While today’s passage is used for what is colloquially called Palm Sunday, it is in Chapter 19 where the entry in Jerusalem is described in explicit terms as a royal triumphal entry; people are greeting Jesus as a king who is coming in the name of the Lord. Luke is the only one to mention the Pharisee’s reaction to the crowd and telling Jesus to rebuke his disciples. Jesus replies, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Liturgically this is Passion Sunday, so the passage used starts with the establishment of the first Mass, concluding with the death and burial of Jesus. Since this covers so much territory, I will highlight what is distinct to Luke.
After the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the disciples dispute among themselves as regards who is the greatest. I have to wonder just how attentive they were to what just happened. It seems they surmised something Momentive had happened and were involved in it. Yet, their sight is still shortened on their egos and not the establishment of a new covenant put into place and ratified by Jesus’ coming death on the cross and resurrection.
From Brant Pitre’s commentary on this:
Literally in the Greek, what Jesus says here, “As my father covenanted the kingdom for me, so I covenant to you, that you may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” So, effectively what Jesus is doing is constituting (in the figure of the Apostles) a new Israel, where they will rule over this new Israel, sitting on twelve thrones.
Secondly, notice also that within these twelve Apostles who are going to reign over the new Israel, Simon Peter has pride of place. And it’s easy to miss that if you read it in English, but in Greek it’s really clear: when Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you”, the Greek word there is “you” in the plural. So if you wanted to translate it into English: “Satan has demanded to have ya’ll.” (I’m from the South, we have a 2nd person plural, it’s called “ya’ll”, and that’s what the Greek word there is.) Satan has demanded to have “you all”. “But I have prayed for you (singular) that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen you brethren.” So what Jesus is referring to here is two things: First, the unique role that Simon Peter has as leader of the twelve apostles and as the one who strengthens the brethren. And I just bring this up because (obviously) there’s a long standing debate about the origins of the papacy and the authority of the bishop of Rome and that kind of thing, but I want to highlight the fact that in Luke’s gospel, according to Luke, at the Last Supper Jesus singles Peter out as the one who has a special mission to strengthen the other apostles after he turns back from his fall of denying Jesus, and that Jesus prays a special prayer for Simon (and Simon alone) that his faith may not fail.
We see multiple examples of Jesus’ humanity in that he is both fully God and fully man, and not God putting on a costume as a man. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he says, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” He requires strength for his coming ordeal. His guardian angel strengthens him, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
I had often heard that this was a condition called hematidrosis caused by great stress. I have also heard other claims about how this would make Jesus even more sensitive to pain. Actual cases of hematidrosis are relatively rare and are not necessarily connected to stress. Thomas W. McGovern, M.D. looks at these claims in his book “What Christ Suffered: A Doctor’s Journey Through the Passion.” Based on Luke’s description, he concludes that a bloody fluid was coming out of his skin. Jesus’ blood and sweat mixed on the skin, not in the skin within the sweat glands.
More importantly, there is a lot of imagery here tying the agony in this garden back to the events of the Garden of Eden. This is a constant theme in Luke that Jesus is the new Adam. Adam and Eve were cast out. He is going to have to labor by the sweat of his brow. Brant Pitre draws out further connection with Jewish tradition in that the Tree of Life is an Olive Tree and that Gethsemane means “oil press.”
Jesus is the new Adam, and he will go to the new tree of life which is the cross. And there he will be crushed, he’s going to offer his life, and his blood will undo the effects of the fall of the first Adam. And the oil that will flow from the new tree of life is an oil that brings healing and salvation to the whole world. Just as the first tree of life was supposed to give immortality, so the new tree of life (the cross) is going to undo the curse of death and bring everlasting life to the world.
While all of the synoptic Gospels tell us about the carrying of the cross, only Luke writes about the women who lamented and wailed for Jesus on the way to Calvary. It is tough to imagine the physical state of Jesus at this point. The agony in the garden, his arrest, and possible severe mistreatment before the trial. How he was treated at the trial itself. More abuse after the trial, severe scourging, and even more mockery and abuse with the crown of thorns. Added to this is the crossbar (stauros or patibulum) placed across his shoulder he carried to the place of execution. Yet, his heart and mind are still focused on the sufferings of others. Luke also records Jesus’ prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
When I was reading over this, something in my own life came to mind. When my wife was in the very last days of her life in the hospice, she could not eat. Chipped ice was all that she could consume. In her pain and deep awareness of how little time she had left with us, she was still concerned about whether we had eaten yet. This is what it means to be Christ-like.
The dialog between the thieves on either side of Jesus is also only in Luke. One thief is railing against Jesus, while the other says that we deserver our fate, but not Jesus. He then speaks, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And in response, Jesus says something that’s powerful, but also puzzling: “Amen, I say to you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”
I have heard Jesus’ reply parsed in several ways since emphasizing different words can change the meaning. The meaning is argued over regarding the necessity of baptism or the doctrine of Purgatory. So I was interested to see that this might also be another Lucan reference to the Garden of Eden as per Brant Pitre
The Greek word there, Paradeisos , doesn’t occur very often in the Bible. The first time it occurs, one of the few times it occurs, is in the book of Genesis 2 and 3, when it’s describing the paradise of God. Literally, the word paradise means “a garden” or “an orchard”; in other words, the Garden of Eden.
Jesus’ final words on the cross are also unique to Luke. “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” is quoted from Psalm 31.
- The Gospel of Luke, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, Rev. Pablo T. Gadenz
- Catholic Productions, Commentaries by Brant Pitre
- What Christ Suffered: A Doctor’s Journey Through the Passion: Thomas W. McGovern, MD
- Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
- Catholic Productions, Brant Pitre ↩