Monday, March 4

Lenten Bible Study Day 20; Luke 23

Luke, Chapter 23 (NRSV)

Each Palm Sunday we read what is essentially the entire Passion Narrative. Every third year we read Luke's version. I hope you recognize this reading today. If you're like me, you read the first part of the chapter quickly, partly because you "know" it, and partly because you know what's coming at the end of it. It's hard to read of Jesus' death. It's hard to hear it recounted every year. And in our horror at the words, I wonder if we sometimes miss the point Luke makes in the beginning of this chapter.

Jesus is taken to Pilate and accused of three offenses in his first trial. Two of the offenses we, the readers of the Gospel, know are false. The third charge is really for Herod, the King that the Romans recognize, to determine. Jesus is taken to Herod for his second trial at Pilate's command. Herod treats Jesus with contempt, but does not find him guilty of an offense. Herod sends him back to Pilate. (There's an odd detail in the narrative - that as a result of Herod's actions, he and Pilate became "friends" that day. That's something that needs a book length essay to unpack. I'll put it on my list…) When Jesus arrives back at Pilate's court, he is given a third trial. And Pilate finds him innocent again. Three trials in this chapter and Jesus is found innocent in all three.

And then he is crucified in spite of that finding of innocence because the crowds demand his death.

This passion narrative clearly emphasizes Jesus innocence - even having him dressed in a white, spotless robe by King Herod making his identity as the innocent lamb more obvious. It is in that white robe that he appears before Pilate that final time. It's in that white robe that he is condemned by the people. And that odd details helps to unlock a critical subtext that we sometimes miss in the reading of this narrative.

Jesus is called the Lamb of God by John the Baptist. These events are happening at time of the Feast of the Passover, which is a yearly commemoration of the day when Moses told the people of Israel to kill a lamb, smear its blood on their doorpost so that the Angel of Death would passover them. It's happening on the day that the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem is seeing the wholesale sacrifice of lambs by the priests of Israel so that the gathered people of the nation could keep passover. And just to make the point even more obvious, writers of that time report that the slaughtered lambs were bound to a cross of sticks and carried home that afternoon to be consumed at the Passover feast of each family. Truly, we are supposed to see that Jesus is Lamb of God.

One of the expectations people of that moment had of their expected Messiah was that he would bring about the Passover of the Messiah. It was expected to be the completion of the Passover that was instituted at the time of Exodus. It would signal the return of the miracle of the manna (remember what we read about the feeding of the crowds in the wilderness?). It was to be the signal that the people would, from this time forward, be fed with the bread of the angels.

Luke, like the other gospel writers, is telling us that Jesus is God's Lamb, this is God's passover, and the Passover the Messiah has come in the moment of Jesus' death. And the bread we now eat as we commemorate the events of those days, is the what the manna of the Exodus pointed toward.

Yesterday we ate the bread of angels. I don't know how many of us recognize it as such because our meal has become some common to us. But it was, according to the Gospels, the bread of angels. It is the food that gives us life in the midst of our wilderness wandering.

If you were able to be in church yesterday, were you aware of what was really happening?

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