Sunday, November 21
Luke 22:63-71: The Sanhedrin, Israel’s governing body, was modeled on the seventy elders that assisted Moses in the governing and judging God’s people (Numbers 11:10-24; Mishnah “Sanhedrin” 1.6). Although rabbinical sources places its origins much earlier, it appears that this body developed from the political needs of the Jews during the nation’s struggles with the Seleucids in the Hellenic period.
Indeed, the group’s very name was derived from Greek: synedrion = “council” (syn = with, hedrion = little seat). Although it was a representative body, made up of “elders, priests, and scribes” (verse 66), it was an aristocratic rather than a democratic group. In this respect it resembled the Roman Senate. Modeled on that ancient group of Moses’ judicial assistants, the Sanhedrin had seventy members, the presiding high priest being the seventy-first. Under the Romans it had religious authority in the Holy Land.
Compared with the other Gospels, Luke gives fewer details about the sundry indignities that Jesus suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin. Unlike Matthew, he concentrates the trial of Jesus in a morning session rather than during the night. It appears that there were, in truth, two judicial hearings of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and that each Evangelist narrates one of them in a summary form.
The seating of the Messiah at God’s right hand (verse 69; Psalm 110 [109 in Greek and Latin]:1) became a major article of the Christian faith, found in every major source in the New Testament and, in due course, enshrined in the Nicene Creed. The Lord’s affirmation of this dignity leads (cf. “therefore” in verse 70) to the most important and all-inclusive dimension of His claim, namely, to be the Son of God.
Monday, November 22
Luke 23:1-12: Alone among the four Evangelists, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ judicial appearance before Herod Antipas on the day of the Crucifixion (verses 6Ý12). This is the same Herod whom Luke mentions closer to the beginning of his Gospel, at the inauguration of the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1). Thus, in Luke’s literary construction, these two references to Herod Antipas serve to frame Jesus’ public ministry, which, as that evangelist was careful to note, extended “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21Ý22).
Luke also tells how the animosity of Herod Antipas toward Jesus (cf. Luke 13:31) was later directed against Jesus’ disciples (cf. Acts 12:1, 11). Indeed, Luke regarded the collusion of Antipas and Pontius Pilate, which was sealed at Jesus’ trial (Luke 23:12), as the fulfillment of David’s prophecy (Psalm 2:1Ý2) of the gathering of the world’s leaders “against the LORD and against His Christ” (Acts 4:25Ý27).
It is significant that Luke, when he tells us of Jesus’ appearance before Antipas on Good Friday, does more than state the bare event. He goes into some detail about how “Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate” (23:11). This description implies that Luke had access to an eyewitness account of the event, an event at which, as far as we know, no Christian disciple was present. The historian rightly inquires how Luke knew all this.
Moreover, in addition to these external items of the narrative, Luke even addresses the motive and internal dispositions of Antipas, saying that “he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him” (23:8). Once again the historian properly wonders how Luke was privy to these sentiments. What was his source for this material, a source apparently not available to the other evangelists?
Luke himself provides a hint toward answering this historical question when he mentions a certain Chuza, described as a “steward” of Herod Antipas. The underlying Greek noun here is epitropos, the same word that refers to the vineyard foreman in Matthew 20:8, but in the Lukan context it more likely points to a high political office, such as a chief of staff.
It does not tax belief to imagine that such a person would be present at Jesus’ arraignment before Herod Antipas. Indeed, this would be exactly the sort of person we would expect to be present on that occasion, when Herod was in Jerusalem to observe the Passover. Furthermore, Chuza is also the sort of person we would expect to be familiar with Herod’s own thoughts, sentiments, and motives with respect to Jesus.
And how did Chuza’s information come to Luke? Most certainly through Chuza’s wife, Joanna, whom Luke includes among the Galilean women who traveled with Jesus and the Apostles, providing for Him “from their substance” (Luke 8:3). Joanna, whom Luke is the only evangelist to mention by name, was surely his special channel of information that only he, among the evangelists, seems to have had. Married to a well-placed political figure in the Galilean court, Joanna was apparently a lady of some means, who used her resources to provide for the traveling ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. Acting in this capacity, she must have been very well known among the earliest Christians. Only Luke, however, speaks of her by name, a fact that seems to indicate that he had interviewed her in the composition of his Gospel.
