Click the arrow below to hear a member of the Assumption community read today’s Gospel.
Be merciful to the end
We are very familiar with some Lucan parables that express mercy and goodness: The parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan for example. We do not, however, pay attention enough to the link between mercy and a change of outlook. It is interesting to discover that Luke emphasized the importance of a special outlook in his parables about mercy. Let us take the example of the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man was assaulted by robbers and left half-dead on the road. A priest and a Levite saw him and passed by. “But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight” (10:33). What did the Samaritan see and the other two people did not? He saw a man who was deprived of his dignity. He saw someone who was lying there between life and death. With the eyes of his heart, he saw the victim in his dire need of being healed. And so, the mystery of mercy consists in the quality of an outlook. To change one’s outlook is to change one’s life and one’s world. In order to be truly human, we need to have a compassionate outlook, an outlook that builds people up. It is also through the outlook of mercy that we are going to read the passion narrative according to Luke.
Jesus’ last hours with his disciples are less dramatic in Luke. Instead of rebuking them for whatever they could have done, he praised them by anticipation at the Last Supper: “It is you who have stood by me in my trial” (22:28). He reassured them that they would have a share in the kingdom of God: “You may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (22:30). Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke said that Jesus did not completely separate himself from his disciples or from the three chosen ones during his agony. He withdrew from them only about a stone’s throw. He found them sleeping not three times, but only once. Moreover, Luke specified that the disciples slept because they were exhausted with grief.
In Luke, Jesus’ prayer was more personal. Far from being sorrowful unto death or being prostrated in the dust as he was in Mark and Matthew, the Jesus of Luke knelt down and submitted himself to the Father’s will. And the Father answered Jesus’ prayer by sending an angel to strengthen him. The last detail, found only in Luke, leads the reader back to Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration. There, a heavenly voice confirmed the relationship between the Father and the Son. This close relationship was not weakened at a critical moment. Rather, it was strengthened and transformed into an act of goodness toward others.
Luke presented a merciful portrayal of the disciples, including Judas, during the passion. Without any discussion on the preconditions for deliverance, Judas led a crowd and easily found Jesus in a customary place, the Mount of Olives. He embraced Jesus but his kiss did not serve as an identification of the victim. Jesus called Judas by name and asked him: “are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (22:48). Judas did not answer the question and disappeared from the scene. From that moment, we do not hear anything about him. Nothing about his suicide was mentioned by Luke. As for the other disciples, they did not run away from Jesus during the arrest. When one disciple went so far as to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus answered violence by an act of healing. He touched and healed the wounded ear.
Even though Peter was at a distance from Jesus, he still followed the master. The condition of discipleship was there even with the distance. In Luke, Peter’s denial was described in less aggressive terms. He did not swear before the high priest’s servant. Besides that, we find another particular feature of the Lucan account. It was not only the crow of the cock that reminded Peter of Jesus’ prediction, but also Jesus’ look that caused him to weep bitterly. The one who promised to pray for his disciple at the Last Supper continued to take care of him. Jesus’ prayer did not serve as a prevention of denial, but as an invitation to conversion. Once Peter recognized his weakness and repented for what he had done, he could strengthen the faith of others in their hardships and trials.
In Luke, the Jewish trial was very brief. There was no witness and no mention of the public prophecy made by Jesus concerning the destruction of the Temple. Jesus was not even condemned at the Sanhedrin session. Paradoxically, during the interrogation, everything was focused on Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Son of God. People seemed not to look for real answers. Instead of talking about his identity as a Messiah, Jesus emphasized his place as the Son of Man who “will be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (22:69). And the investiture of the divine power started already: from now on. The glorification of the Son of Man was about to begin.
As for the Roman governor Pilate, he appeared himself to be innocent. He played the role of the attorney to plead the cause of Jesus. His suggestion to flog Jesus was his ruse to prevent Jesus from being condemned to death. It is worth noting that Luke was the only evangelist who mentioned Jesus’ presence before Herod. Even though they were enemies of one another, the Jewish king and the Roman governor came to the same judgment: Jesus was innocent. The collaboration between Herod and Pilate was striking. Any personal tension of those two people was put aside because of Jesus. They worked together to confirm Jesus’ innocence. The contact with Jesus had an immediate healing effect on them. Jesus’ presence allowed them to recognize their respective powers and even to become friends. By his Passion, Jesus helped Herod and Pilate to reconcile with one another.
The characteristics of mercy will accompany Jesus to the foot of the cross. In his own way, Luke showed how Jesus was merciful even when he was enduring suffering on the cross. At the most painful moment, Jesus thought of and prayed for those who maltreated him: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (23:34). His request for forgiveness was intimately related to his mercy. This mercy embraced those who mistreated him and those who were sinners. In a concrete way, Jesus granted pardon to a thief, a detail that is only found in Luke. As for himself, Jesus remained deeply peaceful on the cross. Different from the cry of distress in Mark and Matthew, in Luke, Jesus’ last words expressed his trust to God: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (23:46). By quoting Psalm 31, Jesus totally committed himself to the Father. He entrusted his very life into his Father’s hands when he breathed his last. In so doing, Jesus set an example to all disciples, especially to those who endure suffering in his name.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to imitate your goodness, mercy and forgiveness.
Resolution: Who is my Pilate or my Herod with whom I want to reconcile through Jesus’ Passion?