We are at Chapter 19 of Luke’s Gospel now as the Journey ends and Jesus enters Jerusalem. In the 28th verse Luke writes: “After he had said this, he went on ahead going up to Jerusalem.” I am going to tell you right now at the beginning that this third part of Luke’s Gospel wore me out, and I am here to admit failure because I could not squeeze all of the material that makes up the Jerusalem Ministry, the Passion, and the Resurrection into one talk. So, I propose that you harass Colleen into scheduling a fourth session. Perhaps sometime near the end of Lent for some study of Luke’s Resurrection Narrative. It might be a good way to enter into Holy Week and Easter.
Since I studied the Gospel of Luke at Saint Meinrad Seminary and in a summer course at University of Leuven, forty years have passed. In that time, a great deal of research and scholarship has uncovered more about this Gospel than I first learned. So, this experience has been something of a new discovery for me too. Tonight, there will be two parts. The first part should be called, “The Ministry in Jerusalem”. The second part would then be, “The Passion and Death of Christ”. Sometime in the future, God willing, we can study the Resurrection of Christ.
Part one contains Chapter 19 into 21, and it all takes place in the Temple area. This piece of Luke’s Gospel sets it apart from Matthew and Mark because of the central importance of Jerusalem and the Temple for Luke’s understanding of the fulfillment of prophecy, the end of the ministry of Jesus, and the mission of the church. The other Gospels do not focus on the Temple and Jerusalem as clearly as does Luke. In the other two Gospels, you could get the sense that had Jesus not been killed in Jerusalem, he would have returned to Galilee. In fact, the risen Jesus tells his disciples to meet him there. Not with Luke. Jerusalem has been the destination all along, and the disciples are to remain there until they receive the Holy Spirit. At the same time however, “Jerusalem” is not really a geographical location. The real destination for Jesus, and for that matter, for all of us, is God. That’s where he is going with this Journey. As a place, Jerusalem and the Temple are where God and humankind meet.
We have no idea how long Jesus ministered in Jerusalem. The Church compressed this period into eight days, but there is every reason to believe that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was not for Passover, but more likely for the Feast of Tabernacles which occurs in the fall. It’s the harvest feast. The whole business with Palm Branches with the other Gospels is a hint that this could be the Feast of Tabernacles when the Hebrew people cut branches to make “huts” out in the fields where they stayed during the harvest. So, the stay of Jesus in Jerusalem may have been much longer that the one week we have imagined. The Church, that’s us, has over time compressed all three Gospel accounts into one image of the event. If you are not careful, this can be a problem when reading Luke, because there is not one mention of palm branches. Luke’s orderly account shifts to Passover so that everything will fit together.
The scene opens on Mount Olivet near Bethany which is less than two miles east of the city. The whole role of the disciples is important to notice. They get a colt. They set Jesus on the colt. The disciples call him the King who comes in the name of the Lord. There is sense that the whole city came out as a crowd. Jesus is honored and praised by his followers. This is not a group who turns on him days later demanding his crucifixion. Luke’s version is less crowded and more subdued. It is of and for believers. The meaning comes from their faith in Jesus. It does not mean that they got it all right, but at this point, they are moving in that direction.
There is not one Hosanna in Luke’s Gospel. That word and the use of palm branches was used for parades with nationalistic overtones. None of that here. There is nothing said about David or his throne either. Luke seems to be carefully writing this so as to give Pilate nothing to use in accusation. So, the Temple is the place where things get focused now. Luke’s Gospel began with the Temple and it ends with the Temple. Zechariah is in the Temple when it is announced to him that John the Baptist would be born. At the end, the disciples are in the Temple. As Luke tells us in Acts, the Christians are attending the temple together every day. Luke seems to respect and perhaps admire the Temple, that may be why his description of Jesus cleansing is more brief than the other Gospels. He purifies the Temple so that it can be the place of his own ministry. His attack is not on the system, but on excesses.
