Palm Sunday: Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Year of Luke
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The Procession of Palms:
A Reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke19:28-40
A reading from the prophet Isaiah 50:4-7
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 126. R/. v.3
A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians 3:8-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 11:1-45
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Today we begin Holy Week. Last Sunday’s Gospel told the story of the Unbinding of Lazarus. Many Greek Orthodox Christians make a pilgrimage to Bethany, the home village of Lazarus and the place of the empty tomb. The Saturday before Palm Sunday is Lazarus’ feast-day. These Christian pilgrims begin their Holy Week at the tomb of Hagios Lazarios, at the very place where Jesus shouted in a loud voice,
Lazarus, come out!
And then we read,
The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them,
Unbind him, and let him go free!
Surely our Orthodox brothers and sisters begin the story of Holy Week in the right place. For the Unbinding of Lazarus is told in the Gospel of John to impress on all of us that the story of Lazarus is our story for it is the story of Jesus. If we begin with Lazarus and from there walk the way of the Cross with Jesus we will come to the Unbinding of Jesus and learn that the empty tomb is our destiny. All humanity is destined to be unbound. All humanity will be set free from the bonds of death and come to the glory of the resurrection. St Mathew’s Gospel records the saddest of sentences:
Jesus cried out again with a loud voice
and yielded up his spirit. Matthew 27:50
Then, in his very next sentences, he tells a strange tale:
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Matthew 27:51-53
In the moment of death there is a word of resurrection and, for those who have eyes of faith, an apparition of the bodies of the saints, not longer bound, but walking in the freedom of unbinding. It is an assurance of the destiny of every man and woman. Through the death of Jesus we all come to resurrection. That is the story of Holy Week. That is why the Greeks begin in Bethany.
The Procession of Palms
A Reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
When he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it? ’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it. ’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives— the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”.
The Gospel of the Lord.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up,
he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
By far the greater part of Luke’s Gospel is concerned with Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. His way to that city begins in chapter 9 and every step of the way is marked by what will happen there. The phrase translated “he set his face” in the quotation above is better translated “he hardened his face”. There is a gritted-teeth determination to go to that city that recalls God’s command to the prophet Ezekiel:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel.
There are reminders as the chapters enfold of both the hospitality and the hostility shown to Jesus as he makes his way. As he sets out Samaritans refuse entry into their village “because his face was set toward Jerusalem” (9:53). He is met with half-hearted would-be disciples as “as they were going along the way” (9:57). Seventy-two missionaries are sent out in the urgent necessity to gather disciples who will make their way with him to the city (10:1-11).
As they are on their way, Jesus and his disciples receive hospitality in the home of Mary and Martha (10:38-42). Even with a meal in the offing, teaching is done. Every step is marked by teaching in word and action:
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem Luke 13:22
Healing is done “on his way to Jerusalem, as he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee” and “was met by ten lepers” (17:11-19). On the one hand as they drew nearer to the city of destiny disciples are warned:
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
There is time to call Zacchaeus down from the tree, time to stop off in his home, and time to set before that man the values everywhere advocated by the man from Nazareth (Luke 19:1-10).
At last, with his followers, “he went ahead, going up to Jerusalem”, and came to the villages on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, itself overlooking to city on the other side of the Kedron valley.
The journey to the Holy City is almost done. The design of St Luke’s two books, his Gospel and the Acts, is easily discovered. The message of Jesus is brought by Jesus himself to Jerusalem. In his second work, the Holy Spirit inspires the followers of Jesus to take the message of Jesus from Jerusalem to Rome.
Before entering the city Luke gives his account of a demonstration on the Mount of Olives that is our first reading today. First Jesus sends two disciples to prepare for a solemn ascent of the Mount of Olives. Mounted on the ass he leads the crowd up and across the Mount of Olives, and down the other side. Cloaks are thrown on the way over the mountain. As they descend “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen”. They celebrate the whole ministry of Jesus from its first days in Galilee. Their slogans declare the faith that they have received as they walked the way with Jesus to the very walls of Jerusalem. Their cry is their creed:
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
It is not the crowds but “the whole multitude of his disciples”, who proclaim their King. It is some of Pharisees who object and it is Jesus who rebukes them, not his supporters, whose faith is shouted to the heavens. And when the shouting was done and they came near to the city, Jesus wept over it and over its destruction soon to come at the hands of its imperialist conquerors.
As for Jesus, the first thing he does on entering the city is to drive out those who contaminated its house of prayer. For the Temple, as Jesus reminds all and sundry, was My house, the house of God’s Presence.
