Last Sunday after Pentecost (Reign of Christ) (24 November 2013)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Jeremiah 23:1-6 & Luke 1:68-79
  • Colossians 1:11-20
  • Luke 23:33-43

Jesus Crucified

There were almost 100 Seminar ballots on issues relating to the crucifixion tradition, including the historicity of the Passion Narrative and many of its component elements. For complete voting details see “The Jesus Seminar Voting Records: Passion Narrative” Forum (new series) 1.1 (Spring 1998) 227-233.

Some of the key elements were assessed as follows:

  • Jesus was crucified
  • Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate
  • Jesus was crucified with the participation of the highest Jewish authorities
  • Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem
  • Jesus was crucified in some conjunction with Passover
  • Jesus was crucified at Golgotha

The Seminar’s views on some of the elements found in this week’s Gospel were:

  • There was an inscription attached to the cross with the words, “King of the Jews.”
  • The two thieves came originally from Ps 21:17 (LXX) supported by Isa 53:12.
  • Casting lots for clothes is based on Ps 22:18.
  • Gall and vinegar to drink derives from Ps 69:21.
  • The episode in Luke 23:39-43 in which one of the criminals crucified beside Jesus believes in him is a report of an actual historical event.

Mark 15:22-38 = Matt 27:33-51a = Luke 23:32-46

The close literary relationship between the three synoptic Gospels can be seen in a horizontal line synopsis. It is clear that Luke has essentially followed Mark, except for his creative elaboration of the scene with the two thieves.

There are three distinctive sayings attributed to Jesus in Luke’s version of the passion legend, and they were most likely not in the pre-Luke tradition:

  • The prayer for his tormentors to be forgiven as they did not know what they were doing is not found in some important MSS. It may have been added by a later scribe impressed with the similarities to Stephen’s death in Acts 7. The effect is to enhance the portrayal of Jesus as a Greek hero who goes to his death with courage and grace.
  • The promise of immediate participation in paradise for the penitent thief is found only in Luke.
  • Jesus’ prayerful commendation of his spirit to God’s care closely parallels the words of Stephen in Acts 7:59. Both Jesus and Stephen die as innocent heroes, and with their faith in God undiminished.

On the festival of Christ the King, this passage highlights the character of Christ as a crucified king; and one meeting the needs of those around him even in his final moments. However, the promise of immediate participation in paradise is a strange promise to find on the lips of Jesus. The word “paradise” [Greek: paradeisos] occurs nowhere else in the Gospel tradition, and was originally a loan word adopted from Persian. It is found in just two other places in the NT:

  • 2 Cor 12:4 where Paul speaks obliquely of his own mystical experiences:

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows–was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

  • RevJn 2:7 where those who are faithful are promised a share of the tree of life in the paradise of God:

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

Luke’s account of the death of the noble King

Luke’s description of Jesus as the quintessential Greek hero contrasts with the way Jesus is portrayed in the other Passion accounts. We catch a glimpse of these differences if we focus just on the final words of Jesus in each Gospel:

Mark 15
Matthew 27
John 19
Luke 23
34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 26–27 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
    28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 44–47 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, … Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

While Matthew has stuck quite close to the account created by Mark, John and Luke each take considerable liberties as they develop the story’s potential as a classic scene in the final moment’s of their hero’s life:

The Johannine Jesus has no sense of desolation, but rather sets about making the arrangements for his mother’s care. Knowing that Scripture must be fulfilled, John’s Jesus feigns thirst in order to prompt the mere mortals in the script to offer him a drink. Finally, in John 19 Jesus expires with a victory shout.

Luke’s Jesus is even more the classical Greek hero. Jesus seeks divine forgiveness for those acting as executioners. He converts one of his fellow victims and offers him a place in heaven that very day. In stark contrast with the Jesus who feels himself abandoned by God, this Jesus deliberately commends his spirit into the Father’s hands and then breathes his last.

Clearly we are not dealing with historical recollection, but with literary artistry.

Jesus Database

  • 005 Crucifixion of Jesus – (1) 1 Cor 15:3b; (2a) GPet. 4:10-5:16,18-20; 6:22; (2b) Mark 15:22-38 = Matt 27:33-51a = Luke 23:32-46; (2c) John 19:17b-25a,28-36; (3) Barn. 7:3-5; (4a) 1 Clem. 16:3-4 (=Isaiah 53:1-12); (4b) 1 Clem. 16.15-16 (=Psalm 22:6-8); (5a) Ign. Mag. 11; (5b) Ign. Trall. 9:1b; (5c) Ign. Smyrn. 1.2

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean-elect, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. Currently serving as the locum priest at Byron Bay Anglican Parish.
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