The Passion According to St. Luke
As I mentioned in a post late last week, I was torn between continuing my devotional reading of Luke and jumping to the Passion for Lent and then coming back to where we left off. I asked for help…and you gave it. The overwhelming preference was to move to the Passion now. So we will!
With that in mind, just a few things to orient us to Luke in general and, in particular, Luke’s story of our Lord’s Passion.
Of the four evangelists, Luke is the one who most clearly thinks of himself as a historian. Not a 21st century historian, mind you, but a 1st century historian who tells a story in order to teach the truth…which is of course different from trying to get the facts straight. Hence, Luke will take the basic story of Jesus he inherits from Mark, some parables that he shares with Matthew, and some material that is unique to him to offer an “orderly account” that confirms our faith in Jesus.
Luke also has a particular sense of history, dividing the world’s history into three periods: 1) the period of Israel, governed by the law and the prophets; 2) the period of Jesus, when evil itself is bound and grace abounds; 3) the period of the Church, when the ongoing story of Jesus’ disciples unfold under the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Passion comes at the fulcrum of the period of Christ, as the tempter who departed Jesus for a “more opportune time” enters again into the picture through Judas, prompting the clash of Jesus and all that he has come to oppose.
Luke’s story of the Passion itself is often, we might say, painted with a softer touch than is Mark’s. He offers a more compassionate picture of the disciples – they fall asleep just once rather than three times, for instance, and then “for grief.” Jesus throughout is more calm and confident, at the last “commending” his spirit into his Father’s hands. Jesus’ presence brings peace, even among former enemies like Herod and Pilate. And the crowds that turn against Jesus also repent of their sin and mourn Jesus’ fate.
As we read Luke’s account of the Passion, we can be on the lookout for several Lucan themes: the power of forgiveness, the importance of healing, trust in the Lord and the Lord’s plan for history, and the importance of women. Finally, Luke is an artist, and we will want to pay attention to some of the fine details he crafts like, for instance, how Peter is brought to tears not because he realizes Jesus’ predictions have come true, but because Jesus looks at him just after he has portrayed him. These dramatic moments make Luke’s account not just vivid, but unforgettable.