As this section at the Temple heats up with controversy, it might help to know who’s who. We keep hearing about the “Chief Priests, Scribes, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, Elders, and Pharisees. It’s important to sort them out. At the time of Jesus, two religio/political parties within Judaism were represented in the “Sanhedrin”. So, the Sanhedrin was a council with about 70 members composed of High Priests past and present from the priestly families. It included also the Elders who were the tribal and family heads of the people, and the Scribes who were the legal professionals.
The majority of the members were the Sadducees and the Pharisees were the minority. Caiaphas, the priest we hear about here was a Sadducee. But, most of the scribes were Pharisees. The presiding officer of this council was usually the high priest. The council was the highest court of appeal. Therefore, the Sanhedrin’s authority was broad and far-reaching, involving legislation, administration, and justice. There was religious, civil and criminal jurisdiction. At the time of Jesus, the council had lost to the Roman governor the power of capital punishment. The council met every day except on Sabbath and feast days in rooms next to the Temple. In extraordinary cases, the council met at the house of the High Priest. One of the responsibilities of the Sanhedrin was the identification and confirmation of the Messiah. In fact, we read in the gospel that they sent a delegation to John the Baptist asking if he was the Messiah. There were about a dozen false Messiahs running around during the first part of this century deceiving the people making more important the responsibility of the Sanhedrin to sort it out. This is why Jesus eventually comes in contact with them.
The “Chief Priests” were drawn mainly from the ranks of the Sadducees. One of them was always the “High Priest”. We know that at the time of Jesus Caiaphas was the High Priest. His father-in-law was Annas also called, “High Priest” and he was the real power behind the high priesthood. The Jews saw the High Priesthood as an office for life. The Romans did not, and they picked and chose High Priests from time to time, probably to keep the whole system from getting too powerful. Since he was still living, Annas was really the senior at the time which is why Jesus is first brought to Annas during his trial.
The Sadducees were really the “ruling class” They represented the aristocracy making peace quickly with the Romans to secure their privileges, wealth, and influence. They were educated, wealthy and held themselves aloof, with the result that they were not popular. Jesus was a threat to them and the status quo. Their functions were associated with the Temple and the cultic actions that took place there. They maintained the place. This gave them a great deal of authority. They collected taxes, mediated domestic disputes and regulated relations with the Romans.
The Pharisees were associated with the Synagogue which made them more associated with the common people in contrast to the Sadducees. They were considered to be the experts in the Jewish law. They interpreted the Torah liberally, and they believed in the resurrection of the dead in the future, the existence of angels and demons, all meaning they believed in an afterlife. This is contrary to the Sadducees. They were devout laymen, not priests. Where they conflicted with Jesus was over their hyper attention to the minutiae of the Law forgetting about the intention of the law.
It is there that controversy really heats up, and “authority” is one of the hot spots in the controversy. Anything going on in the Temple is under the control of the Priests who are from the tribe of Levi. God appointed them as priests, and the Temple is their turf. Jesus is not a Levite, but he is teaching in the Temple as though it was a synagogue where the lay people are in charge. Those in charge confront him with three questions. The first is about his authority. “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Luke then says: “They discussed it with one another, saying, if we say, From Heaven, he will say, “why did you not believe him? But if we say, “Of human origin, all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet. So, they answered that they did not know where it came from.” With that, Jesus tells the crowd a parable about the Wicked Tenants. It is a parable about these Priests and Scribes, but he tells it to the crowd in their presence, and they get the point. No doubt even more angry, they come at Jesus with a second question. This one is about Taxes, and you know the answer he gives: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It is a complicated response, because it’s not always easy to separate the two then or now. The third and final question concerns the Resurrection of the Dead. They are not asking a theological question. Their purpose is to argue or embarrass Jesus or force him into one school of thought or the other. It is a classic “what if” question. In his response, he just further angers them. His response comes from reason, or common sense, that conditions in this life do not constitute proof of conditions in the next, and then from scripture when he quotes Exodus 3:6 for the belief in the resurrection of the dead. His response ends up dividing his opposition because some of the scribes approve of his answer and begin to speak highly of him.
