Sunday

14 April 2019

Luke 23:1-49

‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ (v. 34)

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-15

Background

All four Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus’ last hours, but each with a specific emphasis. Luke brings out the tension between the real reason why the Jewish authorities want to get rid of Jesus and the devices they resort to in order to do so. For them he is dangerous because of his religious teaching and practice, but Pilate must be convinced that he is a political threat, stirring up rebellion against Roman rule. For Pilate, Jesus is a harmless teacher, for Herod a curiosity and a joke. But, in the end, faced with the possibility of serious crowd disorder, Pilate gives in, considering the release of a convicted criminal the lesser evil.

The passage brings out the brutality of the time; cruelty even to those released from custody (vs. 16 and 22), the conscripting of an innocent bystander (v. 26), the mockery of the helpless (v. 35-38) and the appalling act of crucifixion itself.

Against this dark scenario two features stand out. In the background, helpless to intervene, are the followers of Jesus, men and women (v. 27). And we are shown Jesus’ concern for others, in spite of his own suffering (vs. 28-30 and 43). It is remarkable that throughout the passage there is no hint of self-pity on the part of Jesus, or anger toward his persecutors.

It is surprising that some manuscripts omit verse 34 (see the NRSV margin). It is echoed in Stephen’s words in Acts 7:60. Did some scribes feel that crucifying Jesus was unforgivable?

Verse 3 is a puzzle, as is chapter 22:70. The best interpretation is to regard it as a qualified ‘yes’: ‘I am, but not in the way you mean’.

 

To Ponder:

  • In what ways do we not know what we are doing when we go wrong?
  • The situation Luke describes is not unique. Reflect on, and pray for, comparable situations in today’s world.
  • Are some things truly unforgiveable?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England.

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