The readings for Sunday, March 20, 2016, Palm Sunday, Cycle C, are I
saiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14—23:56.
There are four Passion Narratives. Each expresses the theology of the author. There are considerable differences among them. Mark’s Passion Narrative is thought to be the oldest. The best hypothesis sees strong connections between Mark, Matthew, and Luke. The Passion Narrative of John does not seem influenced by Mark or the other gospel authors.
This year the liturgy offers us the Passion Narrative of Luke. Luke’s narrative is one of healing. He not only softens some very rough edges left by Mark, but adds healing situations from his own theology. The fall of Simon Peter comes up at the Last Supper in all the Gospels. But only in Luke. Jesus says to Peter, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” In the garden in Mark, Jesus is face down on the ground praying for relief from what is about to come upon him. Luke’s version: “He knelt down and prayed.” In Mark there is no answer to Jesus’ plea to his Father. In Luke the Father sends an angel to console Jesus. Three times, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus finds Peter, James, and John asleep while he was praying for relief. Just once in Luke.
In Mark, Jesus demands help from his Father, “Remove this cup from me,” In Luke, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” In Mark, Judas gives Jesus the kiss of betrayal. Luke handles it like this: “As Judas drew near to Jesus to kiss him, Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’” There is no physical contact with the betrayer in Luke! In all the Gospels a disciple draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Luke only: “Jesus touched his ear and healed him.” An important omission: Mark includes the incident of a young disciple following Jesus but wrapped only in a linen cloth. Those who arrested Jesus tried to arrest the young man. He slipped out of his scanty wrap and fled naked. Luke omits this incident. He knows what Mark intended. Mark had just written, “And all the disciples abandoned him and fled.” For Mark, the young man symbolizes the disciples. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry they left all to follow Jesus. Now they leave all behind, even their clothes to get away from him. Luke deletes the story.
Luke cannot escape mention of Simon Peter’s public, triple denial of Jesus. He softens the story just a bit. In Mark, Simon Peter curses and swears that he does not know him. Luke deletes the cursing and swearing. Although Peter weeps over his fall in Mark, in Luke he weeps bitterly. Only in Luke does Pilate send Jesus to Herod Antipas, who was in Jerusalem at the time for Passover. Herod appreciated recognition from Pilate, and Luke writes, “Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been enemies.” Another healing!
In Mark, Pilate says nothing about the innocence of Jesus. But in Luke, Pilate twice proclaims Jesus’ innocence “desiring to release Jesus.” Luke has an agenda here. His Gospel and his Acts were intended as apologetics — to defend Christianity before the Roman government by demonstrating that even a high Roman official proclaimed Jesus innocent. Luke follows up on this theme by ascribing these words to the representative of Rome at the foot of the cross, “Indeed this man was innocent.” En route to the crucifixion, women of Jerusalem “bewailed and lamented” Jesus, but he consoled them. This happens only in Luke, as does another healing. As Jesus was nailed to the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In all four Passion Narratives there are two criminals crucified at the same time as Jesus. Mark notes that these men cursed Jesus. In Luke only one “railed at Jesus.” The other criminal rebuked his partner in crime, admitted his guilt, and turned to Jesus with these words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replies with a healing statement, “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” In Mark, Jesus dies with an awesome cry of abandonment, “My God, My God! Why have you abandoned me?” In Luke, Jesus’ final prayer, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In contrast to Mark’s theology, he dies at peace with his Father, with his murderers, and with the people of Jerusalem. Mark could not close his Gospel without a final note of abandonment. The women come to the empty tomb. A young man in white informs them Jesus has risen and they must report this to his disciples. “They fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”