Category Archives: Luke

He blessed them

October 31, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from the happy ending of Luke’s gospel — chapter 24, verses 49-53.

“And [behold] I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

This is the only time in Luke’s gospel that Jesus blesses. Language fascinates me. To bless: it’s interesting that the Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin of the word to mean “to mark (or effect in some way) with blood (or sacrifice); to consecrate….At a very early date the popular etymological consciousness began to associate this verb with bliss — benignity, blitheness, joy, happiness.” Here we have in the verses above the joining of Jesus’ consecration of his apostles by his sacrifice with their bliss, their joy.

Luke’s gospel begins and ends in the temple in Jerusalem to show the continuity between the old and the new covenant and to make it clear that the promise at the beginning was fulfilled at the end. The old man Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God, asking for His favor and saying “my eyes have seen your salvation.” At the end Jesus blessed his disciples, asking for God’s favor upon them and for their salvation.

This is the beginning of Christology in Luke’s gospel. It is the only time that he tells us that disciples worshipped or paid him homage. As Barclay writes, “There had to come a day of dividing when the Jesus of earth finally became the Christ of heaven.” And yet the disciples weren’t sad, wistful for the days they had spent living with Jesus, bathing in his patient, unconditional love. They were filled with great joy! Luke used the word for joy several times in his gospel with the sense signifying “a state of messianic exaltation and peace” according to Johnson in The Gospel of Luke. It was the joy and conviction that Paul describes in Romans, “For I am convinced neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus promised his disciples that they would be clothed in the power of the Holy Spirit. With his blessing upon them he transferred his mission from himself to them. Johnson reminds, “Now if we remember the prophet Moses and Elijah, we remember how their Spirit was transmitted to their successors at their departure. Joshua ‘was full of the Spirit of wisdom, for Moses laid his hands on him: so the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.’ Joshua inherited the Spirit and was able to lead the people into the Promised Land even though Moses could not. Likewise Elisha before the departure of his master Elijah asked for a double portion of the Spirit. When Elijah ascended into heaven, he left the prophetic ‘mantle’ for his successor Elisha to wear; so when Elijah had departed, his Spirit was still more actively present in his successor, who at once demonstrated the deeds of a prophet. Thus the imagery of ‘being clothed from on high’ is particularly fitting. Jesus’ followers will receive a double share of the Spirit, and the mantle of his prophecy; they will work signs and wonders in his name, and declare openly what they had once held in silence.” Luke will continue this story in Acts.

So, too, have I been blessed by Jesus with the expectation that I will be joyful and that, filled with the Holy Spirit, I will work wonders in his name. That’s the power of unconditional love and forgiveness. When I bless others with that love, which will entail sacrifice, both of us will be blissful. That’s the promise for me to fulfill.



They did not find the body

October 30, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 24:1-12.

But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” And they remembered his words. Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.

Why is it that I have such a hard time believing what is not familiar or known or expected? What makes me so skeptical of the good news? Why does it sometimes seem to me to be nonsense as it was to the eleven? Why do I look for Jesus among the dead? As Barclay writes, “Many of us still look for Jesus among the dead. There are those who regard him as the greatest man and the noblest hero who ever lived, as one who lived the loveliest life ever seen on earth; but who then died. That will not do. Jesus is not dead; he is alive. He is not merely a hero of the past, he is a living reality of the present….[H]e is someone to be met and lived with every day. He is not only a figure in a book, even if that book be the greatest in the world; he is a living presence. There are those who see in Jesus the perfect pattern and example. He is that; but a perfect example can be the most heart-breaking thing in the world….He is not only the pattern and the example. He helps us and guides us and strengthens us to follow that pattern and example. He is not simply a model for life; he is a living presence to help us to live. It may be that our Christianity has laced an essential something because we too have been looking for him who is alive among the dead.”

All of these perceptions describe the way I see — and relate to — Jesus much of the time. Dead. Sometimes I think we make too much of the resurrection and Jesus ascending into heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand. That leads me to think of him as distant, as part of another world, another experience. It’s been hard for me to eradicate the anthropomorphic imagery of the Bible and the countless depictions in art. I know that it’s intended for us to better comprehend God and the risen Jesus, concepts that we can more easily get our minds around. I am coming to the understanding, though, that God and Jesus with Him are pure spirit. Jesus is not a body ensconced in some heavenly kingdom. By thinking of him as spirit it actually brings him closer to me and more easily able to immerse myself in him. To realize that all my thoughts, my feelings, my words, my actions are in relation to him and his Father, an endless stream-of-consciousness dialogue with them.

