When the time came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; because, I tell you, I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then, taking a cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you. ‘But look, here with me on the table is the hand of the man who is betraying me. The Son of man is indeed on the path which was decreed, but alas for that man by whom he is betrayed!’ And they began to ask one another which of them it could be who was to do this.
And as he was sitting there by the blaze a servant-girl saw him, peered at him, and said, ‘This man was with him too.’
On the last Sunday of Lent prior to the beginning of the Triduum we are presented with the full proclamation of our Lord’s Passion. Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday as it is commonly referred, is the only Sunday liturgy that has two Gospel proclamations. The first is the recount of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the second is the lengthy Passion narrative from the evangelist of the particular year, in this case from the Gospel of Luke.
Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ final days is deeply moving. A significant portion of the Passion narrative recounts the trial of Jesus during which Pilate affirms his innocence on three occasions. “You brought me this man … and I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him” (v.14). It is only at the insistence of the Jewish leaders and the demands of the crowd to release Barabas that he finally hands him over to be crucified. It is clear from Luke’s Gospel that the crucifixion was a consequence of Jesus angering the chief priests rather than his defiance of Roman authority. Even at the moment of his death a Roman centurion proclaimed “certainly this man was innocent” (v.47).
Throughout his Passion Jesus remains a portrait of compassion, serenity and forgiveness even in the face of torment and suffering. It is these characteristics that typify the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel on the whole, not just during his final and most agonizing moments. Jesus rebukes Peter for assailing the slave of the high priest and he exemplifies his concern for others, especially strangers, through his act of healing. Jesus also shows concern and pity for the women who follow him on the Way of the Cross, “daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me” (v.28).
We are provided with a striking image of Jesus in his encounter with the two thieves. Luke’s Gospel is the only account of Jesus being crucified as a common criminal along with other common criminals. This scene is a reminder of the words of Blessed Mother Teresa who commented “Jesus comes to meet us in the hungry, the naked, the lonely, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the prostitute, the street beggars. If we reject them we reject Jesus himself.” In the passion narrative we not only meet Jesus as the Son of God but we also meet him as the common criminal, set to be crucified. This scene at the place of the Skull reveals Jesus’ ultimate act of mercy and forgiveness “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (v.34) and also his own profession of divinity “truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v.43). Crucified and dying, Jesus does not feel forsaken and abandoned but rather he seems serene as he submits fully to the Father’s will and commends his spirit to him “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (v.46).
Of all of the Gospel accounts it is perhaps Luke’s Passion narrative that reveals the way in which Jesus was viewed with compassion by others. Not only did Pilate and the Roman centurion perceive and proclaim his innocence and the women of Jerusalem follow him “beating their breasts and wailing for him” (v.27) but total strangers were moved by his suffering. Simon of Cyrene was not of the local community, and it is he, the outsider, who is called to carry the Cross. One of the condemned thieves recognises “we are getting what we deserve but this man has done nothing wrong” (v.42) and Joseph of Arimathaea sets himself outside his council of elders by his refusal to consent to the plot against Jesus and by requesting the body of Jesus for burial. This is a disparate group, drawn from all walks of life – like each us. And like them we are called to view the Passion of Christ with empathy and compassion.