We can guess that Joanna’s adherence to Jesus was not without its difficulties for her domestic life. Here she was, the wife of a high political official, providing support for someone who would die as a political criminal.
Her loyalty was supremely rewarded, however, because the risen Lord saw fit to number Joanna among the Holy Myrrhbearers, those surprised women who “came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared,” found the stone rolled away from the tomb, then prostrated before the two herald angels of the Pascha, and subsequently “told these things to the apostles” (Luke 24:1, 5Ý7, 10). One suspects that Joanna also had a thing or two to tell her husband Chuza later that day.
Tuesday, November 23
Luke 23:13-25: More than the other Evangelists, Luke stresses Pilate’s repeated declarations of Jesus innocence. Immediately after his first interrogation of Him (verse 3), Pilate declares to the crowd, “I find no case (aitia) respecting this man” (verse 4). He would repeat this a second (verses 13-16) and a third time (verses 20-22).
The charge originally brought against Jesus, subversion and encouragement to evade taxes (verse 2), His own accusers knew to be false (20:25). After dismissing this charge, however, for want of evidence, Pilate sends Jesus over to Herod, Rome’s representative in Galilee, for further adjudication (verses 6-12). Pilate’s situation being delicate, he wanted to play it safe. Already he had twice been summoned to Rome to answer accusations leveled against him by the Jews. There were limits to Rome’s patience, and Pilate seems to have spent much of that morning protecting his own political interests.
All things weighed, Luke goes relatively lightly against Rome with respect to the death of Jesus. He does not so much as even mention here the brutal treatment that Jesus received at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Indeed, these solders are not even mentioned in the course of Jesus’ trial. Although he speaks of the white robe in which the mocking courtiers of Herod arrayed Jesus (verse 11), he does not speak of the purple robe with which the Roman soldiers clothed Him. Neither does Luke explicitly speak here of the terrible scourging that Jesus received at the hands of the Romans, though he had mentioned it earlier (18:33).
Luke stresses, rather, that the real impetus for Jesus’ murder was shared among the Jews and was not simply a plot concocted by a connivance between the high priest and the Roman authorities. For Luke the guilt was shared by “the chief priests, the rulers, and the people” (verses 13,18,23).
The modern, “politically correct” notion that Jesus’ death was brought about by a collusion of the Roman authorities with the pro-Roman Jewish priesthood simply will not stand up to the evidence of Holy Scripture. It was certainly not the view of (the Jew) John, in whose Gospel the enemies of Jesus are regularly referred to simply as “the Jews.” Nor was it the view of (the Jew) Paul, who laid the blame for Jesus’ death solidly at the door of “the Jews” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 [One laments that the New King James Bible translates the word “Jews” in this text as “Judeans,” with the obvious intent of misrepresenting history in the interest of political correctness.])
Nor should this historical fact be obfuscated by appealing to the sound theological truth that “all of us killed Jesus” by our sins. This latter dogmatic truth is not pertinent to the former historical question. As a point of history, the entire New Testament lays the moral blame for Jesus’ death on the international crowd of Jews gathered that day in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It should not be necessary to say that that historical fact in no way implicates later generations of Jews in some sort of inherited guilt for the crime committed that day, and only a perverse, deranged mind would imagine so.
Wednesday, November 24
Luke 23:26-32: Although we know on the authority of Plutarch that every criminal condemned to crucifixion by a Roman court was obliged to carry his own cross to the place of execution, those soldiers charged with crucifying Jesus evidently believed that His weakened state would not permit Him to do so. Consequently, they obliged a “certain man . . . passing by” (says Mark) to carry Jesus’ cross to the place of crucifixion. That man was returning to the city “from the country” (say Mark and Luke), perhaps for his midday repast. His name was Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27:31Ý32; Mark 15:20Ý21; Luke 23:26).
A descendent of certain Jews who had settled on the north coast of Africa (in modern Libya) about 300 BC, Simon doubtless belonged to that synagogue in Jerusalem particularly frequented by Cyrenian Jews who had moved back to the Holy Land (Acts 6:9). These were among the Jews responsible for the stoning of Stephen.
