Although the four narratives of Jesus' passion sound similar to the untrained ear, each is unique. Every evangelist emphasized different aspects of Jesus' suffering and death -- the aspects he believed his particular community needed to hear.

As we listen to Luke's narrative on Passion (Palm) Sunday (Luke 22:14-23:56), notice how considerate and forgiving Jesus is throughout His horrible ordeal.

Probably the words we most remember from these two chapters are those Jesus says as He's being nailed to the cross: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."


Luke's Jesus is always considerate, always forgiving. Only Luke, for instance, passes on the parable of the prodigal father and the story of Jesus' encounter with Zaccheus the tax collector. Luke alone teaches the lesson of the Pharisee and tax collector praying in the temple.

That theology carries over into his passion narrative.

As I remind my students when we deal with these powerful sections of the Gospels, the evangelists are far less interested in telling us about Jesus' physical suffering and death than they are with pointing out ways in which we can imitate Jesus' suffering and death.

Since no one in the early Church thought we were to accomplish this imitation by actually being scourged, crowned with thorns and nailed to a cross, the evangelists never emphasized those parts of Jesus' passion.

The normal way Christians join in Jesus' dying is to imitate His psychological suffering. For Luke, more than the other three, that imitable pain revolves around Jesus' concern for others, especially on a forgiving level.

Only Luke, during the Last Supper, inserts Jesus' command, "Let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant." That command sets the pattern for the remainder of Jesus' passion behavior.

For example, Jesus promises to pray for Peter's conversion, and only in Luke's account of His arrest does He heal the severed ear of the high priest's servant. Later in the night, in one of the most poignant passages in Scripture, Jesus "turns and looks at Peter" immediately after the Apostle denies even knowing Jesus.

Along the road to Golgotha, Jesus diverts attention from Himself to the future sufferings the residents of Jerusalem will endure: "Weep for yourselves and for your children." And just before He dies, we reach the height of His forgiving concern when Jesus promises the repentant thief, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."

Open to others

Reflecting on Luke's unique passion theology, we begin to notice some overlooked aspects in the other two readings for Sunday. In the first reading (Isaiah 50:4-7), it's significant that the prophet's pain comes from his mission "to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them." If he weren't so concerned for others, he wouldn't have to endure such suffering.

And in Paul's well-known hymn (Phil 2:6-11), we're forced to zero in on the words, "He [Jesus] emptied Himself and took the form of a slave....He humbled Himself." The form which the emptying and humbling takes is rooted in Jesus' day-to-day openness to those around Him.

No biblical writing is ever composed in a vacuum. If there weren't needs and problems in the communities for whom the writings were composed, we'd have no Scripture.

It's interesting that, of all four passion accounts, Luke's contains so many "memorable" events. I presume they're memorable for us because we have the same needs his community had.