Luke -- the anti-Mel

Today I am passing along the insights of a priest-scholar who provided an interesting exegesis (explanation) of the passion narrative in Luke's Gospel.

The passion in Luke's gospel has a number of stories that don't appear in the other gospel accounts of the suffering and death of Jesus. Luke is the only one who tells of the women of Jerusalem, who lamented as Christ approached Calvary. King ("Walk across my swimming pool?") Herod only appears in Luke's passion. As does the Good Thief  and Jesus's prayer, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what what they do."

Equally interesting are the things that Luke omits from the tradition he received from Mark. There is no scourging or crowning with thorns. And there is no anguished cry of "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" Jesus, in Luke's telling dies a more dignified death, teaching from his wooden throne, compassionate and trusting to the end.

These choices suggest that Luke's probably had a Gentile audience, unfamiliar with Jewish customs or worldview. For Luke's readers, a death in accordance with the scriptures would have carried little resonance. But a hero who, like Socrates, died calmly and while continuing his mission, would have sounded familiar and been appealing. So Luke tweaks the narrative for his own purpose, which is to provide a story that his audience can relate to.

Taken together with the reading from Philippians, Sunday's readings tells us much about one scriptural and very early way that we can read Jesus's death. Here's the full text of the second reading:

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
 

 Jesus redeemed the world, not by suffering the most gruesome death of all time, as Mel Gibson's movie would have us believe. He did not wake up every morning saying, "Today, I'm going to get myself killed slowly and painfully." Instead, he woke up every morning saying, "Today, I will do God's will, even if it kills me.

And it did.

Jesus emptied himself of himself -- that is to say, his plans were always subordinated to God's. He was "obedient" -- becoming a slave to all, especially to his Father, even when the consequences were dire, painful and shameful. Luke (and Paul) do not want everyone to be crucified. But they are pointing out that radical self-emptying -- radical generosity, service and humility -- are redemptive and ways to the Father, and to the resurrected life.