DECONSTRUCTING THE INTEGRITY OF …
This series of posts began last year with analysis of the corrupted local government election in the Borough of Queenscliffe. In the previous post I drew attention to the many sides by which the public trust has been eroded in this – somewhat small and seemingly insignificant – local government matter.
There is a straight-forward political question that arises from this scandal that is now unavoidable, even if it has not reached the over-reach of Twitterdom: why is it that the kinds of questions that Borough citizens can now raise about this election are simply not being taken up by any of the major political parties nor even by the mass media?
But it is a very serious problem. And raising it is no less a serious problem for the writer of this blog. This is my post on what I believe is an emerging Borough of Queenscliffe “calamity” and it may indeed have very serious consequences for the people involved.
But it is not an individual matter.
After due consideration, I am even prepared to indulge the possibility that the person concerned, out of his own political naiveté, may not have even understood that a declaration of political party membership was required of him prior to the Borough of Queenscliffe election. Certainly his statement, repeated during his campaign that, “I am not a politician” is consistent with a policy long associated with the Liberal Party that local government should be “a-political”. So the problem is not exclusively one of whether he was intentionally perpetrating an electoral deceit. However, the fact that he was elected as Liberal Party Chairman of the party’s regional branch a week after assuming his Council seat and the Mayoral office, suggests that the deceit – and deceit there certainly is – is basic to the Liberal Party’s own modus operandi. They have elected as regional Chairman a party member who failed, when asked, to publicly confirm his party membership while standing for public office! They have now thereby endorsed his failure to do so whether he was consciously avoiding doing so or not.
In other words the Liberal Party supports furtive non-disclosure of political commitment at the local government level.
My anticipation is that this is actually an intolerable situation for the incumbent himself, despite his continued brave face. For all I know, he may be competently performing his public duties, even if I have no idea how he can attend to these various responsibilities in the context of one working life. The defenders of the election, in the face of any criticism that might cast doubt on the integrity of the election, might well try to turn political debate into a matter of personal support for him with all his various “hats”. But my point is that this is a political issue about an election, and it needs to be addressed politically, and that means there are institutional or official responsibilities and codes of conduct that need to be upheld. The electors too are thereby co-responsible for this state of affairs and continue to be responsible for the fact that it has thus far not been properly and justly addressed and resolved.
But here, my major focus is political and is with the Liberal Party. Even in relation to this local government matter, they seem to be intent upon accelerating their deconstruction – the rate of knots by which their party vessel is travelling indicates that they know not that they have now entered the rip!
How then are we to address this situation in a principled political manner? I suggest that we should do so by taking seriously the various responsibilities that are implicated in this scandal. It is a scandal that reflects upon the political conduct of us all. My post is not intended as a contribution to the “blame game” even if we do have to take courage in our two hands and face up, squarely and resolutely, to our political weaknesses.
That, in fact, is probably the best advice for how we here in Australia should respond to the Trump Presidency, even if that pending calamity is, of course, an internal US matter for Americans to resolve. We here have our own impending calamities to attend to. In a previous commentary on the recent US Presidential election, I argued that the only way Mr Trump can save his presidency is by confronting the major failings of the US Federal electoral system. Trump’s election is strong proof that the US electoral system is broken in a basic sense; Trump’s Presidency thus far gives ongoing evidence of strong resistance to any suggestion of a failure of American political ingenuity. To admit that would be to bring it all crashing down on his head. But it is the only way of saving his presidency, if not the office itself.
There is a similar problematic at work in Australian politics and, in our particular case, with the recent election of the Queenscliffe Borough council. To admit the erosion of public trust at any one point would seem to bring down the entire artifice of our allegedly democratic system of public governance – not just locally but also at the State and possibly also at the Federal levels.
The refusal to face this scandal implies the following retort: Didn’t the Mayor get the most first preferences in the election? What are his critics complaining about? If he got elected in the manner he did, doesn’t that mean his electors endorsed the deception and therefore we’ll just have to live with it?
Consider the following 7 points that I raised last time concerning questions that need to be addressed politically:
police standards concerned with policemen working two jobs – let alone that of a high-ranking police officer mandated with a crucial public interest issue across the Bellarine i.e. ice usage, let alone him being chairman of a political party that justifies his chairmanship because they want to unseat the sitting member at the next election. The sitting member is the Police Minister;
police standards with respect to scrupulous maintenance of public rectitude in the face of an elected councillor who is also a policemen who deceived the electorate;
policy development in the police force under the supervision of the Police Minister in the State Parliament (we need public discussion of how this state of affairs in which one public officer is allowed to occupy a variety of public and political responsibilities at the same time is understood by the act of Parliament that governs such public service in the police force);
the failure of other political parties to make good their public standing not only by raising questions about the modus operandi of their Liberal Party opponents but also about the standards required for standing for public office as well as their own party’s policy with respect to police serving on local councils;
the Liberal Party’s flagging through such a declension from the high standards of scrupulous rectitude demanded for public office hitherto associated with Alfred Deakin (see attached speech pp.29-31). Are we to conclude that the Liberal Party endorses the electoral approach by which one of its members does not have the courage to openly admit his/her political affiliation to it?
the manner in which the Victorian Electoral Commission does its work and oversees such matters and why it seems to have failed to act on a matter that has been public knowledge for months;
the fitness for office of all councillors along with all those employed to advise them. Questions, quite rightly, can now be raised about why the Council has not rejected the election of the Mayor. Do other councillors, perhaps, have undisclosed political party memberships?