With Chapter 21 Luke resorts to a new style of Literature, “apocalyptic.” As a kind of literature, it deals with revelation or a series of revelations usually by an angel which discloses a supernatural world beyond the world of historical events. The focus is on the end of the world as we now experience it and the beginning of a new world. In Luke’s Gospel, the apocalypses join historical events with descriptions of what is going on behind and beyond history. Often major historical crises triggered apocalyptic thinking like the destruction of Jerusalem. It is that historical event that triggers the Lukan apocalyptic writing of Chapter 21. What’s going on in the writing is mixed with what is really going on in history. It is laced with symbols, signs, and mysterious figures of speech. It is a remarkable witness to the faith of those who write this way. Amid painful and prolonged suffering, when there can be seen on the horizon no relief from disaster, faith turns its face toward heaven not only for a revelation of God’s will but also for a vision of the end of the present misery and the beginning of the age to come.
In this chapter, Luke describes the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem which had happened fifteen or twenty years before he wrote the Gospel. He seems to be concerned that believers not interpret the fall of Jerusalem as a sign the world is ending, and he continues to insist that the question of “When” is not answered because it is unknown. What Luke does through all of this apocalyptic scene is establish that the present time is the time for “testimony.” Chapter 21, 12-19 “But before all this occurs they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So, make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance for I will gives you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Luke goes on to remind the church that the Son of Man will return. He tells a parable of the Fig Tree as a reminder that the church should be watching for the signs. In other words, living with hope. With one final word of caution, the Lukan Jesus instructs the faithful to be on guard, and not be overcome with worries of this life. “Be alert” he says “praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things and stand before the Son of Man.” We should pay attention to the title Jesus uses for himself. With the last two verses of Chapter 21, the public ministry of Jesus is complete. It ends beautifully: “Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the Temple.”
Luke’s method of presenting the final instructions of Jesus for these apostles is the Supper. He shapes the tradition in the form of a farewell meal with a leader his followers. Luke’s Supper Narrative is three times as long as Mark and Matthew, and it is much less foreboding. There are words of warning, instruction and encouragement. There is a prediction about the apostles and Peter, but the tone is much more positive so that the conversation at the supper is tilted toward victory, where the disciples will sit on thrones in the kingdom of Jesus and Simon Peter will turn and strengthen his brothers. Unique to Luke is the inclusion of the betrayer at the table. In Luke, Judas is there till the end of the meal, but it is important to notice that Judas is never named until the arrest scene. In Matthew and Mark, he departs earlier. By including Judas in sharing the bread and wine, Luke emphasizes the forgiveness extends to tax collectors, a dying thief, soldiers with nails and hammers, and even Judas. What is perhaps important to Luke is that Judas not only betrays, but he breaks the covenant in the body and blood of Jesus. That is the issue.
There are two other interesting details in Luke’s reporting of the Supper. There are two cups. Listen to chapter 22 beginning at verse 14. “Then he took a cup, and after giving 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.’ Then he took a loaf of 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 he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” Research into this chapter suggests that Luke may have blended two oral traditions: one had the cup before the bread and another has two cups. The two-cup tradition associates this more closely to the Passover tradition which seems to be Luke’s purpose because the Passover Lamb was not a sin offering. The Passover lamb was the seal of a covenant, and the Passover meal commemorated that covenant offered to the believers by a God who sets free. This is the focus for Luke, liberation; not the forgiveness of sins. For the Hebrew people the forgiveness of sins was a completely different ritual. It had nothing to do with Passover. Luke’s concern here is not with forgiveness, but with unity in the covenant. Those who share in this covenant are joined to one another, life to life, as signified and sealed in the cup divided among themselves.
In this chapter, Luke takes an incident the other Gospels report earlier and inserts it into the occasion of this meal. That incident is the dispute about greatness. By including that here as well as by having Judas remain through the meal, Luke speaks very strong words to the church for which he is writing and for the church today. Betrayal of Christ has occurred and will occur among those who partake of the Lord’s Supper. Then, by taking the dispute from an earlier setting and putting it into the setting of the Supper, he takes what could be an historical event and makes it more than an ugly moment in history to a very real and present exhortation to those who share the table. Love of place and power was a problem for the first followers of Jesus, and it continues to be so. The instructions and the meal conclude with a dire warning about the danger and the threats that lie ahead. The disciples get the point. They know they are no longer in Galilee where welcoming crowds were everywhere. They are now in Jerusalem where danger is everywhere. Jesus contrasts the first sending of the disciples where they had great success without him to the coming time when they will be on their own and rather than success, there will be violence because the charges against him will spread to them. They respond to danger by instinct, sword for sword, weapon for weapon, blow for blow; that is, prepare for danger by becoming dangerous. This is, of course, not the way of Jesus, and Luke ends the whole report of the supper with powerful words of Jesus reacting to this sword talk: “It is enough.” With that, he goes off to pray in the garden.
