Muted Kingship?

As I come toward the end of my latest run through Luke, I am passing through the passion narrative. Luke’s telling of the story is distinctive on several accounts.

It is in Luke that Jesus heals the guy who loses his ear during Jesus’ arrest. It is in Luke that we hear of Pilate sending Jesus to Herod, and the ensuing friendship between the two leaders.

But Luke’s omissions are perhaps even more intriguing.

Jesus is mocked during his trial, but by the Jewish guards rather than the Romans (Luke 22:63-64).

Jesus does get an “elegant robe” put on him–but it is put on by Herod rather than the Romans, with no indications that it is the mocking purple of a would-be Messianic pretender.

Pilate hands Jesus over to be killed, after protesting his innocence, and there is no indication that the Romans torture Jesus before the crucifixion. No scourging. But even more importantly: No crown of thorns. No purple robe. No scepter.

Luke does include the charge over Jesus’ head, “This is the King of the Jews,” but otherwise, the Roman mockery of Jesus as a messianic pretender is muted.

The conclusion of Jesus’ life is followed by the centurions’ confession, which in Luke is not a testimony of Jesus’ divine sonship but instead his innocence: “Surely this man was innocent (or, just).”

All of this seems to play into the idea that Luke is concerned to depict the early Christian movement as something that is not of a political nature. Though Romans do mock Jesus as “King” on the cross, the impression of Jesus being a claimant to the royal throne is toned down. Yes, Jesus is enthroned king, but this happens at the resurrection, when God then makes him Lord and Christ.

Other interesting threads are woven here as well.

Jesus is more in charge and less destitute in Luke than in Mark. He pauses along the way to comfort the women of Jerusalem and tell them to fear for the future of the city. It seems that Jesus not only speaks a word of admission into the kingdom to the crucified bandit, but also a word of forgiveness to his persecutors.

Finally, when it comes time for Jesus to die, he does not die as one abandoned. In place of the cry of dereliction is the faithful commendation of Jesus’ spirit into the hands of a loving and, apparently, present Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

In all, I find it interesting that Jesus is more kingly, more in possession and control, than we see in Mark, while at the same time the overall royal thrust of the passage is less. For Luke, it seems that this whole scene is more of an entryway into the coming kingly resurrection, whereas for Mark the crucifixion is more directly the path to coronation itself.

For Luke, the death opens up the possibility of people seeing their need to be forgiven in the unjust murder of a righteous man, a forgiveness that will go forth to the ends of the earth once Jesus has been enthroned.

At least, that’s what I’m seeing. Anybody else out there worked through this data? What have you seen?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.