I think this is what Rohr is saying in The Good New According to Luke, “God’s miracle in Jesus is not the resurrection as we’ve made it out to be. Is God able to raise up a body that has died? Of course God can do that. If God is God, of course God can raise up a body. The resurrection of Jesus’ body is not big miracle. The unbelievable word of faith that should be spoken to all of us in the Easter story is what the Spirit of God achieved in the heart of Jesus: that the Spirit liberated Jesus’ heart so he could let go of himself to God. Even though he did flinch, have questions, and feel doubt, he still remained faithful. That’s the Easter miracle achieved in the humanity of Jesus….For us, he is everything. He is the Word of the Father, He is what God can accomplish in humanity when we say yet to God. This insight about the resurrection has not commonly been taught. Traditionally, we were told the resurrection was the proof that Jesus was really God. Now to say that God is really Love is different from saying that the resurrection proves that Jesus was really God….If we gather all the gospels together, we see that the teaching on the resurrection is not focused on the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus. The resurrected body is a whole new type of corpo-reality, a new type of bodiliness which is open to universal presence and yet is immediately available to one person. Jesus has become the all-available Christ….At present, our human nature in its physical form is limited to a space-time continuum. My current body is a limited presence; if I’m here, I can’t be there. That’s not true of Jesus any more. What the gospels seem to be trying to say is that in the resurrection of the body we’re getting into a new kind of bodiliness, a new kind of presence which is unlimited. Moreover, this limitless presence is a presence that is active and alive in each situation.”

Johnson writes of the women puzzling over the empty tomb in The Gospel of Luke, “[T]he fact of the empty tomb does not itself lead to faith. It must be interpreted.” He goes on, “[T]wo elements common to the Chrisitan accounts about Jesus should be noted (I’m only including the first.). The first is that the Jesus of the resurrection accounts is not vestigially or marginally visible but is rather emphatically present in a more powerful way than ever.”

These aren’t new teachings or interpretations. However, I’m like Peter in that I have been amazed by the empty tomb, but it’s taken me some time to come to faith that Jesus is spirit present everywhere to everyone in a way that is comprehensible to me. It is a new type of bodiliness that my limited mind cannot imagine, but I can imagine him as spirit and being immersed in that spirit. It’s no longer nonsense to me.


Awaiting the kingdom

October 29, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news from Luke 23:50-56.

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.

Had I been Luke writing this I would have added that Joseph was a tender man. A member of the Sanhedrin with ready access to Pilate, he was undoubtedly a well-to-do man with employees or servants to do much of his labor. Yet here he was removing the nails and unbinding the cords that held Jesus to the cross, carefully cradling a body caked with blood and smeared with other bodily fluids. There was probably weeping and wailing and people gawking at this spectacle. It was a grim task in a emotion-laden scene.

What led Joseph to the cross and from the cross to the tomb? A clue may be that Luke tells us that Joseph was awaiting the kingdom of God. He was expecting its arrival perhaps then and now with Jesus’ death. First, though, there were pragmatic matters to be dealt with. An observant Jew, Joseph knew that the body couldn’t be left overnight and that nothing could be done on the following day, the sabbath. An immediate decision and action were required. So, we know that Joseph was a decisive man determined to get Jesus into a tomb even if he had to do it himself.

That’s the mindset in which he operated, but what was his motivation? At the least, he must have believed that Jesus was a prophet, the voice of God, a harbinger of God’s coming kingdom. He would have thought that a prophet should be honored and properly buried. The way Luke tells this story makes it very personal, even intimate. I think Joseph was driven not just by the desire to honor Jesus but because he loved him as well. I think he had come to believe that Jesus was indeed the son of God. As he loved God, he loved His Son. I can’t imagine what else other than love would have compelled Joseph to act so decisively, to persuade Pilate to hand over Jesus’ body to him, to tenderly remove his battered, bloodied body from the cross, to carefully wrap him in linen, and carry him in grief to a tomb where he gently laid him down.

In that great love for Jesus I think that Joseph found the kingdom of God. He found forgiveness; he found peace; he found hope. The kingdom of God had arrived for him in the least expected way — in suffering and death. Jesus was God’s suffering servant that Joseph had read about in the scriptures. Now, Joseph could understand just what that meant and he was able to join in the suffering; he could embrace the pain and enter God’s kingdom, God’s unremitting love that overcomes everything.

