JOURNEY TO CALVARY - LUCAN ACCOUNT
Unlike the other journeys we have made during Lent in following aspects of our Lord’s life, it is difficult to say today what is the exact route that we can travel to Golgotha to imitate the journey that Jesus took as He bore the beam of the cross to the place of the skull just as the two other criminals crucified with him.
However we know we would be in a crowded Jerusalem with tens and thousands of pilgrims living in inns and courtyards and anywhere where a tent could be erected for the Passover. The head of the family had to go to temple and buy the lamb to be slaughtered for the Passover meal.
Also in Jerusalem adding to its congestion was the presence of the Roman imperial army to maintain order. Their arrival would not go unnoticed as they marched into the city in their bright coloured soldier uniforms. With them would be the governor, Pontius Pilate who had been governor of Judaea since c. A.D. 27. He was no stranger to the holy city as he already had run-ins with the Jews.
Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews and Jewish War related four incidents, one of which occurred when Pilate and his soldiers brought their standards into the city. On them of course were the regular ensigns of the emperor, considered idolatrous by the Jews. As a result some Jews presented themselves to the official residence in Caesarea to petition the removal of the ensigns. For five days Pilate refused to see these representatives. However in the end reluctantly he let them in surrounded by soldiers but threatening to kill them if trouble pursued. The Jews prostrated themselves, bared their necks and told Pilate they would rather die to protect their law and religion. Finally Pilate relented and took down the ensigns. Perhaps even more serious was Pilate’s plundering of the treasury in the temple to pay to upgrade the inadequate water supply in Jerusalem. At least the money was put to good use as the construction of a new water supply made all the difference. Yet he committed sacrilege in the eyes of the Jewish authorities. Another visitor to Jerusalem at Passover time was Herod Antipas, even though his jurisdiction was in Galilee and Peraea. He liked to keep up the family appearance in the city where his father had built the magnificent temple. He also was a builder, building for himself an entirely new city in Galilee, Tiberias, in honour of the Caesar in power. In order to do this the Galileans had been taxed even more steeply. He too would have made a ceremonial entrance in regal style into David’s city.
How all this would have contrasted with another procession arriving in Jerusalem from the other end of the city. Jesus would have come from the Mount of Olives where Jesus would have overlooked the city before reaching its gate. The following poem depicts His arrival.
It is Passover time,
A busy time,
Near a gate of Jerusalem
donkey stood tethered.
None seemed to want him
until two men approached.
They looked and then nodded.
He will do nicely.
A fellow nearby shouted,
“What are you doing?”
For our Master’s need
to ride this donkey.
Jesus patted this smallish beast,
Climbed on his back
To the donkey’s delight.
“Where am I going?” he thought?
To the donkey’s astonishment
shouts above his head he heard!
palm branches at his side waving
Who is on my back?
My feet took my rider
Over cobblestones to the temple
He patted me on my back
A job well done!
A passer-by said, “Look!”
A cross this donkey has
marked clearly on his back.
I had my triumphal hour,
A honour no other had.
Carrying the Saviour of the world
To cleanse his Father’s temple.
The temple would feature prominently in Jesus’ life in those days leading up to Passover with all its busyness and business as Jews flocked into the temple with the clutter of coins always in the background. Here each day He preached to them before retiring to Bethany each evening. Not only did Jesus teach but He also was questioned by the scribes and chief priests on such subjects as paying taxes. Asking for a coin, He asked whose inscription is thereupon? When informed it was Caesar’s, He replied, “render to Caesar what is due unto him and unto God what is due to him” (Lk. 20. 22- 6).
