Studying God’s Word

Luke 19:28-40 [37C]
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Luke 22:14—23:56 [38C]
While the season of Lent continues until evening Mass on Holy Thursday, Holy Week begins today with Palm Sunday and concludes with Holy Saturday. The Passion narrative is taken from the Gospel of Luke, since we are in Year C of the lectionary cycle. Luke’s Passion narrative includes events from the Last Supper to Jesus’ burial in the tomb.
Each Palm Sunday includes a processional Gospel reading that recounts Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem. Within the synoptic Gospel tradition, Jesus is presented as orchestrating the events anticipating his arrival into Jerusalem. In Luke’s account, Jesus enters the Jerusalem mounted on a colt, signaling the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (see Zech 9:9) that the Messiah comes not as a conquering warrior king but in peace and humility. The tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of Jerusalem is highlighted in the overwhelmingly positive reception Jesus received from the crowds and the Pharisees’ contrasting reaction, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”  
Many scholars argue that the “original” Gospel that predates the four written Gospels (composed AD 70–100), and that circulated orally among the first generation of believers, was basically the Passion narrative—events most closely associated with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Most of the details in the life of Jesus from the Last Supper to his burial in the tomb were fixed elements within a received tradition; that is, the Gospel writers inherited the details of Jesus’ passion and death in such a way that little was added or changed by them. This did not preclude, however, each of the Evangelists emphasizing some aspects of Jesus’ passion and death in order to address some of their other historical and theological concerns. For Luke, this was an emphasis on the innocence of Jesus.
More than any other Evangelist, Luke presses the issue of Jesus’ innocence of the capital crime for which he stood accused. Three times Luke presents Pilate speaking directly of Jesus’ innocence (23:4; 23:15; 23:22), and Luke is also the only Evangelist to report Jesus standing accused before Herod Antipas (23:6-16), who likewise found Jesus not guilty. In Luke’s Passion narrative, both the political and the religious leaders (Pilate and Herod) found Jesus not guilty of committing any capital crime. Even the centurion at the foot of Jesus’ cross states, “This man was innocent beyond doubt” (23:47). Scholars ascribe a very real concern for Luke in his emphasis of Jesus’ innocence: composed nearly fifty years after Jesus’ death around AD 85, Luke is arguing for the legitimate status of the early church with the structures of the Roman Empire. If Jesus deserved capital punishment, then the early church would be an illegal organization. But Luke was able to show in his Passion narrative that the political authorities and the religious authorities of Jesus’ day found him innocent of the charges leading to his crucifixion.
As we hear in the Christological hymn in today’s second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Jesus “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Innocent by all measure, “God greatly exalted” Jesus.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz