Lectio: Palm Sunday
The death of Jesus:
when love goes to the extreme
1. Opening prayer
poured out on the world by the divine suffering and death,
guide us to contemplate
and understand the way of the cross
of our Savior
and the love with which He walked this way.
Grant us eyes and hearts of true believers,
so that we may perceive
the glorious mystery of the cross.
“Thanks to the cross we no longer wander through the desert,
because we know the true path;
we no longer live outside the house of God, our King,
because we have found the entrance to it;
we no longer fear the fiery spears of the devil,
because we have found a spring of water.
Through Him we are no longer alone,
because we have found the spouse again;
we do not fear the world,
because now we have found the Good Shepherd.
Thanks to the cross
the injustice of the powerful does not frighten us,
because we sit at table with the King” (St. John Chrysostom).
a) A key to the reading:
The liturgical context: the ancient tradition of proclaiming the Gospel of the passion and death of Jesus Christ during the celebration of the Sunday before Easter goes back to the time when the celebrations of Holy Week were reduced to a minimum. The aim of the reading is to lead the hearers to contemplate the mystery of the death that prepares for the resurrection of the Lord and that, therefore, is the condition by which the believer enters into the “new life” in Christ. The custom of reading this long Gospel passage in parts, not only helps to make the reading less monotonous so as to facilitate an attentive listening, but also in order to involve emotionally the participation of the listeners, almost making them feel present and taking part in the narrative.
The two readings before the Gospel of this Sunday help us with an interpretation that gives a certain perspective to the text: the Servant of JHWH is Jesus, the Christ, a divine person who, through His ignominious death, comes into the glory of God the Father and communicates His own life to those who listen to Him and welcome Him.
The Gospel context: it is well known that the literary nucleus around which the Gospels were written was the Paschal Mystery: Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We have here, therefore, a text that is ancient and homogeneous in its literary composition, even though it was written through a gradual process. However, its importance is paramount: in it we are told the fundamental event of the Christian faith, what every believer must face and conform to (even though the text of the liturgy of this Sunday ends with the burial of Jesus).
As usual, Luke comes through as an efficient and delicate narrator who pays attention to details and is capable of letting the reader glimpse something of the feelings and inner motivations of the main characters, above all of Jesus. The terrible and unjust suffering Jesus undergoes is filtered through His unalterable attitude of mercy towards all, even His persecutors and murderers. Some of these are touched by the way He faces suffering and death, so much so that they show signs of faith in Him: the torment of the passion is rendered soft by the power of the divine love of Jesus.
In the third Gospel, Jesus goes to the holy city only once: that decisive moment for human history and for the history of salvation. The whole of Luke’s Gospel is like a long preparation for the events of the last days that Jesus passes in Jerusalem, preaching acting at times even grandiosely (esp. the driving of the merchants from the temple 19:45-48), and at other times mysteriously or in a provocative manner (esp. the reply concerning the tribute to Caesar, 20:19-26). It is not by chance that Luke puts together in these last days many events and words that the other synoptic Gospels place elsewhere in the public life of Jesus. All this takes place while the plot of the chiefs of the nation thickens and becomes ever more concrete, until Judas offers them a perfect and unexpected chance (22:2-6).
In this last and definitive stage of the life of the Lord, the third Evangelist uses various terms such as a “passing” or an “exodus” (9:31), a “taking up” (9:51) and an “attaining of the end” (13:32). Thus, Luke leads us to understand, before the fact, how to interpret the terrible and scandalous death of the Christ to whom they had entrusted their life: He accomplishes a painful and difficult stage to understand, but one “necessary” in the economy of salvation (9:22; 13:33; 17:35; 22:37) in order to bring to success (“fulfillment”) His journey towards glory (cf. 24:26; 17:25). This journey of Jesus is the paradigm of the journey to be achieved by each of His disciples (Acts 14:22).
b) A division of the text to help us in its reading:
The story of the Last Supper: from 22:7 to 22:38;
The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani: from 22:39 to 22:46;
The arrest and the Jewish trial: from 22:47 to 22:71
The civil trial before Pilate and Herod: from 23:1 to 23:25
The sentence, crucifixion and death: from 23:26 to 23:49
Events after the death: from 23:50 to 23:56.
c) The text:
The story of the Last Supper
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!"