With verse 39 in Chapter 22, the Passion Narrative begins. I think it is helpful to think of, pray with, and study over the Passion as if it were a Drama in Four Acts.
Act 1 has two scenes: Prayer and Arrest.
There are two verses in this chapter 22 that may have been added by a scribe later on because they are not present in the earliest manuscripts. They are 33 and 34 which go like this: “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.”Without those verses, Luke does not portray Jesus in anguish, wrestling for hours with the will of God. The scene is more like the other occasions of Jesus in prayer. Luke does not portray Jesus in distress. He is much more in command, and he simply instructs his disciples to pray by way of an anticipating accompaniment to his own prayer. This Jesus is so at peace with God that he cannot be distraught by the sufferings that are inflicted on him. It is as though Luke would have Jesus revealed as a model to Christian sufferers and martyrs. Certainly, what Luke wants to do here is present Jesus as a model for all his followers in his prayer life and in the way he confronts a crises. In Luke, Jesus is always a man of prayer, and the prayer of Jesus at this point has a striking similarity to the prayer he taught the disciples. Luke has a couple of details not found in the other Gospels. Matthew and Mark have great details, and John omits the prayer scene entirely. Let me list the difference of things unique to Luke.
- This scene which we commonly call, “The Agony in the Garden” is the shortest of the Gospels.
- It takes place on the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus had been staying. Mark & Matthew place it in Gethsemane. John simply says, “a garden.”
- There are not 3 disciples in Luke. They are all asked to pray
- Jesus comes to them only once, not three times and Luke explains that they were sleeping because of sorrow which softens the reprimand. He is not scolding or complaining.
- Luke has Jesus kneel in prayer not fall to the ground.
For Luke, the coming of that angel is all that Jesus needs for strength, and that is the answer to his prayer. With that, he goes to the sleeping disciples only one time and he is, as I’ve said several times, gentle with them.
The best of the scholars believe that early Christians had a tradition that before he died Jesus struggled in prayer about his fate. No one knows whether they retained or claimed to retain accurate memories of the wording he used; more probably they did not. But they understood his prayer with terms like “the hour” and “the cup”, which in the tradition of his sayings he had used to describe his destiny in God’s plan. Each evangelist knew different forms of that tradition, and each developed it differently.
Now the second Scene, “The Arrest”. Luke again is consistently kinder to the apostles than the other Gospels. There is no suggestion that Judas planned to kiss Jesus. There is no young man who runs away, and the healing of the severed ear shows us a Jesus who is still gentle and healing even with those who would do him harm. In this scene, the presence of the “Chief Priests” and captains of the Temple and elders is unique to Luke. The whole episode in Luke is brief. It is only the third time in Luke’s Gospel that Luke mentions Judas: in the naming of the 12, and in chapter 22 when Luke tells us that Satan had entered him, and finally here when Jesus address Judas directly. There is about it an intimacy that some scholars suggest is one last attempt to touch the heart of Judas. Luke never tells us that Judas actually kissed Jesus. It is Jesus who brings that up in their confrontation, and it’s almost as if Jesus was refusing. Luke explains the decision of Judas by saying that Satan had entered Judas, and Luke is the only Gospel that says that. It would seem that this is Luke’s way of referring back to the Temptation scene at the beginning of the Gospel when he says that Satan would return. Only John’s Gospel has Jesus speaking to the arresting crowd about his disciples. In John, he insists that the disciples should not be arrested. In Luke’s Gospel, they simply disperse without any suggestion that they ran away out of fear. Luke is always protecting the disciples. Then, Jesus is taken to the Sanhedrin at the house of the High Priest. End of Act One.