Please note that Jesus does not enter the city in a triumphant procession. The demonstration takes place on the mountain. Jesus enters the city to go into the house of his Father and there to teach and to “preach the gospel” (Luke 20:1). Today’s Gospel reading, as we enter our churches, brings us into our churches to meet the King, and there to proclaim the faith of our fathers and mothers in readiness for the days ahead.
Throughout Holy Week, Easter, and the Easter Season, the Lectionary is concerned with praying, meditating, and celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus and the creation of communities of believers. During Advent and Christmas the Lectionary moves our minds and hearts to consider the birth of Jesus. Holy Week and the Easter Season concentrate on the birth of the Church. We begin with the coming of Jesus into Jerusalem and we arrive at the coming of the Hoy Spirit into the hearts of the faithful few in an upper room in that city (Acts 1:12-14). We follow the footsteps of Jesus, we stand at the foot of the Cross and we gaze into the empty tomb; we leave the empty tomb because it is empty. The Lectionary maps our way to meet the Risen Lord and readies us to receive the Holy Spirit and to speak the word to the world.
Each Gospel has its own way of presenting the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus for each Gospel is written for a particular church community. Each is meant to serve the needs of people who came to faith in the late first century. They are concerned to nurture faith. However, we, their sons and daughters in faith, rightly understand what has been passed on to us. Through what happened in those last days of the life of Jesus and beyond we understand that sin has been conquered by the life and death of Jesus and we have been joined to that victory by our baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Church and every little church have been established by the Spirit of the Lord. The human race has been consecrated into the life of God. Humanity has been invited into the kingdom of God and its destiny is everlasting life. Easter is the time that makes sense of the Crib.
Thus this week and in the weeks that follow we are bidden to walk the way from suffering to glory. It is the time when our feet are washed in order to set out on the way with Jesus and to come with him into eternal life.
A reading from the prophet Isaiah 50:4-7
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
But the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
The word of the Lord.
The words of Isaiah offered to us today were meant to bring comfort and hope to a people exiled from their holy land, their holy city, their holy Temple of God’s holy Presence. They are words for exiles who cannot sing the songs of Zion far away from that Divine Presence. Isaiah offers a word to those who are weary. Has God divorced his people? Will separation be forever? Will reconciliation ever come to the broken-hearted?
Isaiah poses some questions:
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
Or have I no power to deliver?
What Isaiah demands is that everyone sings his song, everyone come to believe in the God he trusts. He calls on the frightened and dispirited exiles to listen to the words of God, to open their ears, to endure their suffering in hope that God will bring better days. Say Isaiah’s words again and again as we follow Jesus on way to cross and resurrection:
The Lord God has given us
the tongue of those who are taught,
that we may know how to sustain with a word
Morning by morning he awakens;
God awakens our ears
to hear as those who are taught.
Yes, there are sufferings, even despair as we wonder if our God has forsaken our troubled Church. Our ears are at last opened to the pain of the people. We must take heart that,
The Lord God has opened our ears,
and has not ignored our disgrace,
I hid not your face
from disgrace and spitting.
But there is hope, hope called to life by the depth of our suffering and the strength of our repentance. God is not far from the pain of the people:
But the Lord God helps us.
Indeed, the lines which follow today’s reading in the Bible ought to inspire hope:
Let those who walk in darkness
and have no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 22:8-9. 17-20. 23-24. R/. v.2
R/. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him. R/.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet —
I can count all my bones. R/.
They divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid. R/.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel.
R/. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Psalm 22 is known to all Christians for its opening line was prayed by Jesus in his dying moments:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The wonder of this prayer is that whoever wrote it and the Jesus who prayed it did not give up on God. For even in the pain and agony of their lives God remained My God. The beginning of the prayer is not the cry of hopelessness. For the one who utters the prayer quickly recalls the faith of the fathers who trusted in God. That trust did not go unheard by their God for God was praised to the skies in the prayers of devout ancestors:
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Yet pain and suffering are often not fleeting and many are heart-scalded waiting the God come with a healing hand. The mockery of the world often rings in ears of the faithful sufferer. “Come quickly to my aid” may appear to be unheard and gloating mockery can drown out the cries of afflicted people.
But God will not fail. God will “come quickly to my aid”. The day will come when brothers and sisters will gather together to rejoice that God has proved to be God, the one who saves and carries us safely home.
The people whose faith gave us our faith did not have a belief in heaven or an after life with God. They hoped that God would see to the wellbeing of the nation in this life, generation after generation. But gradually a realisation dawned that God’s love went beyond the grave into eternity.
A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 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.
The word of the Lord.
Today’s reading from St Paul is a hymn. It was composed by an unknown poet and taken up by St Paul to encourage “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (1:1). In words of extraordinary beauty and simplicity, he implores his beloved brothers and sisters to make Jesus the heart of their faith and the model of their ministry.
At the beginning of chapter 2 St Paul urges his beloved Philippian Christians to be of one mind. He is anxious that his little house-churches be one in spirit “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). His recipe for a true Christian community is this:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-3
Then he goes on (in today’s reading) to offer Jesus as the true model of what a church must be, a model for every community that claims the name of Christ, in his day and in ours:
Be of one mind among yourselves as was the mind of Christ Jesus who … (my translation)
That is to say, look at the whole life of Jesus, the One who came from God, who humbled himself, becoming a human being, and was obedient to God’s every word, even to the point of death. The hymn then soars from the cross to the glory beyond the cross, a glory for all who believe that the way of Jesus is the way for all who would come to “the glory of God the Father” (2:11).
What is so important is to realise is that Paul’s hymn outlines what every church must be. Every community of Christians must be a facsimile, an exact copy, of the life of Jesus. This is not a prescription for personal piety. It is the much harder prescription of living together as church, of being together before the world as Jesus was. What Paul calls “participation in the Spirit” means that a community full of the Holy Spirit and living the gifts of the Holy Spirit, will be a photocopy of Jesus and thus able to proclaim the glory of God in our world. We are not there yet.
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke
22:14 - 23:56
When the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
“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 brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors. ’ For what is written about me has its fulfilment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant 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. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”
But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “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 nursed! ’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us. ’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “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.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Each of the four Gospels has an account of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Mark’s was the first to be written, then Matthew’s, then Luke’s, and finally John’s. it is highly likely that the first part of the Jesus story to be formed into a coherent whole was the story of the last days of his life. So there was a form of the Passion in existence before Mark set pen to paper. Mark’s account, the order of events, the participants, and to some extent the vocabulary were followed by Matthew and Luke, with variations of their own. John’s account is very different from the others, as you will realise as you listen to it on Good Friday. It is, though it does not seem so, the shortest. Luke’s account, proclaimed to us today, follows the broad outline that he found in Mark but its perspective and mood are entirely different from the others.
Luke’s Passion Narrative really begins in chapter 9 when we listen to the conversation on the mountain of Transfiguration:
And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Luke 9:30
His exodus is his departure from this life and his return to his Father. Every step of the way to Jerusalem is a step nearer the Cross. But the ending of the story is Resurrection. It is Easter, not Good Friday, that ends the story. For it is Easter that begins our story. In Luke we must walk the way to Jerusalem with Jesus, we must carry the Cross with him, with the brave women, we must “stand at a distance watching these things”, (Luke 23:49), and, again with the women, we must “see the tomb and how the body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Like the women, we must wait.
It is, therefore, important to know what makes Luke’s Passion different. Why did he tell the story his way, with his emphasis and detail? What did he want his community to hear? Luke was a pagan who became a Christian, probably by way of adopting Jewish faith along the way. Of course Luke emphasises the basic themes of all Gospel accounts. What all Christians must do it not stand at the empty tomb; they must know that “he is not here, but has been raised” (Luke 24:6). What Christians must know is that all that has been done has been God’s will, that is, everything is in accordance with the Scriptures.
Luke places particular emphasis on the innocence of Jesus (Luke 23:4-22). Pilate declares Jesus to be innocent three times (Luke 23:4; 23:14-15; 18-19) and that it is the leaders of the people, “the chief priests, and the scribes” who “stood by, vehemently accusing him” (Luke 23:10).
Above all it is the mercy of Jesus that emerges every step of his way to death. Notice these moments of mercy to be found only in Luke:
And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “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 nursed! ’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us. ’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry? Luke 23:27-31
Notice that “the people stood watching” but “the rulers scoffed at him” (Luke 23:35). One of the two thieves joined in the mockery but the one we know as ‘the good thief” made his way to Paradise. On all of them Jesus prayed:
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. Luke 23:34 (my translation)
The dying words of Jesus in Luke are not “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Instead he prays himself into eternity:
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!
Above all, what characterises Luke presentation of the suffering and death of Jesus is his emphasis on Jesus submitting himself totally to the will of his Father:
And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. Luke 22:41-43
The way that Jesus walked, from the manger to the tomb was the way of God. Everything done and said along that way was the will of his Father. The people who followed Jesus, the people who in our time follow Jesus, are identified in St Luke’s second book, The Acts of the Apostles, as people of the Way (Acts 9:2). Listening to Luke’s account of the life and death of Jesus we learn how to be people of The Way. Of course, for the ending of his Gospel story we have to walk the way to Emmaus.