Conflicted Passions?

Luke 22:14—23:56

1.

When we hear the passion narrative according to the Gospel of Mark, the centurion over there exclaims, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39).

But this year we heard the passion narrative according to Luke. And according to Luke, the centurion over here exclaims, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

Well, which is it? Is Jesus God’s Son? Or is Jesus innocent?

The simple answer is, yes. On that day, yes, Jesus was innocent; and on that day—and always—yes, Jesus is God’s Son.

So, why do I bring this up? Because I think we actually like Mark’s telling better than we like Luke’s. Mark agrees more with our modern sensibilities.

2.

Mark focuses on Jesus’ identity; and we like to think about who Jesus is.

After all, we live in troubled times. The twentieth century saw more deaths through war than from all the wars of the previous five thousand years of recorded history.

Even closer to home, our nation today is feeling more polarized than it has in a long, long time; arguably more than it has since Civil War times.

Who Jesus is, then, matters deeply to us. For we need refuge; we need salvation; we need a God in whom we can trust.

Because we don’t really know if this is true.

The words of Mark’s narrative resonate with us. God’s Son cries out from the cross what we are all feeling: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

3.

But, to remind you, we’re not in Mark’s Gospel today. We’re in Luke’s. And Luke, on the other hand, focuses not on Jesus’ identity but on his mission of love.

Well then, what is Luke’s larger narrative?

It’s actually fresh in our minds; we’ve been listening to it almost every Sunday since Christmas.

At his baptism, Jesus was there in line and praying with all the other, marginalized, oppressed people.

In Nazareth, Jesus preached to his hometown crowd, outlining his mission—why he’d come: release for the captives, sight for the blind, and so on. To bring justice! Love enacted!

And what did his hometown neighbors do? They became so angry they tried to hurl him off a cliff!

And so Jesus preached about that. “Love your enemies,” he said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Even if they try to throw me off a cliff? Yes! Even those enemies!

Opposition continued throughout his earthly ministry—something he addressed squarely in that story we like to call the Parable of the Prodigal Son—which we probably should rename: the Parable of the Brooding Older Brother (the Parable of BOB).

Anyway, everywhere Jesus went—though he did nothing wrong—people opposed him, resisted him, threatened him and his mission of love; until at last he was arrested, tried, declared guilty, and crucified.

He led no one down the wrong path.

He upheld the scriptures.

He did nothing violent.

He sought justice.

And yet he was killed, violently and unjustly!

Yet even at his death—it’s not like Mark tells it, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” No, here in Luke, even despite the violence and injustice, Jesus’ last words indicate comprehensive trust in God’s will. “Father,” he cries out, “into your hands I commend my spirit.”

What! How can he be so resolute? How does he remain so singularly focused on his mission of love?

No, we don’t like Luke’s narrative so much.

The centurion declares, “Certainly this man was innocent”; and we are confronted with just how much work there remains for us to do.

We would rather rest in Mark’s Gospel.

The world is a scary place. Jesus is my refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Can’t I therefore just run inside, batten down the hatches, and ride out this present storm with the people I love, my spiritual family?

4.

Remember the simple answer: Yes! Both are true.

Mark’s focus on Jesus’ identity shows us that our God remains present even when we cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And, at the same time, Luke’s focus on Jesus’ mission—on our bringing justice wherever there is injustice; on our obligation to enact love—shows that it remains our call, no matter how hard things seem.

Both are true; and both are needed in the mystery of the resurrection.

Remember who Jesus is; and remember what he is calling us to do.

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