In Luke there are four trials
- Pilate. (Other Gospels have only three) This is a direct parallel to the trials of St Paul. There were four for him.
- The first is the religious trial. The interrogation of Jesus begins. In the midst of it, Luke has Peter’s three denials all at once while Mark splits them up into different times. All of this happens in the night. In the morning Jesus is before the assembly of the elders with chief priests and scribes present. Two questions make up this interrogation, and the issue is his identity.
- Are you the Messiah?
- Are you the Son of God?
This is a preliminary trial to establish cause. Luke says nothing about false witnesses. The only witness is Jesus himself who answers their questions by simply saying: “You say that I am”. They do not condemn Jesus to death. Closes Act Two
Chapter 23 and what I like to call, Act Three begins with the second trial before Pilate. This is the civil trial. Luke, different from the other reports adds that the “Council” sends him to Pilate with three charges.
This is a good example of Luke’s effort to be “More Orderly” as he promised in the opening of the Gospel. It’s also interesting that these charges are the same charges raised against St Paul when he is brought before the prefect Felix in the 24th chapter of Acts. The charges:
- We found this man perverting our nation
- Forbidding us to pay Taxes to the emperor
- Saying that he is the Messiah, a king.
Pilate has no interest in two of these charges, but he is focused on the last one. He asks the question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus answers Pilate exactly the same way he answered the Sanhedrin. Pilate finds no guilt, and when he says so, the accusers insist that Jesus has been stirring up trouble in Galilee, a place that at the time was a hot-bed of revolution. With this, we have a major piece unique to Luke. Pilate sends Jesus to Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time and had expressed interest in seeing Jesus. The trial before Herod is unique to Luke. Again, Jesus is found not guilty by the Jewish ruler and he is sent back for the fourth trial. This is a sequence that makes Pilate want to set Jesus free. The same pattern is found in Acts of the Apostles with Paul being sent by the Roman Governor to Herod Agippa II only to have Paul found not guilty. It is at the court of Herod that Jesus is mocked and robed. In Luke, there is no explanation about a custom of releasing a prisoner. Probably because Luke, who knew a lot about Roman customs did not think it was true. Luke simply has the people wanting to make a trade. Jesus for Barabbas. Act Three ends with Jesus being “handed over” as they wished.
Act Four, Scene One.
Luke has four additions not found in other Gospels at this time.
- Lamenting women
- Prayer of Jesus for his crucifiers
- Mocking of Jesus on the Cross (Authorities, Soldiers, Crucified Thief) Notice the pattern of 3. That pattern shows up a lot in Luke’s Gospel. There were three “Not Guilty” statements as well. Missing in this scene are Mark’s “Bystanders” since Luke is always careful to see the Jewish people in a favorable light.
- After the death of Jesus, Luke adds a note that the crowd of bystanders were striking their breasts, the Centurion and the women at a distance (another Triad).
The Christology of Jesus in Luke is very striking. The Jesus he presents to us is Divine, the Son of God. Therefore, while Mark has Jesus praying psalm 22 “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Luke has Jesus praying Psalm 31 “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.” Luke gives us a Jesus who is at peace with himself. The final substitution Luke adds is to have the Centurion call Jesus a “Just Man” rather than “The Son of God” which is what Mark adds.
Luke views the killing of Jesus as a martyrdom, the unjust murder of an innocent man by the authorities which is a model for disciples. Luke avoids any connection between the death of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. For Luke, the forgiveness of sins comes from the Risen Christ. For Luke, Jesus stands at the end of a long line of martyr/prophets just as the prophets of old were all murdered. For Luke this death is the fulfillment of prophesies. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus dies quietly, full of trust, a model for Christian martyrs to follow. That calm assurance at death was enough to convince the centurion of the innocence of Jesus. Instead of saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God”. Luke’s centurion confirms once more what we all know: “Certainly this man was innocent.” With that, I will stop for now. Sometime as we near Holy week, we can take up Act Four Scene Two: “The Burial of Jesus”