It is amazing what I can do when I act purely out of love for another. I can overcome my own squeamishness; I can find courage and strength; I can forgive. Most importantly, though, I can experience God’s love for me. I can enter His kingdom. I, too, am awaiting the kingdom of God. This story about Joseph tells me that it is always there awaiting me, awaiting me to act from pure love for God and his children.


Into your hands

October 28, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 23:44-49.

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. 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.

Particularly in Luke, Jesus frequently quotes or references the scriptures. So it is with his last words from Psalm 31: “Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, LORD, faithful God.” The Psalm ends, “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” Even in his dying he was encouraging the people to be strong and to take heart in God’s great love for them.

It is apparent that Jesus knew the scriptures by heart. He heard the voice of his Father in them and received guidance and encouragement from them. Scripture and prayer is where he drew his strength, his determination to fulfill his mission. Those were the sources for his unfailing dedication to submit his will to God’s. In that way he modeled for me how I can likewise succeed in submitting my will to God’s — or at least desire to succeed most of the time.

“Commend” means to give in trust, to deliver into one’s care. I can’t ever remember using it in that sense or hearing anyone else use it. (More often it is used in the sense of presenting as worthy of favorable acceptance.) Perhaps that’s because I don’t trust completely that I will be accepted and cared for unconditionally. Some translations like the New Jerusalem Bible, the Revised Standard Version, and the New International Version use the word “commit.” The Sacra Pagina uses “entrust.” I like entrust; to me it signifies a confident, intimate regard for the one trusted and a sense of peaceful surrender or submission. I value Luke’s account of Jesus’ death because it conveys as a final summation all that Jesus’ life was about — surrendering himself to his Father’s care and will. As Richard Rohr writes in The Good News According to Luke, “There, in one line, is the meaning of Jesus’ spirituality: he trusted in the Father and was not put to shame. He trusted in the Father’s faithful love; he believed against all odds that the Father was Father….Against all evidence to the contrary, he believed God was faithful.”

To the centurion Jesus was not just innocent as this translation states. Others use the word “righteous,” which means guiltless but also sinless and conforming to the standard of the divine law according to the Oxford English Dictionary. That was the significance that the centurion realized. Jesus wasn’t just innocent of the charges brought by the Sanhedrin and the Romans; he was sinless because he faithfully lived his life in complete accordance with God’s will.

“Spirit.” Jesus didn’t entrust himself, his life, his body to God; he entrusted his spirit. The Dictionary defines it as the animating principle that gives life to the material body. Jesus was returning in spirit to God, his Father, the creative and animating life force of the universe. This helps me as I have been thinking a lot about the bodily resurrection lately. A New Catechism states, “This body of the resurrection is not molecules which are buried and scattered in the earth…Man begins to awake as a new man. And at this point we must be silent. The ‘how’ is unknown….[T]his involves something the human mind cannot picture clearly….All who have died, belonging to the fellowship of the human race and to the fellowship of the Church, all the good from the apostles, martyrs and saints to the least of believers, now live in God.” Even I, one of the least of believers, will live in God, will become part of the animating force of the universe along with Jesus.

I hope I have a clear mind at the time of my death to be able to pray, “Father, into your welcoming love I entrust my spirit,” trusting that He indeed will receive me as He did His only begotten Son.


Today you will be with me

October 25, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 23:39-43,

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying “Are you not the Messiah? 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.”

My first thought is that I am both the penitent and the unrepentant criminal or sinner. My life is a continual duel between the two parts of me that can only be reconciled in Jesus. Some sins I commit over and over alternately repentant and defiant as if I have no fear of God. Others are crimes of passion — those flashes of emotion in reaction to being hurt, humiliated, embarrassed, offended in some way even when it was unintended.

I don’t believe that God punishes me for my sins, although I used to. I do suffer the consequences of my actions, but that’s not God’s doing. It either comes from within myself in the form of regret, recrimination, and sorrow or it comes from those I have sinned against as a deserved retribution.

