20 March 2016

Luke 23:1-49

“But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (v. 49)

Psalm: Psalm 31


Today is the start of Holy Week, when we relive the drama of the trial and crucifixion of Christ. Jesus, of course, is at the centre of this drama, but with a strikingly large supporting cast. So many individuals, often unnamed, speak for the human experience in so many small ways.

  • Pilate wants to release Jesus, as justice requires, but without causing a riot. He tries everything to avoid responsibility for Jesus' fate - asserting his innocence (verses 4, 14, 22), sending him to Herod (verse 7), offering to have him flogged (verses 16, 22), using the tradition of freeing a prisoner at Passover (verse 20). But finally he gives in to their demands (verse 24).
  • Herod is thrilled to meet Jesus (verses 6-12), because he has heard great things about this man of miracles, and wants to watch an entertaining magician ("Walk across my swimming pool!", as Jesus Christ Superstar puts it). But when Jesus refuses to perform, Herod loses interest and sends him back. 
  • Barabbas doesn't actually appear in person, but plays a very significant role as a guilty man, who is allowed to go free while Jesus dies in his place. 
  • Simon of Cyrene just happens to be passing by (verse 26). He is forced to carry Jesus' cross, and so to share both in his sufferings and in bringing about his execution.
  • The two criminals form a fascinating double-act (verse 32-43). One gives in to that very human instinct, to see ourselves as better than others in the same situation, instead of offering solidarity. But the other, now all earthly hope is gone, turns to Jesus and seeks grace, which Jesus gives. 
  • The centurion  (verse 47)- an outsider to the Jewish religion - has the faith to see the truth in Jesus, and the courage to speak it. Jesus is 'dikaios': 'innocent', 'just' or 'righteous'.

Then there is the chorus. The crowd who previously welcomed Jesus with palm branches (Mark 11:8) is now turning against him. Perhaps not encountering the finer religious debates, they are swept along, by those who either rejoice in or reject Jesus.

Meanwhile, a much smaller group of women and disciples, watch the drama unfold, helpless to assist, giving all they can - their loyal presence and their grief.

To Ponder

  • With which character do you most associate? Who speaks for you? And is this different at different times? Why?
  • What do you think is the significance of the darkness and the torn curtain, in verses 44-45?
  • Jesus' last words are, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (v. 46). If you could plan your final words in advance, what would you like them to be? What would they say about your life and faith?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.