Peace be with you!
Pilate hands Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to crucify him (see Luke 23:24-25), despite his own belief in Jesus’s innocence. The Roman soldiers lead Jesus to the Place of the Skull (see Luke 23:26, 33). Weakened by the floggings, Jesus can barely carry his crossbeam, so the soldiers draft Simon of Cyrene to carry it instead (see Luke 23:26). A crowd follows Jesus, and the women wail and beat their breasts in sorrow (see Luke 23:27).
Jesus turns to the women and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-31 NRSV). Jesus is saying that the Jewish nation along with Jerusalem is going to have difficult times ahead. Family members will fight among themselves in his name. The women are weeping for the wrong reason; Jesus calls them to weep for themselves for there will be more trouble in the future.
Jesus, along with two criminals, is led to the Place of the Skull to be crucified. One criminal is crucified on Jesus’s left and the other one on his right (see Luke 23:33). “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” Jesus calls out as the soldiers cast lots for his clothing (see Luke 23:34). Even as Jesus is dying, he calls for God the Father to forgive the ones who crucified him. Jesus seeks forgiveness for the Jewish authorities, because they do not understand what they are doing; after all, the crucifixion fits mysteriously into God’s plan of salvation.
The soldiers continue to mock Jesus by offering him sour wine (see Luke 23:36) even as he hangs dying on the cross. They call out, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:37 NRSV). The soldiers even hang an inscription over him: “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38 NRSV). The soldiers taunt Jesus; they have finally stopped him. He who saved others cannot save himself.
The two criminals even join in the mocking and wailing:
“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:39-43 NRSV).
The first criminal, like the soldiers, mocks Jesus for being the King of the Jews, telling Jesus to save both himself and the criminals. The first criminal sees Jesus as defeated and mocks him for not saving himself or the two criminals. The first criminal’s request is selfish and is meant to taunt Jesus. The second criminal accepts Jesus as the Messiah and asks him to remember him when Jesus is heaven. By asking Jesus to remember him, the second criminal echoes the cries of individuals facing danger and death in the Old Testament, like when Joseph asked his fellow prisoner to remember him when he was released (see Genesis 40:14) or when Hannah prayed for God to remember her (see 1 Samuel 1:11). Even close to death, Jesus offers the second criminal forgiveness and promises to see him in Paradise.
Darkness covers the land from noon until three in the afternoon, and the temple’s curtain is torn in two pieces (see Luke 23:44-45). The darkness symbolizes that the Lord’s work is not fulfilled, for Jesus’s death is only part of God’s plan. The curtain torn in two symbolizes God being for all people, not just for the Jews. There is no longer a barrier between humanity and God. The Gentiles are now invited into the kingdom of God.
With his last breath, Jesus cries out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46 NRSV). Even in death, Jesus gives himself to God the Father. Jesus never wavers in his love for God the Father.
The Centurion, a Gentile, makes the final statement on Jesus’s death: “Certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47 NRSV). The Roman government never sees Jesus as guilty; he is innocent. The crowd goes home wailing and weeping (see Luke 23:48), but Jesus’s followers stay, watching from a distance (see Luke 23:49).
Dear Jesus, Thank you for taking our beating, our cross, our punishment for us. Help us to live a life worthy of your sacrifice. Remember us and grant us entrance into your Paradise. Thank you for the power of your love. Amen.