This account appears only in Luke who emphasizes Jesus’ forgiveness over and over throughout his gospel. It’s interesting to me that Johnson in The Gospel of Luke points out, “The use of the personal name ‘Jesus’ is striking; it is used otherwise in Luke only by demoniacs or others seeking healing. The name itself, our course, means ‘the Lord saves.'” We each see the world through our own lenses. I’m grateful for the way that Luke perceived Jesus because my heart seems to need the reassurance of God’s love and forgiveness, the need to be saved. Jesus told the penitent criminal that today he will be with him. Johnson tells us that each time that Luke used this particular Greek word it signified a “special moment of revelation or salvation.” Jesus was salvation for this man at that moment just as he is for me in this moment and every time I am repentant.

What does Jesus mean by paradise? This word appears only three times in the Greek bible. The other two, 2 Corinthians and Revelation, “refer to the garden prepared by God for the first humans, the most noteworthy feature of which was the ‘tree of life’ according to Johnson. “It was a garden of joy and pleasure.” This is the kingdom of God, which can be ours when we completely submit our will to God’s. It means that the penitent part of me must be finally victorious over my unrepentant, defiant self. I pray that will happen as I prepare to die; I don’t have any confidence it will happen sooner.

I like what Barclay says about this state of mine, “Surely this story tells us above all that it is never too late to turn to Christ….So long as a man’s heart beats, the invitation of Christ still stands….It is literally true that while there is life there is hope.” Therein lies my hope.


Father, forgive them

October 24, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news from Luke 23:32-38.

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 Messiah 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.”

The verse in brackets is not found in the earliest manuscripts according to the New American Bible. This prayer of forgiveness does not appear in any of the other gospels. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary believes that it is authentic, however. “The language and thought are Lucan: Father; forgiveness of sins because of ignorance. Luke balances Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7:60) with that of Jesus. Luke has sayings of Jesus in each main section of the crucifixion narrative. The inclusion of a saying here conforms to Lucan artistry. Jesus’ prayer is part and parcel of Luke’s theology of rejected prophet and of a Jesus who teaches and practices forgiveness of enemies.”

I find these words of Jesus extraordinarily comforting. They are salve for my broken heart. I prefer Luke’s account of the crucifixion because it is not as graphic and Mark’s or Matthew’s. I always want to close my eyes, my mind, to those reports when I hear or read them. Mainly I prefer it because of these final words of forgiveness for my ignorance, my blindness, my malice. Jesus was always true to his word; he practiced what he preached even in the face of death. As Barclay writes, “Jesus said many wonderful things, but rarely anything more wonderful than [this]….There is nothing so lovely and nothing so rare as Christian forgiveness….Others may have in their hearts the unforgiving spirit, others may sin in ignorance; but we know better. We are Christ’s men and women; and we must forgive as he forgave.” I like that phrase, “We are Christ’s men and women.” To me it says more than that we are Christians. To me it means that were are his — we are his disciples, we are his champions, we are his instruments. To say that we are Christians speaks to me more of theology and of exclusive membership that is less personal, less demanding.

Johnson in The Gospel of Luke sums it up well, “But as the reader of the Gospel to this point well understands, it is through faith that God has brought salvation in the words and deeds of Jesus. The reader has also learned that salvation does not consist in political liberation or the perpetuation of life, but rather in the restoration of God’s people through the forgiveness of sins.” We are restored to God through His forgiveness of our sins and through our forgiveness of one another’s sins.

Luke is at pains here to separate the Jewish rulers or authorities from the people. The rulers mocked him while the people observed this tragedy and returned to their homes beating their breasts. The mindset of the authorities recalls the Book of Wisdom written about one hundred years before Jesus. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the LORD. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like other men’s, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. WIth revilement and torture let up put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him. These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God.”

And yet Jesus asked for his Father to forgive them. Whether Luke actually wrote this prayer of Jesus or not, that was the heart and mind of Jesus. That was his mission as the Messiah, to restore us to God our Father through the forgiveness of sins. We can’t earn our salvation; it is given to us by the grace of God. That’s a good thing because I would never make it.


Weep for yourselves

October 23, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 23:26-31.

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?”

Up to the end Jesus used memorable metaphors to communicate his message. What is his message? According to Johnson in The Gospel of Luke, daughters of Jerusalem or Zion in biblical literature represented the city itself. Jesus here is addressing all the people, not just the women in the crowd. In Jesus’ time there was hardly a fate worse than being unable to bear a child. A child was an heir, a child carried on the family name, a child was free labor, a child was insurance against the infirmities of old age. Barrenness was grounds for divorce. So, the days ahead when people would say that a barren womb was blessed must be unimaginably terrible. Johnson writes, “Sterility and barrenness are classic expressions of failure and of God’s disfavor rather than blessing. For a tradition in which having children is the quintessential blessing of God, a situation in which the barren are blessed in indeed grievous.” Barclay believes that Jesus was “seeing ahead the destruction of that city which had so often before, and which had now so finally, refused the invitation of God.” That’s serious stuff!

Jesus then quoted from scripture, Hosea chapter 10: “Then they shall cry out to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall upon us!'” The context was God’s punishment of idolatry, the sin of Israel. God’s punishment was to be so terrible that people would plead for a quick death. The idolatry in Jesus’ time as in ours was still the golden calf — the placing of wealth, power, and prestige above the command to love God by caring and providing for one another. What does the wood being green as opposed to dry mean? The New Jerome Biblical Commentary states that this verse can be paraphrased as, “For if they have done this to Jesus, one who is life-giving, what will happen to dead, unrepentant Jerusalem.” The green wood was the present time and the dry was the future of Jerusalem under the siege of the Romans.

In these verses, according to Johnson, “Luke continues to portray Jesus as the sage and prophet. Even as he goes toward his death, he can ‘turn toward’ the women and deliver his somber prediction; he is capable even in this moment of greatest vulnerability to perceive the larger meaning of events and declare them: the violence done to him the messenger of peace, will be visited on those who do this violence, and in such terrible fashion that even the innocent will suffer as a result.” We still do violence to the messengers of peace today. It seems they don’t stand a chance; it seems God doesn’t stand a chance.

Weep for ourselves. Weep for the children slaughtered in their classrooms. Weep for the people in the movie theater murdered in their seats. Weep for the Afghan woman killed working in the field by a predator drone. Innocents all who suffer at the hands of the violent. It’s a blood-thirsty world we live in. It makes me cringe to think of God’s day of judgment coming upon us. However, I can’t despair. I must live with peace in my heart knowing that He loves me as He loves every person He has created. I must respond with peace in my heart when all I want is vengeance. I must advocate for peace because aggression and war destroy life. I must heed the commandment not to kill and do what I can to see that it becomes the letter and spirit of the law of the land. Jesus has warned us and he has shown us how God wants us to love one another, not kill one another.


Their voices prevailed

October 22, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news from Luke 23:13-25.

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.

Interestingly the New American Bible does not include verse 17 in this passage. In some bibles it reads, “He was obliged to release one prisoner for them at the festival.” The notes explain that this verse “is not part of the original text of Luke….It is not found in many early and important Greek manuscripts.”

Law and order were primary values in Roman culture and political rule throughout its empire. Pilate adheres to both though in this case they are in conflict. He follows the correct legal proceeding in declaring Jesus innocent, but in the end he bows to the crowd of Jews in order to maintain order. However, Pilate is no hero in this episode; he is also complicit in Jesus’ suffering and death. He placed so little value on the lives of the people he presided over that Jesus was just one more insignificant man who could put to death without staining Pilate’s conscience or scruples.

Something often evil happens when people come together as a crowd. There is a sense of anonymity that gives license to the evil that lurks in our hearts. There is also a heightened sense of power and invincibility. Even if there were some defenders of Jesus in this crowd, they would have been too frightened in the face of this power to speak out or they would have been shouted down and perhaps assaulted. There is something also in a crowd that I am opposed to that draws out the worst in me — hatred, a desire to commit violence, harsh judgment.

Who was going to stand up for Jesus? Not a crowd, not even his closest companions. God his Father stood with him, but didn’t stand up for him. God didn’t intervene. He had made a gift of His son to us as a sign of His love with the desire that we would return that love with love. I am called to stand out from the crowd, because I can be awed by it, I can be overwhelmed by it, I can be swayed by it. I am called to stand with Jesus alone, apart from the crowd, to return his love with mine and to love each and every individual in the crowd. I can love a person I disagree with; I can’t love a crowd. I get lost in a crowd just as Pilate did; their voices prevailed. As a result, Jesus suffered and died.


They became friends

October 21, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 23:8-12.

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. [Even] 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.

Luke is the only one of the gospel writers to include the appearance of Jesus before Herod. So, there must be something important to Luke that he wants me to know.

