The narrative of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus forms the closing section in each of the four gospels. The account of the passion, in fact, occupies a comparatively large space in our gospels. It is because of the disproportionate length of the passion story that a commentator described with some exaggeration, the gospels as “passion narratives with extended introduction.” The evangelists describe the events of Jesus’ passion in great detail and they present the entire narrative of the passion (death and resurrection) as the climax of their story of Jesus.
Bu the passion narrative, unlike the pre-passion account of Jesus’ ministry, is remarkably similar in all four gospels. Here the narrative is continuous and the passion events too, from the arrest of Jesus to his burial, are presented in the same order. This fact, according to some scholars, would suggest the existence in written form of a continuous narrative of the passion prior to the writing of the gospels, and to which the evangelists had access. But this is far from certain, and even if there was such a primitive passion narrative no evangelist has reproduced it verbatim in his gospel. In the case of the passion account in the gospel of Mark, we saw that the evangelist was not reproducing a previously existing narrative but that it was Mark’s own composition using the passion traditions he had received. This is true of all the gospel writers whose redactional hand can be seen at work in the composition of their story of the passion.
Here we are specifically concerned with the Lukan passion narrative of Jesus. Luke’s account of the passion is based on that of gospel of Mark. The narrative sequence and other agreements with Mark point to Luke’s dependence on the first written gospel. But there are omissions and additions in Luke’s account. The principle omissions in Luke’s narrative are as follows:
b) Jesus’ prediction of the flight of the disciples (Mk 14: 27-28)
c) The flight of the disciples and that of the naked young man (Mk 14: 50-52)
d) The mocking of Jesus by the soldiers (Mk 15: 16-20)
The main additions to the Lukan passion narrative are:
b) The narrative about the sending of Jesus to Herod (Lk 23: 6-12)
c) Pilate’s sayings about Jesus’ innocence (Lk 23: 13-16)
Besides all this, the Lukan difference in the passion narrative also appears in the actual material content of the episodes. This is sometimes different from that in the Markan episodes.
Thus despite the Lukan dependence on the gospel of Mark, the passion narrative of Luke contains material not derived from Mark. This material may have come to the evangelist from his special source (‘L’); some scholars are also of the opinion that Luke had access to another independent passion account besides that of Mark. Again, there are many points of contact between the passion narrative in Luke and John. This may suggest that our evangelist had some knowledge of the Johannine passion traditions before they attained their present form in John’s gospel. For our purpose, however, it is unnecessary to discuss the sources of Luke’s passion narrative; instead we shall study the Lukan text and seek to understand his specific emphases and interpretations of the passion of Jesus.
We begin with the following general observations about the Lukan account of Jesus’ passion. As historian and writer Luke presents his accounts in well-ordered fashion, showing also great sensitivity to the human aspects. He omits many of the cruel details of the passion. The Lukan Jesus is not deserted or lonely in his passion (cf. Lk 23: 27-28, 48-49); and his innocence is repeatedly mentioned (Lk 23: 4, 13-22). The picture of Jesus in Luke’s passion narrative is not of one who endures overwhelming suffering but of one who calmly accepts his suffering and death as willed by God. For Jesus the Father’s (God’s) will is manifested in the Scriptures and therefore his passion, death, and resurrection become a Scriptural necessity for him (cf. Lk 22: 22, 37; 24: 25-27, 44, 46). Jesus submits himself to the Father’s will at the beginning of his passion (Lk 22: 42) and the last words of the dying Jesus were also words of commitment and self-surrender to the Father. “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23: 46). In all this Jesus is presented as the innocent sufferer, as an example for the martyrs. This parental perspective of the Lukan passion narrative is not found in the other accounts of the passion. Jesus is the innocent man who is persecuted and put to death but who triumphs over suffering and death. He is the model for his followers and he sums up in himself their suffering and persecutions on account of their faith, and also their final victory.
Other specifically Lukan perspective and emphases in his account of the passion will be pointed out in the course of our explanation of the texts.