Palm Sunday, Mar. 20, 2016

(Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke: 22:14-23:56)

        Luke begins the last supper of Jesus with his disciples with different words of institution for the cup (compare Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Paul in 1 Corinthians 11). He then immediately notes the presence of his betrayer, after which an argument breaks out among his apostles about greatness. Jesus had already addressed the issue with his disciples in 9:46, but now it arises anew. This is a full blown argument here, whereas in Luke 9 it had been more of a discussion. Even at this late date, the disciples still remained contentious with each other. Jesus reminds them: It cannot be like the Gentiles among you. Greatness comes from service to others. Whoever would lead, must serve.

        Jesus then directs his words to Simon (Peter), telling him that he will have to strengthen his brothers after he has turned back. He tells Peter that he will deny him three times “this day” (remember, for Jews the day had already begun with the setting of the sun) “before the cock crows.”

        The prayer at the Mount of Olives begins with Jesus warning his disciples to pray that they “not undergo the test.” He goes on a bit farther and then praying, begs the Father to “take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” Luke says an angel was sent to him to strengthen him, and that “his sweat became like drops of blood.” This picture is far more graphic than any other Gospel presentation of Jesus while he is praying. He then tells the disciples to again pray not to be put to the test, when a crowd approaches with Judas in front, who greets Jesus with a kiss. One of the disciples cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, which Jesus then heals and rejects their attempt to defend him.

        After his arrest they took him to the high priest’s house, which suggests that the high priest was in on the planning. While there, Peter enters the courtyard and tries to warm himself by the fire. Three times over the next hour or so, Peter denies knowing Jesus. When he denied him for the third time, Jesus looked at him and Peter fled and wept at what he had done.

        Meanwhile those who held Jesus taunted him and beat him. When day came they brought him to the Sanhedrin (a kind of Council of Elders) for interrogation. Their questions concerned whether he was the Christ (the Messiah) and whether he was the Son of God. When he did not deny he was God’s Son (he was silent), they take him off to Pilate with charges of misleading the people, opposing paying taxes to Caesar, and that he claims to be the Christ. Luke adds the claim that he was a “king.” Jesus had said in Luke 20:25 “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Thus, the charge of not paying taxes is bogus. By adding that that he was a king, it would make him a rival to Caesar who alone could appoint kings. That ultimately becomes the charge for his death on the cross (“This is the king of the Jews”).

        The budding friendship between Pilate and Herod may be part of the irony Luke uses to show how former enemies come together as a result of Christ. If so, it is a bitter irony. In any case they agree there is no case here against Jesus. In fact, Pilate says three times “I find no case against this man” but in the end he conceded to those wanting Jesus to be crucified. It shows Pilate’s true nature when he gives in to those who wanted Jesus crucified. Though Luke does not spell it out, it is clear that it is primarily the chief priests and scribes who were demanding Jesus’ death. Indeed, it was the whole Sanhedrin which had brought Jesus to Pilate in the first place, so it had to be be their voices that prevailed.  

        Luke notes that Pilate summons the chief priests, the leaders and the people (who are otherwise not identified) to tell them he finds no case against Jesus. But altogether they shout for him to release Barabbas and to take Jesus away. Luke does not explain the Passover custom of releasing a criminal.  Luke also makes plain that Pilate was the “coward of history” (Fr. Fitzmyer’s phrase) because he, after three times declaring Jesus innocent, released the guilty Barabbas, and handed over the innocent Jesus “to them to deal with as they wished.” Jesus had said at his arrest that this was the “power of darkness.” Here the darkness becomes pronounced as Jesus is handed over, literally “to their will.”

        Luke says Jesus goes forth to his execution while Simon of Cyrene carries his cross behind Jesus. There is no mention of Pilate having Jesus scourged or crowned with thorns as we have in Mark. The quotation from Hosea 10:8, addressed to the women mourning him, about the hills falling on us etc. come from Luke.

        Only Luke records the dialogue between Jesus and the two criminals, with Jesus assuring the repentant criminal “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Finally, at the moment of death Luke places the words of Psalm 31:6 on the lips of Jesus: “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” In the other Synoptic Gospels Jesus cries out the words of Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Luke does this, it seems, to portray Jesus as the one who confidently and faithfully gives himself over to the Father’s will, without any sense of abandonment. By delivering himself into the hands of His Father, he proves himself the true Son of God and heir of the promises made long ago to Israel and now brought to completion in the life, death and ultimate resurrection of Jesus.  




Fr. Lawrence Hummer