The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani
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."
The arrest and the Jewish trial
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."
The civil trial before Pilate and Herod
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.
The sentence, crucifixion and death
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.
Events after the death
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.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may enter into our hearts and shed light on our lives.
4. A few questions
to help us in our meditation and prayer.
a) At the end of this long reading, what feeling prevails in me: is it relief for having come to the end, admiration for Jesus, pain for His pain, joy for the salvation achieved, or something else?
b) I re-read the text and pay special attention to the way the many “powerful” acted: the priests, the scribes and Pharisees, Pilate, Herod. What do I think of them? How would I have thought, acted, spoken and decided in their place?
c) I read the passion once more and, this time, pay attention to the action of the “little ones”: the disciples, the people, individuals, the women, the soldiers and others. What do I think of them? How would I have acted, thought and spoken in their place?
d) Finally, I look at my way of acting in my daily life. With which of the main or lesser characters can I identify myself with? Which character would I like to identify myself with?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.
A commentary on the text with special emphasis on some key points:
22:14: When the hour came He took His place at table, and the apostles with Him: Although Luke is writing for a Christian community mostly of gentile origin, he stresses that the Last Supper of Jesus is part of the Jewish rite of pesach. Just before the supper he describes the preparations (vv. 7-13).
22:15: I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: this recalls the words in 12:50: “There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is My distress till it is over! (cf. Jn 12:32). Luke gives us a ray of light on the interior dimension of Jesus as He prepares to suffer and die: what impels Him is, as always for Him, the radical choice of conforming to the will of the Father (cf. 2:49), but in these words we glimpse a very human desire for fraternity, for sharing and for friendship.
22:17: Then, taking a cup, He gave thanks: we have not yet come to the Eucharistic chalice strictly speaking, but only to the first of four cups of wine that are drunk at a paschal meal.
22:18: From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes: this is the second explicit reference to His nearing death. It is a repetition of the proclamations concerning the passion (9:22.44; 12:50; 18:31-32) and, like those, it refers implicitly to the resurrection. However, the proclamation, even in all the seriousness of the moment, contains intimations of hope and of the eschatological expectation, together with the certainty that the Father will not abandon Him to death. Jesus is aware of what He has to face, but is quite serene, interiorly free, certain of His final destiny and of the final results of what He is about to experience.
22:19-20: the story of the Eucharistic institution is quite similar to the one mentioned in Paul (1Cor 11:23-25) and has a pronounced sacrificial character: Jesus offers Himself, not things, as an oblation for those who believe in Him.
22:21: Here with Me on the table is the hand of the man who betrays Me: eating with him, Jesus allows even Judas to enter into communion with Him, and yet He knows well that this disciple is about to betray Him definitively. The contrast is strident and made so on purpose by the Evangelist, as is true also elsewhere in this passage.
22:28: You are the men who have stood by Me faithfully in My trials: unlike Judas, the other disciples have “stood by Jesus in His trials”, because they have stayed with Him at least up to the present moment. The Lord, then, acknowledges that they have reached a high level of communion with Him so that they deserve special honor in the glory of the Father (v. 29).
It is Jesus Himself, then, who creates a close parallel between the constant communion of His disciples (those of then and those of today) with His suffering and the final and eternal sharing in His glory (“eat and drink”, v. 30).
22:31-37: Simon, Simon! Satan, you must know, has got his wish to sift you all like wheat; but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail: this passage seems to come from another context. Jesus’ reference to Satan and his actions against the disciples recalls what the evangelist had said concerning the cause of Judas’ betrayal (22:3) and is almost parallel with Luke’s view of the passion as the final assault of Satan against Jesus (cf. 4:13; 22:53).
Peter is protected from the snares of the tempter by the prayers of Jesus Himself and because he chose firmly to be a disciple of the Lord, also because he has a special mission towards his brothers and sisters in the faith (v. 32b). Jesus hastens to warn him: for him, as for the other disciples too, the terrible passion of Jesus will cost them a hard fight against Satan and many ambushes that, in various forms, will assail the disciples who will be close to Jesus during the various stages of the passion (vv. 35-36) on account of the terrible trial that He will have to endure (v. 37); these last words explicitly refer to the text in Isaiah concerning the “suffering Servant” (Isa 53:12), with whom Jesus is clearly identified.
