“The Good News According to Luke”
Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion (Year C)
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Luke 19:28-40; 22:14-23:56
Holy Week is the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem for the last time, journeying from the gates of the city to the cross to the grave to the empty tomb on Easter morning. The way Luke tells it, the Cross is the climax of the story. Here, Jesus finally fulfills his mission statement.
Do you remember what Jesus said was his mission statement? We usually hear or read the Gospels in short passages, a few verses at a time. Today we’re hearing a longer portion. But the Gospels were intended to be read all at once. They’re short books with a beginning, middle, and end. They have all the characteristics of great literature, so each one is filled with its own perspectives, themes, motifs, and emphases. All four Gospel writers reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus, but they all do so differently. And they’re books, the Gospels are kind of like four different sermons that bring different lessons to the fore.
If we read the Gospels as long, elaborate sermons, we start paying attention to what each author includes and doesn’t include. We notice that they are each trying to teach us something unique and important about who Jesus is and why he matters to us. So Luke gives us a mission statement for his version of Jesus’ story by highlighting his sermon in Nazareth, his hometown, at the beginning of his ministry.
“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” (Luke 4:16-19)
According to Luke, that is Jesus’ mission. That’s his purpose. That’s what he is all about. Jesus comes to fulfill the words of the Prophet Isaiah, to bring Good News to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the Jubilee year of the Lord’s favor.
And he follows this prophecy all the way to his death during Holy Week.
Jesus does not enter Jerusalem in fear or meekness. The Spirit of the Lord has made him courageous! He is daring. He is doing something that actually seems foolish (almost like he’s trying to get killed).
Jesus enters the city boldly, taking on the persona of a conquering king, who is greeted with palm branches (signs of victory). But instead of riding on a majestic warhorse, he comes on the back of a colt, a baby horse.
Despite Jesus’ spin on this image, the poor, common people of Jerusalem see his arrival as Good News. They are thrilled to greet him. By behaving like a king, Jesus defies Jerusalem’s corrupt and oppressive politics, showing people that the people who say they’re in charge aren’t really in charge. But he does so with the humble way of love, not the way of domination and fear. That’s Good News to the poor. But this attracts negative attention from the leaders of the city, both religious and secular.
A few days later, things have turned for the worse. Jesus has been arrested, tried, and condemned to death. The political actors of his day do this to shut Jesus up and shut him down. They want him and his followers to fall in line and accept the oppression of the day. But Jesus knows that his death means more. It could mean saving the world from sin, death, and all evil.
Jesus accepts God’s will bravely but not without resisting the social and political evils of his day. He dies, giving up his physical life, but he refuses to cower before his captors like they want him to. He dies with his head held high, standing up for what he always believed was right.
Instead of cowering and begging for his life, he remains silent before his accusers. And Luke shows us that during the crucifixion, Jesus points his attention to others, not himself: He tells the daughters of Jerusalem not to weep for him (23:28); he asks God to forgive his torturers (23:34); he comforted the penitent criminal who was crucified next to him (23:43); and he prayed the words of Psalm 31:5 as he died (23:46)
Even on the way to death, Jesus continues the mission he set out to accomplish in Luke 4:18-19 -- “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Good News to the Poor: When the crowds follow Jesus to the cross wailing, weeping, and beating their breasts, the rich Roman rulers and rich Temple leaders to know that the poor people of Jerusalem reject their moral leadership (23:27, 48-49).
Release to the Captives: Because of Jesus, Barabbas the criminal is set free from captivity (23:18-25).
Sight to the Blind: Jesus’ brave, righteous death convinces a centurion (a Roman military commander) that he was innocent all along, opening his eyes from spiritual blindness (23:47).
Freedom to the Oppressed: Jesus asks God to forgive his killers because they are oppressed too; they are blindly following orders from a government that rules through fear, violence, and domination.
The Year of the Lord’s Favor: Jesus proclaims to the criminal next to him that God’s paradise is coming. This echoes the year of the Lord’s favor, also called Jubilee in the Old Testament Law. Jubilee is the time when the people of Israel were supposed to forgive all debts and set free all slaves, returning the society to economic and social balance. During Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor, people get mercy they do not deserve. Even a criminal can be admitted into God’s paradise. Jubilee shows us the depths of God’s love and grace for us. And Jesus shows that to us on the cross.
And by quoting Psalm 31 (Into your hands I commend my spirit), Jesus affirms that God is faithful even when things look tragic. God is a strong rock, a castle to keep us safe, and cannot even be defeated by death. The Spirit of the Lord will hover over his body and, on the third day, fill him with life again.
Throughout this week we’ll be intensely examining the last week of Jesus’ life. Just as the Gospel stories slow down once Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, greeted with palms, our church life slows down too. We hold worship services every day between now and Easter. Each day we inch closer to the cross: first with some of Jesus’ teachings from his final week; then on Thursday with the Last Supper, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and celebrated the first Communion; then on Friday with the crucifixion; on Saturday as he rests in the grave; and finally on Easter Sunday morning, when Jesus is vindicated and we are liberated from sin and death.