To Herod Jesus was a mere curiosity. He wasn’t a threat to Herod and held no real interest for Herod outside of his notoriety. Herod just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. He wanted to see Jesus perform some of the miracles that he had heard about. And he was sadly disappointed. Jesus wasn’t entertaining; he wasn’t even conversant. So, Herod and his soldiers used Jesus for their own coarse and aimless amusement and sent him back to Pilate when they grew bored. Herod had also been fascinated by John as a curiosity but had him beheaded in order to save face with his drunken companions.

The last verse about Herod and Pilate becoming friends on this day is puzzling. Herod was a puppet of the Romans and had to please them in order to retain his position as tetrarch. Pilate had the political upper hand but had to play a kind of game so that the Jews could claim to be ruled by Herod, one of themselves although only half Jewish. Both were ruthless men, concerned with maintaining their own power at the expense of anyone who challenged them. Neither had any use for God unless people’s religious faith could be manipulated to their own ends. The members of the Sanhedrin who brought Jesus before them were supposed to keep the Jews in line but had become noisy nuisances with their baseless claims against this poor, itinerant preacher named Jesus.

Johnson in The Gospel of Luke explains this friendship in this way, “Luke is unusually familiar with the conventions of friendship in the Hellenistic world. He is undoubtedly aware that one of the axioms concerning friends is that they are equals. Pilate’s recognition of Herod’s exousia (authority) — however useful it was for himself — signified a recognition of him as ‘equal.’ and therefore capable of being a ‘friend.'” So, they became co-conspirators in a way trying to absolve themselves of these fraudulent charges against Jesus and trying to deny satisfaction to the Jewish authorities. They could acknowledge each other’s authority and buttress each other’s claim of complicity in this matter. They became “friends” in their mutual inability or unwillingness to see Jesus as the voice of the word of God.

Jesus wants me to see him for myself, to see him as he is, the enfleshed word of God. He is not for my entertainment, for my amusement. He is not going to perform a miracle for me on demand or give me some sign to overcome my disbelief. It matters not whether I combine with others to question or even to mock him. The test of belief, of faith, is mine alone. It is my decision, my commitment, on which my salvation depends. It is my friendship with Jesus, not any else, that matters. That’s what Jesus recognized early in his life; his relationship to his Father was the only thing that really mattered and on which he could rely even as death was imminent. That’s what I am called to realize every day, the only thing that matters.


They were adamant

October 18, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 23:1-7.

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 Messiah, 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.

These were patent lies, of course. Not only that, the members of the Sanhedrin didn’t even mention to Pilate the real reason for their outrage — blasphemy that Jesus somehow in their eyes claimed to be the Son of God. That would have been of no interest to Pilate, that was a strictly Jewish matter, not political. So, they made up these lies with which to charge Jesus.

Richard Rohr has remarked that there were and are two classes of people who face the greatest challenge to entering the kingdom of God: the rich and the religious. Here we have both showing why. Barclay writes, “The charge they leveled against Jesus was entirely political, and it has all the marks of the minds and ingenuity of the Sadducees. It was really the aristocratic, collaborationist Sadducees who achieved the crucifixion of Jesus, in their terror lest he should prove a disturbing element and produce a situation in which they would lose their wealth, their comfort and their power.”

The rich and the powerful almost always collaborate. They have the most to lose and so join forces to maintain their positions and their property. That is why Jesus came to minister to the poor — to offer hope, to heal, and above all to show them God’s love. They were open to conversion because they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. That’s why Jesus wants me to be poor in spirit. Henri Nouwen has a lovely way of describing this in his book Aging, “Poverty is the quality of the heart which makes us relate to life, not as property to be defended but as a gift to be shared. Poverty is the constant willingness to say good-by to yesterday and move forward to new, unknown experiences. Poverty is the inner understanding that the hours, days, weeks, and years do not belong to us but are the gentle reminders of our call to give, not only love and work, but life itself, to those who follow us and will take our place. He or she who cares is invited to be poor, to strip himself or herself from the illusions of ownership and to create some room for the person looking for a place to rest.”

Jesus looks for a place to rest; he looks for a heart at peace. It is when I am at peace that I am most able to commune with him. Sadly, I can look back at the times I have strived to protect my power and my property and remember the lies I have told, the false charges I have leveled. At those times there is no room in me for Jesus to find rest; I have locked him out of my heart. In so doing I have denied that he is the Son of God just as the members of the Sanhedrin did out of fear of losing what they valued instead of out of fear of losing their souls. But they were adamant and at times I have been as well, pressing my case to successful conclusion. Those memories bring shame as they should so that I may be more likely to remain poor in spirit.