22:33-34: Lord… I would be ready to go to prison with you, and to death… I tell you, Peter, by the time the cock crows today you will have denied three times that you know Me: Peter is a generous man, also a little impatient, as we see from his words, which seem to force Jesus to tell him about the denials. As in verses 24-27 the chiefs of the Christian community were faced with their responsibility as “servants” of the faith of the brothers and sisters entrusted to them, so now they are reminded of their duty to be prudent and vigilant towards themselves and towards their weakness.
22:39-46: the story of the moral-spiritual agony in the garden of Gethsemani follows the text of Mark (14:32-42)closely, except for some details, especially those referring to the consoling appearance of the angel (v.43).
As the most difficult and insidious moment of his life approaches, Jesus intensifies his prayer. As Luke says, Gethsemani was the “usual” (v.37) place where Jesus often spent nights in (21:37) prayer.
22:47-53: The real passion begins with the arrest of Jesus. This passage presents the following events as “the reign of darkness” (v.53) and shows Jesus as He who overcomes and will overcome violence by patience and the ability to love even His persecutors (v.51); that is why the sad but loving words He addresses to Judas stand out: "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (v.48).
22:54-71: The Jewish trial does not evolve that night. Nothing is said of Jesus as prisoner until morning. This lack of news concerning Jesus immediately after His arrest and until the beginning of the case is typical of Luke.
22:60-62: “My friend,” said Peter, “I do not know what you are talking about"… the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter and Peter remembered what the Lord had said… And he went outside and wept bitterly: the two looks meeting each other, who knows how they happened in the confusion of that interminable night, mark the moment when Peter becomes aware: notwithstanding his gallant declarations of fidelity, he realizes what Jesus had told him a little earlier. In that look, Peter experiences first hand the mercy of the Lord of which he had heard Jesus talking: it does not hide the reality of sin, but heals it and brings men and women back to a full awareness of their own condition and of the personal love of God for them.
22:70-71: So you are the Son of God then? … It is you who say I am… What need of witness have we now? We have heard it for ourselves from His own lips: the Jewish trial begins officially at first dawn of that day (v.66) and concentrates on seeking proofs (some true, in Luke, but cf. Mk 14:55-59) to sentence Jesus to death. According to Luke, then, the chiefs of the Jews did not bring forth false witnesses, but – even in their savage aversion towards Jesus – they behaved towards Him in a somewhat correct juridical manner.
In replying positively to the question “You are the Son of God then?”, Jesus shows that He is fully aware of His divine dignity. Through this awareness, His suffering, death and resurrection are eloquent witness of the benign will of the Father towards humanity. Thus, however, He “signs” his own sentence of death: it is a blasphemy that profanes the Name and the very being of JHWH since He declares himself explicitly to be “son”.
23:3-5: Are you the king of the Jews? … It is you who say it… He is inflaming the people with His teaching: we are passing from a Jewish juridical process to a Roman one: the Jewish chiefs hand over the condemned person to the governor so that he may carry out their sentence and, to give him an acceptable reason, they “domesticate” the movements of their sentence, presenting them in a political light. Thus, Jesus is presented as subverting the people and usurping the royal title of Israel (which by then was but a memory and a purely honorific title).
The means used by Jesus to carry out His crime, as chance would have it, is His preaching: the words of peace and mercy that He spread freely are now used against Him!
Jesus confirms the accusation, but it is certain that He is not accused of seeking royal status, only one of the reflections of His divine nature. This, however, neither Pilate nor the others are able to understand.
23:6-12: He passed Him over to Herod: Perhaps Pilate intuited that they were trying to play a “dirty trick” on him, so he probably tries to distance himself from the prisoner by invoking respect for jurisdiction: Jesus comes from a district, which at that historical time, did not come under Roman responsibility but that of Herod Antipas.
