Year C Sunday Gospel Reflections by John McKinnon

The Passion according to Luke

The Lectionary today contains two readings of the Passion of Jesus – a longer one and a shorter one. This reflection will deal with the shorter reading, taken from Chapter 23:1-49 of Luke's Gospel.

Today is hardly the occasion for a homily following the reading. It might be better to read the Passion Story well and thoughtfully than to "gild the lily" with further reflections.

Luke's account of Jesus' Passion differs on a number of points from that of Mark, from which it is drawn, and from the quite different Gospel according to John. This reflection will concentrate on those differences.

Chapter 23 begins with Jesus' trial before the Roman governor, Pilate. This trial was particularly important for Luke and his Christian community of disciples. They were situated somewhere in the Empire, certainly outside Galilee and Judea. They were living under Roman rule. Their leader, Jesus, had been crucified, after a formal trial before a Roman governor according to Roman law. It was important for their own legitimacy to insist on the innocence of Jesus, despite his formal condemnation.

The first difference to note is Luke's clear listing of the offences for which Jesus was formally accused. His accusers, the chief priests and national leaders, claimed:

We found this man misleading our nation, opposing our paying taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah king.

The next difference is Luke's clear listing of Pilate's judgment that Jesus was in fact clearly innocent of the charges brought against him. He has Pilate repeat this judgment on three separate occasions.

Luke, alone among the evangelists, also adds a trial before Herod. His purpose for this is to add Herod's verdict of innocence to that of Pilate.

Later in the narrative he will mention also the verdict of the centurion in charge of the crucifixion. What had been an ambiguous statement in Mark's gospel became quite clear in Luke's: "Certainly this man was a just man".

Luke also softens the narrative of Mark. The threat of flogging of Jesus by the Roman military contingent was mentioned by Pilate, but was not in any way described.

In contrast to the relentless onslaught of hostility, violence and mockery of the chief priests and leaders, Luke mentions a group of women wailing for the condemned and suffering Jesus.

Luke is also concerned to show Jesus consistently caring and forgiving to the end. He responded to the wailing women with the warning that there were worse things to follow for them and their nation because of the general popular refusal to accept the message and the way of Jesus. Totally ignoring Jesus' emphasis on the futility of violence, the nation, only four decades after Jesus' death, violently revolted against Rome. They succeeded for a brief time, but eventually were utterly crushed by the Roman military after almost unbelievable suffering. Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple burnt to the ground.

As Jesus was hanging on the cross dying, Luke presented the leaders and the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus, but regarding the crowd in general, he observed simply that they stood there watching, and, when it was all over, returned home beating their breasts.

He has one of the bandits crucified with Jesus proclaiming Jesus' innocence and asking for his blessing, and records the promise of Jesus: "Today you will be with me in Paradise".

There is also the much-quoted prayer of Jesus to his Father: "Father, forgive them for they do know what they are doing". It is uncertain, however, whether the prayer is to be found in Luke's original text. Reliable early manuscripts omit it, yet an impressive number of ancient authors quote it.

The other highly significant difference is Jesus' final dying cry to his Father. Mark quoted Jesus as crying: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? According to Luke, Jesus prayed: Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit. Mark was concerned to reflect the bleakness and harshness of Jesus' final moments. Luke preferred instead to cast Jesus in the role of faithful Servant of God and exemplar for all disciples.

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Year C Sunday Gospel Reflections by John McKinnon

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John McKinnon is a priest of the diocese of Ballarat, Western Victoria, who studied for six years in Rome where he was ordained in 1957. On reaching the age of 75 in 2008, he retired from official parish work and has made himself available for other…


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John McKinnon is a priest of the diocese of Ballarat, Western Victoria, who studied for six years in Rome where he was ordained in 1957. On reaching the age of 75 in 2008, he retired from official parish work and has made himself available for other ministries in the diocese. During his life as priest he has been parish priest, Diocesan chaplain of the Young Christian Workers Movement, lectured at the Institute of Catholic Education in Ballarat, and worked at a national level in the ongoing education of priests. He has given retreats to priests in most of the dioceses of Australia, as well as to religious and laity. Of recent years, he has been drawn on to give regular spiritual support to priests, religious and laity, particularly in the more isolated areas of his diocese.

John said: "My aim in these talks is to provide background for people who wish to reflect on the Sunday Gospels in the light of their own personal experience and to apply them to their lives. I shall examine each text, seeking to explain details that may not be familiar, and trying to determine the particular nuances of Jesus' message that the author of the gospel wished to emphasise. I shall conclude each talk with three questions that may help people's personal reflection and application of the Gospel's message."

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