit another person to carry the crossbeam for a criminal condemned to crucifixion.  The fact that they do so here is an indication of the especially savage nature of the scourging.  He is so physically weak that they fear he may not make it to the execution site outside the city.

Roman soldiers had authority to require assistance from civilians, and they press into service Simon of Cyrene.

We don’t know much about this Simon.  Cyrene was a center of Jewish population in northern Africa.  He may have been in Jerusalem as a pilgrim for the Passover feast.  Luke’s gospel notes that Simon is “coming in from the country” when he is enlisted to carry Jesus’ cross.  He probably has no idea about the dramatic events occurring in Jerusalem that day.  The fact that he was not in Jerusalem during the uproar surrounding Christ’s trial and condemnation tells us that he did not participate in the mob shouting for Jesus’ execution.  Not all of the Jews were intensely opposed to Jesus.

A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him.

Only Luke records this incident.  The piety of these women shows that Jesus had friends as well as enemies.

Jewish tradition forbade wailing for people condemned to death, which makes the gesture even more poignant.

Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children,

“Daughters of Jerusalem” shows that they were local people, not pilgrims from Galilee who may have known him personally.

Jesus has been beaten, whipped, scourged, humiliated, and mocked — and yet he continues to minister to others.

for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’

Jesus is concerned for those who weep for him, because of the destruction that would come upon Jerusalem, which some of them might live to see or, at least, their children would.

The destruction would be so great that what was commonly dreaded would actually be desired; that is, to be childless (so as to not see their children suffer and die) and to be buried alive (seeking shelter from God’s wrath under any terms, even with the hazard of being crushed to pieces).  The latter is a reference to Hosea 10:8.

for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?”

A proverb. If they have abused an innocent person for his good works (i.e., life-giving, green), how will God deal with them for doing so, they who are corrupt and unrepentant (i.e., dead, useless, dry)?

Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull,

From the Latin word calvaria, “a skull,” comes the English word Calvary. The Aramaic name is Golgotha.  The name originated from the Hebrew legend that Adam’s skull was buried there.

they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left.

All four Gospels state that Jesus was crucified between two criminals; in his death, he “was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

The goal of crucifixion was not simply to execute but to do so with the maximum amount of pain and public humiliation.  Stripped of clothing and nailed or bound to a cross with their arms extended and raised, their exposed bodies had no means of coping with heat, cold, insects, or pain.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

The cross does not inhibit Christ’s ministry of mercy.  Of all the sins that might justly be considered unpardonable, what the Jews and Romans were now guilty of — sinful creatures murdering their holy and innocent creator — would certainly have been the most heinous.  Not only was this sin not exempted from the expiation that Christ was accomplishing, he specifically prayed for their forgiveness.

Not only does he forgive them, he gives them the benefit of the doubt.  He understands that these people would not put him to death if they truly realized what they were doing.

They divided his garments by casting lots.

The clothing of a crucified person was commonly given to those who carried out the execution.  In this way they fulfilled Psalm 22:18.

The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.”

Note that the rulers, not the people, were sneering.

Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Just as the Jews prosecuted him under the notion of a pretended Messiah, the Romans did so under the notion of a pretended king.

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.”

This criminal is truly hardened to the last.  He is stripped naked, nailed to a cross, in torturous pain and in the shadow of death, yet he still finds the impudence to challenge Christ and the misplaced confidence to demand being saved by him.

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”

Matthew and Mark tell us that both criminals reviled and insulted Jesus (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32), but here, Luke shows that the second criminal had a tremendous change of heart.  This is the only “deathbed” conversion in Scripture.

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

There is a three-fold profession of faith on the part of the second criminal: 1) Jesus is innocent of any crime, 2) Jesus will not be destroyed by death but was going to a heavenly kingdom, 3) Jesus is indeed a king, having the power to mercifully pardon his crime.

This criminal is thus the first to recognize that the cursed Roman cross upon which Jesus hangs is actually the means by which Christ’s kingdom will be established.

He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

As with the wailing women, Jesus continues to minister to others, even in his agony and moments before his death.  He dispenses the pardon which the second criminal wisely and faithfully sought.

“Paradise” is an interesting word choice.  Derived from the Persian word for “garden,” it came to mean the place of the righteous dead (2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7).  It obviously has Genesis connotations as well, and many commentators see this as an indication that the gates of Paradise (formerly manifested as the Garden of Eden) have been reopened by the obedience of the New Adam.

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.

God’s creation and the Jewish temple give their response to the meaning of Jesus’ death. In Amos 8:9, the day of judgment comes with darkness at noon.