The latter is presented in the Gospels as someone quite ambiguous: he admires and at the same time is averse to John the Baptist, because the prophet had taken him to task over his matrimonial position, which was irregular and almost incestuous, and finally has him arrested and then put to death so as not to show a poor figure before his guests (3:19-20; Mk 6:17-29). Then he tries to get to know Jesus just out of curiosity, because he had heard of His fame as a worker of miracles, and he concocts a case against Him (v.10), He questions Jesus personally, but then – before the obstinate silence of Jesus (v. 9) – leaves Him to the mockery of the soldiers as had happened at the end of the religious process (22:63-65) and as will happen when Jesus is crucified (vv. 35-38). He ends up sending Jesus back to Pilate.
Luke concludes this episode with an interesting footnote: Pilate’s gesture begins a new friendship between him and Herod. The circumstances speak clearly as to the purity of the motivation of this friendship.
23:13-25: You brought this man before me… as a political agitator; …I have found no case against the man in respect of the charges you bring against Him: as he suspected from the first meeting with Jesus (v.4) and as he will repeat later (v.22), Pilate pronounces Him innocent. He tries to convince the chiefs of the people to let Jesus go, but they have already decided that He should die (vv.18,21,23) and insist on a sentence of death.
What is the substance of the governor’s interrogation? Not much, according to the few phrases that Luke reports (v.3). And yet, Jesus replied positively to Pilate, declaring Himself “king of the Jews”! At this point, it is clear that Pilate does not consider Jesus a dangerous man on the political level, nor for public order, perhaps because the tone of Jesus’ declaration left no doubt on these scores.
The intention of the Evangelist is quite clear in that he seeks to attenuate the responsibility of the Roman governor. The latter, however, is known from historical sources as a “man of inflexible nature and, on top of his arrogance, hard, capable only of extortion, violence, robbery, brutality, torture, executions without trial and fearful and unlimited cruelty” (Philo of Alexandria) and that “he liked to provoke the nations entrusted to him, sometimes by being rude and at other times by hard repression” (Josephus Flavius).
23:16.22: I shall have Him punished and then let Him go…: the fact that Jesus was held to be innocent would not have spared Him a hard “punishment”, inflicted solely so as not to let down the expectations of the chiefs of the Jews.
23:16.18.25: Away with Him! Give us Barabbas! He released the man they asked for, who had been imprisoned for rioting and murder, and handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they pleased: in the end, Pilate gives in completely to the insistent demands of the chiefs of the people, even though he does not pronounce any formal sentence on Jesus.
Barabbas, a real delinquent and political agitator, thus becomes the first person saved (at least at that moment) by the sacrifice of Jesus.
23:26-27: They seized on a man, Simon from Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and made him shoulder the cross and carry it behind Jesus. Large numbers of people followed Him, and of women too, who mourned and lamented for Him: Simon and the women were not only privileged witnesses of the passion, but, in Luke, they are models of discipleship, people who show in action to the reader how to follow the Lord. Besides, thanks to them and to the crowd, Jesus is not alone as He approaches death, but is surrounded by men and women who are deeply and emotionally close to Him, even though they need conversion, a matter that He recalls to them in spite of His terrible condition (vv.28-31).
Simon of Cyrene is “seized”, but Luke does not say that he was reluctant to help the Lord (cf. Mk 15:20-21).
The “large numbers of people” are also quite involved in what is happening to Jesus. This is in strident contrast with the crowd that, a little earlier, was demanding the sentence of death from Pilate.
23, 34: Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing: Luke brings out the main concern of the crucified Lord who, in spite of being in atrocious physical pain from the process of crucifixion, prays for them to the Father: He is not concerned with His own condition nor with the historical causes that produced it, but only with the salvation of all humankind. Stephen the martyr will act like Him (Acts 7:60) to show the paradigmatic character of the life and death of Jesus for the existence of every Christian.
To emphasize this strong orientation of Jesus, Luke omits the anguished cry reported by the other synoptic Gospels: “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?”
23:33.39-43: They crucified Him there and the two criminals… Jesus… remember me when You come into Your kingdom… Indeed, I promise you… today you will be with Me in paradise: the episode of the dialogue with one of His condemned companions is emblematic of the way Luke understands the death of Jesus: an act of self-giving made for love and in love to bring salvation to the greatest number of people in whatever condition or situation they may find themselves.
