Summary: Year C. Christ the King Luke 23: 33-43 November 25, 2001 Title: “There is “more,” always more than the surface reality.”
Year C. Christ the King Luke 23: 33-43 November 25, 2001
Title: “There is “more,” always more than the surface reality.”
Jesus is crucified between two criminals and insulted by Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers and one of the criminals. The inscription over his head, both his title and his “crime,” reads “King of the Jews.”
The last recorded words of Jesus before he began his determined and fateful journey to Jerusalem were, “whoever is not against you is for you.” In that context Jesus was responding to John about someone exorcising a demon in Jesus’ name who was not one of their company, Presumably, the man did not know Jesus explicitly, yet he invoked his name to do good. John tried to stop him, unsuccessfully. Jesus taught that unless a person is explicitly and consciously against Jesus and what he stands for he or she should be presumed to be “with” him. Luke picks up this theme at the end of Jesus’ journey, right before he is to depart on another journey- into Paradise. One of the criminals shows himself to be like the well-intentioned exorcist and Jesus accepts him into his kingdom on that basis. Luke uses irony as a technique to make his points in a way that would rival John’s use. In a way he exceeds John by contrasting and comparing the irony with sarcasm.
In verse thirty-five, the people stood by, watching, instead of a description of the mockery by the passerby which we find in Mark 15: 29f., Luke records simply that the people stood watching. He resists the temptation to point out that their silence could be considered as a form of consent. Instead, he appears to give them the benefit of the doubt and group them with those who sympathize with Jesus. Executions were popular in those days and doubtless many came out for this one.
The rulers, meanwhile, scoffed at him. Luke clearly wants to highlight the complicity and responsibility of the Jewish leaders in the unjust crucifixion of Jesus.
“He saved others; let him save himself. “Save,” appears three times in this periscope, here and in verses thirty-seven and thirty-nine. Luke wants to highlight that Jesus was crucified as “savior.” In this taunt we see sarcasm and irony compared and contrasted. The leaders could not be more sarcastic in what they believe to be an impossible challenge. “Let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one, in other words, prove you are a savior by saving yourself. And the irony could not be stronger either. Jesus came to save others, not himself, and that is what he was actually doing.
“The chosen one, the Messiah of God.” Sarcastically, the rulers use two titles, which Jesus rarely used of himself. They certainly did not believe this blasphemer was either chosen or anointed. Rather he was rejected and condemned. Ironically, what humans rejected God has “chosen,” and what humans have condemned God had “anointed.”
In verse thirty-six, soldiers offer him sour wine. This would be the sour wine, ochos in Greek, the common wine of soldiers, as opposed to sweet wine, oinos, commonly preferred wine. We read of Jesus being offered drugged wine, which he refused, in Matthew 27: 24 and Mark 15: 23 and of his being given vinegar, sharp or sour wine, just before his death in John 19:29, but Luke alone tells us that the soldiers used it in connection with some sort of mockery of their own. Luke is grouping them among those who consciously are against Jesus. Possibly, they are meant to represent pagans or Gentiles who, unlike the exorcist in Luke 9:50 and the repentant criminal of verse forty, are not “with” Jesus, not in or of his company.
In verse thirty-seven, “if you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” To the “save yourself” taunt the soldiers add a further sarcastic remark. Pilate had “king of the Jews,” placed on the cross of Jesus just above his head to indicate the reason for his condemnation and sentence of death. He meant it sarcastically, a jibe at the Jewish leaders who insisted on this innocent man’s death, an innocence Pilate recognized. The soldiers also meant it sarcastically. Ironically, and irony is a truth told without meaning to, Jesus actually was the king of the Jews. Of course, he would not come down from the cross in the way they were challenging him. After all, that is why he came in the first place. Ironically, many would come to him through the cross, and because of the cross.
In verse thirty-nine, one of the criminals there kept deriding Jesus. More sarcasm and this from one right beside him in the same circumstances. Only now, it is, “Save yourself and us.” This man was interested in his own fate, not that of Jesus. He clearly represents those who never heard of Jesus but would reject him if and when they do hear of him. The evidence for this rejection is their very lives. They live in contradiction to all Jesus holds true and holy. To the end they are unrepentant. Conscious of their own wrongdoing they refuse to accept responsibility for it. They maintain that others are to blame for their plight and they are “justified,” in behaving as they do because of the behavior of others towards them. Such folks have a twisted and perverted version of justice as a “right to get even,” even more than even, for all the “wrongs,” real or imagined, done them.