When what we know as the passion events begin, other places in Jerusalem will be important. After his arrest according to John, Jesus was taken to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, and interrogated by Annas, his father-in-law, the previous high priest. Afterwards he was taken to the Praetorium. This was the official residence of the Roman procurator or governor when in Jerusalem. His main residence was in Caesarea built by Herod the Great in honour of Augustus. Herod had completely transformed the old Phoenician port of Strato’s Tower into a busy harbour city. Within this city as well as the construction of royal residences, a magnificent temple that overlooked the harbour was built in honour of Augustus Caesar and the worship of Roma. Later on Paul would be imprisoned here for a couple of years before sailing for Rome. Not far from the temple on the eastern side of Jerusalem was the Kidron valley that separated the Mount of Olives from the city. Jesus crossed it after sharing His last meal with His disciples. For most of the year this is dry. This leads to what Scripture described as a garden, known to us as Gethsemane. As the name suggests it was amidst groves of olive trees that were later cut down by the Romans. Yet at Passover time it would have been a noisy place, crowded by pilgrims. So Jesus and His disciples would have been a few among many – hence Judas’ need for a given sign!
DISTINCTIVE FEATRUES OF THE LUCAN ACCOUNT
One of the things we should be conscious of when reading the overall gospel of Luke is that it is the second volume of his writings. The first for Luke is what we know as the Old Testament and the third is what we know as Acts. There are parallels, especially in the Gospel and Acts. For example when Luke was writing his account of the Passion of our Lord he shaped this in accordance with the second book. For example, Stephen’s death described in Chapter Six in Acts would have close associations with that of Jesus as he forgave his enemies and commended his soul into the hands of his God. Later on the great Paul would face a similar trial before the Sanhedrin, the Governor and a Herod just as his Lord had. Of course there are other similarities but at present we are concerned only with the Passion narrative.
Only Luke has the supper, arrest, passion, death and visit to the tomb as a unit.
Now to the Passion
Dante described Luke as showing to the world “the gentleness of Christ”. You will see this in those words Jesus spoke from the cross. “I tell you, this very day, you will be with me in my kingdom,” he informs the “good thief”. Luke also portrays the disciples in a favourable manner, unlike Mark who emphasises how the disciples fled. Rather after the meal Luke has Jesus speaking very complimentary about the disciples. “You are the ones who have remained with me” and “will eat and drink with me in my kingdom and sit on the Twelve tribes of Israel to judge them” (Lk. 22.29 30). Even Peter’s prediction of denial is prefixed with Jesus saying that He has prayed for him as Satan will sift him like wheat. And Luke also has Satan entering Judas (At the Temptation in Luke, Satan only leaves for a season, he has now returned!) Luke never mentions the disciples all fled. He simply stops mentioning them. When Jesus left the upper room for the Mt. of Olives he prays only once, kneeling reverently to the Father, there is no falling to his knees. God does hear Him as an angel comes to His aid. When we are told that Jesus prayed in agony in the garden by Luke, we must understand the real meaning of this. It is quite different from the way we use it, signifying pain. The Greek word agon means the kind of tension that an athlete feels before running a race and so sweat breaks out as he anticipates the race ahead as well as during the race. Jesus is running that race to defeat His opponent – Satan. After praying Jesus was confronted by the multitude that came to arrest him. With them was Judas. Unlike in Mark, Jesus forestalls his coming and kissing him. Rather Jesus takes the initiative. “Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss, Judas?” One of the disciples cut the ear off the high priest servant, but Jesus immediately healed it. Only Luke has this touch – a touch that will continue until just before He dies when He forgives the good thief who stole heaven as we sometimes say. When we come to the trial there is nothing about the destruction of the sanctuary of the temple – that will feature in Stephen’s trial in Acts. There are no witnesses against Jesus in the Lucan account.
Peter’s denial with Luke occurs at night while Jesus is still in the courtyard and so He sees and hears his three denials. As he does the Lord looked upon him as the cock crowed and Peter went out and wept bitterly.
The actual trial of Jesus is almost identical of that of Paul towards the very end of Acts. There is the charge of making himself a king; of misleading the people, and opposing the paying of taxes. Three charges and three times Pilate will declare Jesus innocent. Hearing that Jesus was from Galilee he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem for the Passover. This is also a Lucan touch. Herod apparently wanted to witness a sign, but it is obvious that Jesus still thought of him as “that fox” as we read earlier in the gospel. Note that Herod’s soldiers clothed Jesus in a purple robe, a sign of royalty and Luke never tells us He disrobed. So for Luke Jesus went to His death dressed as a king. Luke like John has Jesus being in charge of the proceedings.
The via Dolorossa
It is from Luke that we have the embryo of what we know as the Stations of the Cross. Only from Luke do we learn that there were people on Jesus’ side as He travelled to Calvary and will travel with Him to Calvary. On the Lucan journey Simon of Cyrene carries the cross behind Jesus – a mark of discipleship. Remember “take up your cross and follow me” is prominent in the Lucan Gospel. On the way He meets the women who are weeping and lamenting His crucifixion. Jesus pauses to speak to them and comfort them about their own misfortune which will happen when Jerusalem falls. Later there will be a centurion who recognised who He is and there were the many men and women from Galilee who watched from afar at Calvary (Lk. 23. 49). Jesus is not alone as He is in the Marcan Passion. Indeed the women of Galilee represent the carrying on of Jesus’ ministry. In fact during the Passion narrative we are more conscious of women as indeed we are throughout the entire Gospel. Apart from the women who sympathised with Him as He journeyed out of the city for the last time and the women from Galilee watching, there is the High Priest maid who confronts Peter in the courtyard (Lk. 22. 56- 7). After the crucifixion the women of Galilee are at the tomb (Lk. 24.10).
Calvary – Luke being Greek does not use the Aramaic word, Golgotha.
Once Jesus reaches the place of the Skull, we shall notice that the people do not jeer, they simply watch. Luke continued to show Jesus gracious and forgiving until the end. He will be an example to all those early Christians who face martyrdom. On the cross there are several utterances by Jesus such as, “Forgive them Lord, for they do not know what they do” – same words as Stephen will utter a few years later.
There is also the dialogue with whom we now call “the good thief” who confesses that he and the other thief deserve their punishment but Jesus does not. For the first time in this Gospel a person calls Jesus by His name, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” to which the Lord assured him that yes, he would be in paradise with Him that day.
The death of Jesus is a calm resignation to the Father with whom He has been in communion: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” He is at peace. It is these words of Luke we say every night before we fall asleep. It will be these words that will comfort us at our death. Jesus dies innocently in the Lucan account. All of those who were present looking on, smote their breasts and returned to their homes. They had a sense of remorse for the injustice done.
It is indeed a scene of calm in comparison with the Marcan version. Jesus is not alone as His Father has not abandoned Him. However note that in the Lucan account that as “darkness grips” the land the temple veil covering the entrance into the Holy of Holies is rent in two – now even God has forsaken Him. Yet in the midst of this most terrible omen, Jesus’ voice penetrates “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” – darkness and death could not destroy that complete trust Jesus had in His Father.
The Lucan Jesus has shown faithful Christians how to die.
THE PASSION ACCORDING TO LUKE
Unlike the other gospels the scene of the Last Supper really is part of the Lucan passion narrative, so we shall start with that. – let’s read Luke 22. 1 – 38.
Meals feature in this gospel – in the home of Simon the Pharisee when a woman anoints His feet similar to Johannine account with Mary, but this woman received the gift of uncondtional forgiveness (Lk. 7. 36-50) and in sinners’ home (Lk. 15. 1 -2).
After the preparation has been made Luke tells us this is the Passover meal that Jesus desires to share with his disciples. It is quite different from the other two Synoptic accounts. The actions of Jesus at the meal have an eschatological meaning. After having broke bread together, Jesus announced one would betray Him. Note how the redemptive work of Christ in giving of himself is juxtaposed against the one who will betray Him. How Jesus must have wept after sharing this meal with the Twelve who will judge the Twelve tribes (not Judas, his place is taken by Matthias) when they started to argue who would be the greatest amongst them. Obviously they are still dim-witted! Hasn’t Jesus told them one must serve, not lord it over another in His kingdom. That is the example He has shown (in Johannine tradition Jesus will manifest this after the Supper by taking the basin and washing the disciples’ feet). After reminding them of what true discipleship means, he turns to Peter. Jesus prefaces his foretelling of the denial, by stating that Satan will sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith does not fail. Peter objects. Never! Peter, before the cock crows you will have denied me three times. Luke thus describes three actions that the disciples will take after drinking from the same cup and breaking bread with their Lord: the betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter and the fleeing of the disciples. But He has prayed for them! There will be reconciliation and healing afterwards!
GETHESEMANE - THE AGONY, BETRAYAL –SMITING OF THE EAR Luke 22. 39 – 53.
Again this is different. Only once does Jesus prays but He is helped in His agony. We are told his sweat were like drops of blood as an angel came to minister unto Him. Note that the word agonia in Greek refers to that tension in an athlete about to run a race. Every nerve, every sinew, every muscle is tuned for the race ahead. In praying to His Father He has been strengthened and stands up only to find the disciples are asleep “from grief” – another softening impact by Luke of their weakness. Immediately Judas arrives. However Jesus anticipates his action. Judas are you going to betray the Son of a Man with a kiss? This may be your hour – the hour of darkness – but the hour will come!
Peter acts (not Lucan but Johannine); he is the one who cuts off the ear of High Priest servant’s ear but in the Lucan tradition Jesus heals the servant.
THE HOURS OF DARKNESS – HOUSE OF THE HIGH PRIEST – Luke 22. 54 – 65.
Jesus is taken to the house of the high priest and Peter follows. As Jesus is being interrogated as a false prophet, Peter is denying him not far away. Luke has constructed this so that the Lord and Peter are within sight of one another. As the cock crew Jesus looked at Peter and he remembered the words that Jesus had said. He is not a false prophet at all! Peter broke down and wept. Yet he did not follow Jesus to Calvary! Again is this touch of compassion by Jesus. In his darkest moment He is with Peter despite His own agony.
THE TRIAL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN – Luke 23. 44 – 23. 25.
Although called a trial this is probably more in line of an informal hearing so that the leaders could prepare their case for the Roman governor. When these leaders bring Jesus before Pilate they accuse Jesus of political crimes, opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar and misleading the people (Lk. 23. 2, 5). There is so much irony here. After all the religious leaders are supposed to defend the freedom and faith of Israel, and here at the trial they seem more concerned about the duties to Caesar. It is even more ironic when Luke’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus enables people to be free by believing in Him. Then there would be justice for all. The irony continues as the power of the land finds Jesus innocent. Both Pilate and Herod admit they could find no find no fault. Indeed Pilate is very emphatic in his re-affirming of our Lord’s innocence (Lk. 23. 4, 14). Could this confirmation be Luke’s way of stating to the Roman world of his day that Jesus and His followers are not political revolutionaries and that Christians live in peace? Nevertheless the evangelist presents these two figures, Pilate and Herod as being corrupt. They know that Jesus is innocent of the charges but they bow to the wishes of the Jews. In this sense Jesus dies a martyr’s death not unlike others beforehand who had been faithful to Yahweh such as those under Antiochus Epiphanes.
THE WAY OF THE CROSS – JESUS CARRIES HIS CROSS TO CALVARY - Luke 23. 26 – 32
The traditional walking the stations of the cross come from the Lucan gospel. Just as Luke is the only evangelist who tells us about Jesus setting out from Galilee to go to Jerusalem. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem (LK. 9. 51.) For the next few chapters the reader is conscious that Jesus is on the road. For example a little latter we read, “As they were going along the way” (Lk. 9. 57). Then a little later in chapter thirteen we are told that Jesus “continued his journey through towns and villages, teaching as he made his way towards Jerusalem” (v. 23). He also heals the lepers “on the way to Jerusalem” (Lk..17. 11- 19). Just before approaching Jericho where he healed the blind man, Jesus made His third prediction of the Passion “going to Jerusalem” (Lk.18. 31 – 4). So it is not surprising that we find that Jesus makes that last stage of His ministry a definite journey of ministry and to have His face now set for Calvary and leaving the city over which He had wept. Here we have the example of what Jesus meant, “Whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” as he taught on His journey to Jerusalem (Lk. 14.27). Simon of Cyrene when he helped Jesus bore the cross from behind for Luke as this example of discipleship. So Simon is a friend not an enemy. Many women are too and they have comes out to meet Jesus and show their grief for Him. Again He ministers to them instead by reminding them of those dark times that will behold them. Jesus is still fulfilling His role as a prophet. Jerusalem that had murdered the prophets would have its own demise but not before for Luke that the message of salvation spreads out from here. That is why his gospel finishes with the disciples back in Jerusalem in the temple praising God (something that Zachariah could not do at the beginning as he was struck dumb). It is only Luke who tells us that two other criminals were led out with Jesus to be crucified and perhaps explains why we have a “good thief” at the end (Lk. 23. 32).
THE DEATH OF THE JUST MAN – JESUS DIES AT PEACE BUT BRINGING THE MESSAGE OF HOPE TO ANOTHER EVEN AT THE LAST.
Luke 23. 33 – 49
The crucifixion scene fulfils what He had stated during the last meal, “For I tell you that the scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, ‘He was counted among the wicked’” (Lk. 23. 37).
The mockery comes from three groups: the rulers, soldiers and one of the criminals, but not the people.
Throughout His ministry Jesus had taught His followers not to return violence for violence and to be forgiving, so Jesus manifests what He has taught by forgiving those who crucify Him. That forgiveness was extended to one of the criminals, after the other one reviled Jesus. The only time in this gospel that a person calls the Lord by His name, Jesus, is the person we now call “the good thief”. Yet it is not only forgiveness but a promise to be in paradise that very day.
Note that in the Lucan account that as “darkness grips” the land the temple veil covering the entrance into the Holy of Holies is rent in two – now even God has forsaken Him. Yet in the midst of this most terrible omen, Jesus’ voice penetrates “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” – darkness and death could not destroy that complete trust Jesus had in His Father.
After our Lord’s death there are various responses to it. Firstly, the centurion who had been in charge declared that this was an innocent man. The crowd that had followed Jesus to Calvary and had been looking on, not jeering as in Mark, went home smiting their breasts as they recognised the unjust death of Jesus. His friends from Galilee, including the faithful women, were also present, and followed Joseph of Arimathaea to the tomb where he laid the body of Jesus.
OUR JOURNEY TO CALVARY
Luke’s portrayal of the Passion narrative, more than the others, I think, enables us to identify ourselves with one or two or more of the characters involved. Perhaps you might like to be one of the criminals whom we remember in the end as “the good thief who won heaven”. Or, Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross following Jesus. It is Luke’s gospel that allows us to make that journey, and perhaps for us our journey will simply be walking the via dolorosa, in the way we have done for most of our lives in the traditional stations of the cross. If we take this way, let us pause at each of the stations and let the meaning of each penetrate into our very being. I have always thought that Stations is a personal encounter with the Lord rather than a corporate one where we can linger as long as we like at each station and enter into dialogue with the Lord. In that way we make the journey our own spiritual one. It is a journey where we should want to soak in the pain, the intense pain and suffering of our beloved Lord who in His humanity has suffered greatly for us. Make no mistake, our Lord suffered excruciating pain and if we make that journey as we should, we shall feel something of that by the time we come to the Good Friday Liturgy.
At the cross as we look up and gaze and gaze let the love blazing from the cross penetrate into our very inner being. That love is a costly love. When we give Christ’s love in our daily living it is always going to cost us something. If our loving does not cost us anything then we have to look back at the cross and stay there time and time again until we have some understanding of that love poured out at Calvary.
A little word.
But on it
A mighty deed
The blessed Jesu stoops
To surrender life
For the good of man
And for his salvation.
O my people
Do you know?
Do you ever think?
How gruesome it was!
How all alone it was!
Spend some time
Feeling the suffering
Mingled with love
Flowing from my heart.
This is your lot too
For to be my disciple
You cannot love
Without the spear-stab
Twisting your heart.