”Today” (v. 43): the thief had spoken in the future, but Jesus replies using a verb in the present: the salvation He gives is immediate, the “final days” begin with this saving event.
”You will be with Me” (v. 43): this expression indicates the full communion in force between God and those He welcomes to Himself in eternity (cf. 1Thess 4:17). According to some apocryphal writings of the late Judaic period, the Messiah Himself had “to open the gates of paradise”.
23:44-46: It was now about the sixth hour… Jesus cried out in a loud voice, He said, Father into Your hands I commit My spirit. With these words He breathed His last: Jesus’ last words, by their good nature, seem to contrast with the preceding declaration that He cried aloud.
Having come to the end of His human life, Jesus makes a supreme act of trust in the Father, for whose will He had suffered so much. In these words we can glimpse a hint at the resurrection: the Father will hand Him back this life that Jesus now entrusts to Him (cf. Ps 16:10; Acts 2:27, 13:35).
Luke writes very concisely of the last moments of Jesus: he is not interested in dwelling on details that would offer satisfaction to some macabre curiosity, like the one that drew and still draws so many spectators at a capital sentence in many places of the world.
23:47-48: When the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God: “This was a great and good man”. So too the crowds… went home beating their breasts: the saving efficacy of the sacrifice of Jesus acts almost immediately, simply on the evidence of what had happened: pagans (such as the centurion who commanded the platoon in charge of the execution), and the Jews (the people), begin to change. The centurion “glorifies God” and seems to be just a step from becoming a Christian believer. The Jewish people, perhaps without being aware, go back using gestures of repentance as Jesus had asked of the women of Jerusalem (v. 38).
23:49: All those who knew Him watched from afar: at a prudent distance, knowing the Roman attitude that forbade excessive gestures of mourning for those condemned to be crucified (on pain of being crucified themselves), the group of disciples is present dumbfounded by the whole scene. Luke gives no hint as to their emotions or attitudes: perhaps the pain and violence dazed them to the point of making them incapable of any outward reaction.
Similarly, the women disciples do not take part in any way in the work done by Joseph of Arimathea for the burial of Jesus: they just watch (v. 55).
23:53: Joseph took Him down from the cross, wrapped Him in a sheet and placed Him in a tomb dug in the rock: Jesus has really undergone torture. He is really dead, like so many others before and after Him, on the cross, in a common body of flesh. This event, without which there would be no salvation or eternal life for any one, is verified by the fact that it is necessary to bury Him. This is so true that Luke expands on some details concerning the speed with which the rite of burial was carried out by Joseph (vv. 52-54).
23:56: On the Sabbath they observed the day of rest, according to the commandment: as the Creator rested on the seventh day of creation, thus consecrating the Sabbath (Gen 2:2-3), so now the Lord observes the Sabbath in the tomb.
None of His people, now, seem to be able to hope for anything: Jesus’ words concerning the resurrection seem to have been forgotten. The women limit themselves to preparing some oils to make the burial of the Master a little more dignified.
The Gospel of this “Passion Sunday” concludes here, leaving out the story of the discovery of the empty tomb (24:1-12) and allowing us to savor the bitter sweet sacrifice of the lamb of God, we are left in a sad and suspended state where we remain immersed, even though we know the final result of the Gospel story. This terrible death of the young Rabbi of Nazareth does not lose its significance in His resurrection, but acquires an entirely new and unexpected value, which does not take away anything from the dimension of having been killed in sacrifice freely accepted, because of the “excessively” high respect for our human powers of understanding: it is pure mystery.
6. Isaiah 50:4-10
"The Lord God helps me"
The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word Him that is weary.
Morning by morning He wakens,
He wakens 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 struck me
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
For the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been confounded;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His servant,
who walks in darkness and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon his God?
7. Closing prayer
of the Eucharistic prayer for this Sunday
Almighty and eternal God, You have given the human race Jesus Christ our Savior as a model of humility. He fulfilled Your will by becoming man and giving His life on the cross. Help us to bear witness to You by following His example of suffering and make us worthy to share in His resurrection.