Here we are at the whole crucifixion story again. I wish I could find more to say, but we’ve been through these stories 3 times already. So here’s a little musical interlude – Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart; he’s only one of dozens of composers who set this dirge to music, but his version is the most famous. Every friggin choir member in the world knows it; I can sing the alto line by memory. Believers love to meditate on the image of Jesus’ suffering – which I find quite morbid now. Here’s the translation from the Latin text.
Hail, true Body, born
of the Virgin Mary
who having truly suffered, was sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
whose pierced side
flowed with water and blood:
May it be for us a foretaste [of the Heavenly banquet]
in the trial of death.
So now Jesus is hauled up before Pilate, and accused of telling people not to pay their taxes to the Roman government, as well as claiming that he is the Messiah. Not sure why Luke felt it necessary to add the bit about the taxes – it’s blatantly false, as evidenced by the ‘render unto Caesar’ passage (Luke 20:20), and not present in the previous gospels. Maybe Luke wanted to make it appear that there was a legitimate reason for the government to charge him with a crime. Luke also adds the accusation about inciting riots – perhaps for the same reason.
The next whole section (v 6-17) about Jesus being co-tried by Herod, is new in Luke and unfamiliar to me. It must be Matthew’s version that is well known. In Matthew, Pilate ‘washes his hands’ of the whole affair, and that’s the version of the story that I think most people are familiar with, but it’s not in Luke. Seems likely that having Pilate trying to pass the buck by shifting responsibility for the trial to Herod, when he heard the guy was in town, accomplishes the same goal. But that’s a pretty significant contradiction between gospel accounts. Also notably missing from Luke – the verse about the Jews taking responsibility for Jesus’ death (Matt 27:25); and the whole crown of thorns scene (Matt 27:27-31). Luke mentions only in passing (v 11) that Herod’s (as opposed to Pilate’s) soldiers mocked Jesus and put a robe on him. Yup, Matthew is definitely the more familiar version.
Next we get to the crucifixion. Luke adds the part about the women following the procession, and Jesus’ whole speech that follows (v 28-31), which includes a reference to Hosea 10:8 (gotta fit in as many of those OT prophesies as possible). Other details of the story vary in Luke, whereas Mark and Matthew are more similar. Luke is the source of the line ‘Forgive them father, for they know not what they do’ (just realized that wasn’t in the previous two accounts), and also there’s a footnote that it’s not included in all ancient manuscripts, either. So it’s pretty clear that the ‘Easter story’ we all think we know is actually a compilation of bits and pieces from each gospel. The conversation between Jesus and the two other crucified men is also an addition to Luke; Mark and Matthew say only that these men mocked him, but Luke has Jesus promising one of them a place in paradise.
Last in this chapter, the death and burial of Jesus. It’s so hard to compare each and every bit of every story in every gospel, but this section is particularly tricky. Contradictions listed in the SAB include: When did the temple curtain rip? (before Jesus died in Luke; afterward in Mark and Matt); What were the last words of Jesus? (keep reading); What did the centurion call Jesus when he died? (a righteous/innocent man in Luke; the son of god in Mark and Matt); From where were the women watching? (from afar in all the gospels we’ve read so far, but it’ll be from right under the cross in John); and Who buried Jesus? (ditto – the same in the synoptic gospels but it’ll be different in both John and Acts) …
The most obvious difference I notice in Luke is the last words of Jesus – ‘into thine hands I commend my spirit’, as opposed to ‘father, why have you forsaken me?’ And it’s obvious why the change – because the line is a quote from Psalm 31:5 (Was there a prize for the gospel writer who fit in the most OT verses?) Also notable is that Luke’s version of Jesus’ death is short – he leaves out most of the supernatural phenomena related in Matthew, and the bit about the bystanders thinking that Jesus was calling for Elijah and offering Jesus a ‘drink’ of sour wine.
The burial story also varies in Luke. He skips the long-winded explanation found in Mark about why Jesus died so quickly, but he adds an explanation about why Joseph disagreed with those ‘other’ Jews who had crucified Jesus. Then at the end, he adds the passage about the women who followed the procession going to anoint the body. Aha – that’s why Luke relegated the story of the woman with the expensive ointment to an earlier chapter; it’s because in his gospel, he plans to have Jesus’ body anointed after burial. But it doesn’t actually happen; by the time the spices are prepared, Sabbath has arrived and the women are forced to wait. But would it have been possible even if they had been earlier? Because how could they have accessed the corpse if it was in a tomb carved out of rock and closed with a boulder in the opening? Just saying…
Christians just love to dwell on the suffering of Jesus on the cross – they paint gory pictures of it and sing mournful dirges about it. One of the schmaltziest is the Stabat Mater Dolorosa, a medieval poem which meditates on the suffering of Mary, Jesus’ mother, during his crucifixion. This recording of Verdi’s version features some appropriate artwork in the video.
English translation is here.
The last chapter… There are a lot of contradictions between these resurrection stories, and it makes me dizzy trying to sort through them. So just keep in mind when reading, details like who went to the tomb? When? What/who did they see? Was the tomb open already when they got there? Who did they tell? To whom did Jesus first appear? How did the disciples react when they saw him? When did Jesus ascend into heaven? (Good luck!)
When comparing gospels, keep in mind that Mark ends right after the women find the empty tomb and that the last few verses were later add-ons. Also, Matthew adds that whole ‘guard at the tomb’ scenario, which isn’t in Luke at all. But Luke adds the creepy ‘walk to Emmaus’ passage where the resurrected Jesus chats with two followers along the road and they don’t recognize him until he breaks the bread (v 30). Does this remind you of the Cinderella story, where the prince didn’t recognize her until she fit the glass slipper?
Luke also adds the next section about Jesus showing the disciples his wounds and eating a piece of fish – this seems like a deliberate attempt on Luke’s part to prove the resurrection by demonstrating that the risen Jesus has a physical body and isn’t just a ghost. Likewise, Luke goes on to emphasize that everything that happened to Jesus was in fulfillment of the scriptures (v 44) – as if there was any doubt! There is no specific scripture referenced here but there have been OT references and quotes all through the gospels. And don’t forget, Jesus is also supposed to be the ‘suffering servant’ from back in Isaiah. In case you didn’t read that, you can catch up now.
I looked for a passage about the Great Commission to parallel those in Mark and Matthew, and the closest I can find is v 47, but it’s kind of a vague instruction compared to the others. And lastly, Jesus ascends into heaven. It doesn’t explain how he got up there. Did the disciples see him physically rise into the air like a puppet on a string? The brevity of this story is suspicious. If I saw something like that, I think I’d be inclined to describe it in more detail, no?
Here’s a short video about the teachings of Jesus – Enjoy! Most of the quotations are taken from Matthew and Luke, but there are a few glimpses into John, too.