The veil of the temple was a curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Jesus’ death opened the way into the presence of God.

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; 

Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5 (31:6 in the New American Bible).

Matthew and Mark stress how terrible Jesus’ death was. Luke does not deny this, but records Jesus’ words to show that his death was in accordance with the will of the Father.

and when he had said this he breathed his last.

None of the gospels use standard terminology for Jesus’ death.  Here, Luke states he “breathed his last,” as does Mark; Matthew 27:50 states that he “yielded up his spirit”; John 19:30 states that he “gave up His spirit.”

Since crucifixion did not damage any vital organ or cause excessive bleeding, death came slowly as the weight of the unsupported body gradually caused the breathing muscles to give in.  Eventually the crucified man succumbed to shock or asphyxiation.

Sometimes the condemned man was given a footrest at the bottom of the vertical beam.  This, however, was no act of mercy: it simply enabled the crucified man to lift himself up for each breath and thus survive in agonizing pain for a longer period of time.

The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.”

A centurion was a Roman soldier with command of a hundred men.

The way Jesus died showed him to be “innocent” for the centurion. Matthew and Mark have the centurion declaring that “Truly this man was the Son of God!”  In this context, the two phrases have much the same meaning.

When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts;

Beating one’s breast is a sign of grief. The crowd had come to be entertained by the spectacle, but Jesus’ death disturbed them.

but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.

In contrast to Mark (14:50), in Luke’s gospel, the disciples do not abandon Jesus. They are present at his cross. However, Luke does not state what effect the death had on the disciples who witnessed it.

The mention of Galilee is not just a geographical reference but a notation of discipleship; Jesus public ministry started in Galilee.

Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned in all four gospel accounts as taking the leading role in Jesus’ burial. The location of Arimathea is uncertain.

Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin and must have been absent when the vote to execute Jesus was taken, for “they all condemned him” (Mark 14:64). John’s gospel tells us that he was secretly a disciple of Jesus (John 19:38).

After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried.

The linen cloth was a shroud (placed over the linen strips mentioned in John 19:40).

A rock tomb generally held several bodies, but this one was empty. The crucified Jesus is not tossed into a common grave of a criminal or slave, but is given a burial fitting one who is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One, the true King of the Jews.

It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin.

The “day of preparation” was Friday, the day on which people prepared for the Sabbath. Rabbinical law allowed on that day the care of a dead body, but not the digging of a grave. Because the Sabbath was about to begin, he was hurriedly taken down from the cross and immediately buried.

The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.

There was not sufficient time on Friday to do all that Jesus’ followers would have liked for his burial. The women took note of where the body was laid, evidently to know where to come when the Sabbath was over to complete the burial. Joseph and Nicodemus placed a considerable quantity of myrrh and aloes with the body as they laid it in the tomb (John 19:39), but clearly the women wanted to make their own contribution.

Connections and Themes

A self-emptying savior.  We have not been saved through military power but through the kenotic humility of Jesus.  Though he was really in the form of God, Jesus came in the form of a slave. We have a Savior who was crushed for our iniquities, nailed to a cross as a convicted felon, and there endured an acute sense of abandonment.  Why has God stooped so low? Why did Christ empty himself so completely?  We could say that all of this happened because Jesus was obedient to God’s will in his life, regardless of where it was to lead him.  This may be true, but why does God love us with such abandon?

A highly exalted savior. We have a savior who was lifted up and exalted precisely because he emptied himself of his divine prerogatives.  He became one of us in order to show us how we are to live.  Unlike conquerors who triumph by putting down their opponents, Jesus was raised up because he himself was first willing to be put down. The passion recounts the extent to which he willingly offered himself.  Because of this, he has been exalted above everyone and everything else.  His glorification was won at a great price, but it is now his by victory and not by mere bestowal.  His name commands the homage no other name can claim, and it does so because he first handed himself over for us.

An example for us. We have a savior who first offered himself for us and then continues to offer himself to us as an example to follow.  As he was willing to empty himself for our sake, so we are told to empty ourselves for the sake of others. The best way to enter Holy Week with him is in the company of those with whom he has identified himself: the poor and the broken; the humiliated and the marginalized; those who suffer the abuse of others; those who never use rank to force their will. If we are to be saved we must go where salvation takes place: in our streets and in our homes where violence rages; in the dark corners of life where despair seems to hold sway; wherever the innocent are abused or the needy are neglected; wherever there is misunderstanding or fear or jealousy.  We must go wherever Christ empties himself for our salvation.

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