The Gospel of Luke – Responses to Jesus’ Death

Luke 23:47 The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” 48 When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; 49 but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events. 50 Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, 51 had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. 52 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried. 54 It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, 56 they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment. 

Commentary

His death has an immediate impact. The Roman centurion who had overseen his execution is struck to the heart by the manner of Jesus’ death, the first of an endless stream of believers touched by the cross of Christ. “This man was truly just”, he acclaims. The wording of his confession fits perfectly with Luke’s portrayal of Jesus in the passion. Jesus the martyr prophet was indeed a just man: totally committed to God’s cause; willing to face death for the sake of the gospel.

Luke also uniquely describes the impact of Jesus’ death on the bystanders. The people who had walked the way of the cross with Jesus (23:27) and now witness his death return “beating their breasts” – a sign of repentance (23:48). And standing at a distance are those “who knew” Jesus (Luke’s subtle way of inching the frightened and scattered disciples back into the story?) and the faithful women “who had followed him from Galilee” (23:49). The gathering of the community which would burst into life after the resurrection already begins, at the very moment of Jesus’ life-giving death.

The passion narrative ends on a muted note. The power of Jesus reaches beyond death as Joseph of Arimethea, whom Luke describes with his favorite terms as a “virtuous” and “righteous” man, a member of the very council who had condemned Jesus yet one who had not consented to their verdict, takes courage and comes to claim the body of Jesus for burial. In any age, claiming the body of an executed man from the authorities is a public act, exposing one’s allegiances for all to see. Joseph stands clearly with the crucified Jesus.

He wraps Jesus’ broken body in a linen burial cloth and places it in a rock tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Luke carefully sets the stage for the marvelous events of the resurrection. The Sabbath eve was approaching so there was no time to anoint the body. But the faithful women who had ministered to Jesus in Galilee (8:2-3) and stood by him at the moment of death (23:49) prepare spices and perfumed oil – ready to return and anoint the crucified body of Jesus as soon as the Sabbath rest was completed.

One cannot miss the touching poignancy of these details: the courageous devotion of Joseph, the faithful women who abide by the Sabbath law yet with their hearts in that tomb with the one they loved and had lost. The reader knows, however, that death will not have the last word. The “just one” would break the bonds of death and the tomb would be robbed of its treasure. The Spirit that had fallen on Jesus at the moment of his Baptism would once again pulsate within his living being as the Risen Christ would rise triumphant from death and charge his disciples to bring God’s word and the witness of their lives to all nations.

Notes

23:47 This man was innocent:  The word dikaios means “righteous, by implication innocent.” The deeper religious significance is righteous.

23:49 all his acquaintances: Literally, “those known to him.” Luke does have the earlier scene where the disciples abandon Jesus during his arrest.  Instead he has Peter following Jesus from afar (22:54) as well as his disciples watching from afar here.

the women: Luke points out the woman who had followed Jesus from Galilee and who are part of the first Church in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14) – they are eye witnesses to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

23:50-51 Joseph… Arimathea: A town north of Jerusalem. Joseph is described in the same terms as Zechariah and Elizabeth (1:6) and Simeon (2:25). Like Simeon and Anna (2:38), he is awaiting the reign of God.

Sources:

  • Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1994) 2 Volumes
  • R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995)
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997)
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991)
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris, (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989)
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988)
  • Donald Senior, The Passion of Jesus Christ, an unpublished booklet
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970

Over the years I have compiled notes, documents, and items of interest about Scripture. Mostly for my own use and in teaching Bible studies in Catholic parishes.  The idea was possible to make something that is approachable, more than “Bible 101″ yet not too overwhelming, yet with notes for people that want more – and hopefully even if a person feels “stretched” by the content, it is not too much.  I have come to realize I have developed a little library – and so I thought I would share some.

When I began to compile I made no attempt to be careful about sourcing, copying entire passages, footnoting, or the even the modicum of appropriate credit – and so there is likely a lot of content that is not my own. My apologies to all.

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