Lectionary Reflection for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 23:33-43:


Luke is minimalist in his description of the crucifixion at this point, omitting the effort to get Jesus (as well, presumably, as the others) to drink some drugged wine vinegar, a typical amelioration of executions by crucifixion by the Roman military (cf. Matt. 27:34; Mark 15:23; Lightfoot 1979: 3.211).

Beyond this gesture comes the final phase of the torture. Here in Luke is just the bare fact of it: from contemporary accounts of such executions we can all too readily fill in some of the gaps. Three men, in the agonies of torment, having been nailed or roped to their respective crossbeams, are hoisted up by poles and dropped with an agonizing thud into sockets at the top of the poles already fixed in the ground, so that the feet of the condemned cannot touch the earth.

Luke uniquely records that Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (23:34), modeling in a most striking way his teaching: “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (6:28). They take away his garment and cast lots for it (all the evangelists allude to Ps. 22:7 here, but there is an echo also of Luke 6:29).

The rulers taunt Jesus, effectively saying, “If he is the Christ, the Chosen One of God, let him save himself ”—a mockery aimed at his identity directly and echoing the temptation by Satan in the wilderness (4:5–12). The soldiers also mock him, even as they offer him the customary vinegar, taunting the agonized victim, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (23:37), ridiculing what they take to be his political pretensions.

Luke does not mention that it was Pilate who caused the sign to be placed over his head, alluding to the ostensible capital crime of sedition, but this feature too was normal. The sign is trilingual—Greek, Latin, and Hebrew—in each saying, “This is the King of the Jews,” as much as to say also, in a grim jest, “This is what comes to such folly as to claim to be a king” (23:38).

Even the two criminals mock him, or at least Matt. 27:44 and Mark 15:32 say so. Luke, however, mentions only the one criminal, his foreshortened account highlighting the condemned man who evidently has bethought himself, with an account unique to him of conversation between Jesus and the others crucified (evidently Luke’s informer in this matter was not one of those “who stood afar off ”).

Whereas the one malefactor mimics the taunt of the elders (23:39), the other is suddenly stricken: “We indeed justly” suffer, he says, “the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong” (23:41). Even as he is declaring something truthful about Jesus’s identity, he is moved to a plea: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (23:42).

This plea is also, of course, a confession of belief in Jesus’s true identity, and Jesus immediately responds, in a voice audible to those close to the foot of the cross but not to those at a distance, in words that have intrigued theologians and laypersons alike for centuries: “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (23:43).

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.