Luke’s description of the event is especially instructive: “Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus” (opisthen tou Iesou). Luke is the only evangelist to express the matter in this way.
In order to see the significance this expression held for Luke, it is useful to compare the text with other Lukan passages. For example, Luke 9:23: “If anyone desires to come after Me [opiso mou], let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” And 14:27: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me [opiso mou] cannot be My disciple.” Luke’s latter text (particularly if we contrast it with the parallel text in Matthew 10:38) shows that the bearing of the cross "after Jesus" is the true mark of discipleship. That is to say, Simon of Cyrene, bearing the cross and following after Jesus on the way to Golgotha, becomes the symbolizing embodiment of Christian discipleship.
Holy Scripture gives us no reason to think that Simon of Cyrene had been a believer in Christ before that day when Roman soldiers compelled him to assume the weight of the Holy Cross. That was the very beginning of his discipleship. He became, however, the model of those who follow Jesus to the place of His crucifixion, outside the walls of Jerusalem (“as they came out,” says Matthew 27:32; “led Him out,” says Mark 15:20). Carrying Jesus’ cross, he shared in Jesus’ shame. Simon paid heed to that exhortation of the Epistle to the Hebrews which is addressed equally to us all: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (13:12Ý13).
Thursday, November 25
Revelation 5:1-7: Because the earliest Christians were Jews, their experience of worship was tightly tied to the experience of the synagogue style. In the weekly worship at the synagogue, a special liturgical moment came when a reader took the Sacred Scroll of God’s Word, opened it, read it to the congregation, and then explained it. For Christians, this solemn rite held a particular significance, because those Christians believed that the Words of Sacred Scroll were completed and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. Thus, the opening, reading, and interpretation of the Sacred Scroll was regarded as a symbol of what Jesus accomplished in His ministry, death, and resurrection.
There is a story bearing this symbolism in Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus Himself tool, read, and interpreted God’s Word in the synagogue at Nazareth, finishing by referring the entire Text to himself. That Lukan passage at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry forms a literary inclusion with the action of Jesus at the end of Luke, where the risen Lord explains the meaning of Holy Scripture to the Church by referring it to His own ministry, death, and resurrection (24:25-27,32). That is to say, the Church believes that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ the Lord has an exegetical quality; it is interpretation in act.
This primitive conviction of the Christian faith that only Jesus can “open the Scroll” is at the heart of what John now sees in the throne room of heaven (verse 7). The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can open this Scroll precisely because He died and rose again (verse 9). This Lamb “stands” before God, standing being the proper posture of a priest (cf. Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 10:11).
Although the image of Christ as the Lamb is common in the New Testament (John 1:29,36; 19:36; Acts 8:32; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19), it is utterly dominant in the Book of Revelation, where it appears twenty-eight times. The Lamb in Revelation 5 stands in His immolated, mactated state, “as though slain,” still bearing in His flesh the wounds of His Passion (cf. John 20:25,27).
This picture of Jesus as the wound-bearing Lamb, opening the Scriptures, is strikingly parallel to that of the risen Lord at the end of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24:38-46).
These references to the Lord’s suffering and death are appropriate to our current readings from the Passion according to the Evangelist Luke.
Friday, November 26
Luke 23:33-43: Referring to the two thieves who died on either side of Jesus, St. Mark records that "those who were crucified with Him reviled Him" (15:32). At least they did so for some time. During the course of the afternoon, however, one of them came to think better of the matter, as he watched our Lord hang there in patience, praying for His enemies.
This profoundly moving scene is best considered, I believe, within both its immediate and its wider context in the Gospel of Luke. Three considerations suggest themselves with respect to Luke's immediate context. First, this scene with the thieves is the second of three times that Jesus is pronounced innocent. Pilate and Herod make the first pronouncement (23:14Ý15), and the third will issue from the lips of the centurion under the Cross (23:47). This verdict of the second thief, then, is added to the chorus of those who profess Jesus to be executed unjustly (23:41).
Second, the blasphemy by the unrepentant thief is the third and culminating instance in which the crucified Jesus is reviled in identical terms. First, there were the Jewish rulers who challenged Jesus to save Himself if He was the Messiah (23:35). Then the Gentile soldiers defied Him to save Himself, if He was a king (23:37). Finally, the unrepentant thief challenges Jesus to save Himself, adding "and us" (23:39). We observe that the same verb, "save" or sozein, is used in all three instances. The thief's reviling of the Lord thus forms a climax to the theme.
This sequence prepares for its foil, the scene's culminating irony, in which only one man, the "good thief," perceives the true path to salvation. He boldly grasps the salvific meaning of Jesus' death. He is the "good thief," indeed. In his final and defining act of theft, as it were, he extends his soul and clutches hold of eternal life.
Third, the encounter with the two thieves immediately precedes the death of Jesus, so that Jesus' words to the second thief, promising to meet him that day in Paradise, are His last recorded words to another human being during His earthly life. The good thief represents the repentant Church gathered at the Cross, and the words that he hears are the last thing that Jesus has to say to His people on earth.
With regard to the wider context of Luke's Gospel, there are two points particularly worthy of note in this story of the thieves. First, in drawing a contrast between the two men, Luke follows a pattern of antithesis that he has employed throughout his entire narrative. For instance, it is Luke who immediately opposes the Beatitudes with the Woes (6:20Ý26). It is Luke who elaborates in detail the differences between the Pharisee and the woman who came into his house (7:44Ý47). It is Luke, likewise, who contrasts two men who went up to the temple to pray (18:9Ý14), the two sons of the same father (15:27Ý32), the rich man and the pauper (16:19Ý22), the faithful and unfaithful servants (12:35Ý39), the leper and his nine companions (17:17), the rich donors and the poor widow (21:1Ý2). Luke's opposition between the two thieves, then, is the climax in a lengthy series of contrasts.
Second, Luke's good thief is the final example of individuals who confess their guilt in the hope of obtaining divine mercy. Earlier instances include the publican in the temple (18:13), the prodigal son (15:21), and the repentant woman (7:36Ý50). In all of these examples Luke's narrative resonates with the Pauline emphasis on justification by faith. While in each of these examples the characters come to God with no justifying works of their own, this note is especially obvious in the thief on the cross, who turns to Jesus for mercy with literally no time left to do anything except repent and die.
Finally, this thief seems to ask for so very little. Sensing that our Lord is about to go to some destiny different from his own, he modestly pleads, “Remember me.” Ah, but "the grace shown is more abundant than the request made," commented St. Ambrose. That very day the dying thief will be with Jesus. Here the Sacred Text employs the very expression, with, habitually used by St. Paul to describe eternal life. Everlasting glory consists in being with the Lord (Romans 6:8; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:22Ý23; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 5:10).
It has been justly remarked that the good thief was canonized even before his death. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “The thief, after doing so many evil things, entered into Paradise before everyone else, because he did not become discouraged” (Homilies of Repentance 1.15).
Saturday, November 27
Luke 23:44-56: The three hours of darkness that descend on the earth, the darkness that immediately precedes the death of God’s First Born, corresponds to the ninth plague of Egypt, the darkness that covered the land until the death of the firstborn sons.
Luke’s description of the death of Jesus is calmer, more serene than the accounts in Matthew and Mark. For instance, Luke omits Jesus’ cry of dereliction. Instead, he includes Jesus’ commendation of His spirit to the One whom He invokes as “Father.”
Jesus also dies forgiving His adversaries. In fact, the use of the imperfect tense in 23:34 (a tense indicating continued or repeated action in past time) indicates that Jesus said this over and over again. Similarly, his last words to another human being contain a promise of eternal life (23:43). Then Jesus dies in great peace and calm.
Whereas the Roman centurion in Matthew and Mark confesses Jesus with the standard Christological confession of the Church (“Son of God”), here in Luke he professes only Jesus’ innocence as a just man (23:47). This avowal is part of Luke’s polemical intent to make the centurion at the foot of the Cross a sort of official spokesman for the Roman authority. This is a big point with Luke. Whoever would shift the blame for this tragedy from the Jews to the Romans will find himself put to confusion by the testimony of Luke, who makes it clear that the Roman authority acted only under great coercion and with massive reluctance (cf. also 23:4,15,22; 24:20).
We also note that this centurion, in exonerating Jesus, gave glory to God.