Everyone who has followed this matter knows that a deceit has been perpetrated. The Council knows that. The VEC should also know that. The State Government should know it. The fact is that the Council as a body, as our elected body to oversee public governance in its jurisdiction, has now allowed itself to be engineered into giving its own political endorsement to this state of affairs. And because of the Council’s failure to address the issue, it gives a distinctly Liberal Party “shape” to the public office of the Queenscliffe Mayor, if not to the entire Council itself.
How then are we to address this situation in a principled political manner? I suggest that we should do so by taking seriously the various responsibilities that are implicated in this scandal. It is a scandal that reflects upon the political conduct of us all. My post is not intended as a contribution to the “blame game” even if we do have to take courage in our two hands and face up, squarely and resolutely, to our political weaknesses. (That, in fact, is probably the best advice for how we here in Australia should respond to the Trump Presidency, even if that pending calamity is, of course, an internal US matter for Americans to resolve. We here have our own impending calamities to attend to.) Let us begin therefore therefore by considering the “police” dimension of this problem, and note how that too reveals complex political issues.
I suspect that there has been a sustained “communitarian” influence upon the internal workings of Victoria Police for some decades and the result has been that police officers are encouraged by senior management to make themselves available to serve in non-policing capacities in their local communities. And so we see them involved in sporting and service clubs, traders associations, civic groups, school boards and, as well, in local government. That may well be all above board. However, the missing link, is that the community, in this case the electors of the Borough of Queenscliffe (but elsewhere in other LGAs too) have not been properly informed of the provisions in the law governing such involvement nor have they been educated about why anticipated “conflicts of interest” has not prevented such a change.
And again, we confront the failure of the major political parties to adequately educate the electors they so gratuitously claim to represent. They are regular recipients of bucket loads of public funding for their scandalous electoral campaigns come election time. But the political education of the electorate about such matters vital to the public interest has been non-existent.
We have a State Labor Government and we might have expected more from the Minister for Police, who also happens to be the elected member for the electorate that covers the Queenscliffe Borough. With due respect to the legal and political difficulty that confronts her in this scandal – since it also involves a serving senior police officer, the perpetrator of the electoral deceit – we might have at least heard from the local Labor Party giving their understanding of how public rectitude should be upheld in this matter. Or are they simply waiting to use it as election fodder when the time comes for the electors to vote again. Labor Party silence on this matter proves to be very loud indeed.
But as much as the Labor Party confirms its own public reputation as an dodgy electoral machine, rather than a serious party committed to just representation, the conduct of the Liberal Party is simply appalling. The Liberal Party has flagged through an implicit corruption of the political process. By electing the Queenscliffe Mayor as their regional party’s President they endorse a policy of employing deceptive electoral tactics in order to advance their own political agenda. Moreover, by their silence they suggest that the Borough of Queenscliffe Council is now subservient to its own political manipulation. How can members of the Liberal Party, let alone voters, acquiesce in this matter? It not only ignores the fact that any public trust in its organisation as a authentic political party is irrelevant to its future prospects, the silence is nothing less than an implicit endorsement of the corruption of the political process per se.
This post is a continuation of material first raised on the 8th December 2016 “Electoral Mayhem on our Front Doorstep”.
My general reflection on political responsibility has had to confront a strange anomaly. So many of the people I talk to have said, quite openly, that they no longer want to discuss politics – they usually mean by this that they have given up listening to news bulletins or reading the newspapers – and yet at the same time there is this general sense of a growing nationalist political sentiment at home as much as elsewhere around the globe. My concern is with what will happen when some of the root causes of this serious political malaise are laid bear and made public. Does not the act of making the results of this analysis public through this blog (yes this blog too!) simply add fuel to the nationalist fire?
Below readers can find my initial effort to identify an intractable problem that has emerged in the local government of the tiny Queenscliffe Borough where I live. The more I reflect upon the problems that have emerged, the more the ambiguities and contradictions stand out. We seem politically incapable of rejecting political deceit when it is staring us in the face.
I am therefore wondering about how this contribution should be made to properly and justly open up this political problem as it needs to be discussed. This series of posts is oriented by the “principle of proportionality”. I have come to consider this principle even though it is usually referred to as part of arguments setting forth criteria that need to be scrupulously adhered to for the waging of a “just war”. To rephrase the conventional wording of that criterion would read:
… the principle of proportionality applied to just political debate would mean observing the principle that the costs of exposing deep and complex structural issues do not exceed the good that is intended and that the means employed in argument are consistent with the end being sought.
I shall explain further why I have deferred to this “proportionality principle” as my analysis is unfurled below. But to put the issue succinctly: can a just political exposé of the deceit perpetrated during the last council election (see 8th December blog linked above) and its consequences be set forth which points the way to appropriate resolution?
The serious issues raised in the December 8th post have still not been publicly addressed by the Borough Council. In fact, the Council’s silence on the matter in no way allays concerns of electors that the electoral process has been seriously compromised. The legitimacy of the Council itself is now in doubt. There is a serious, erosion of public trust in the Council, and this is made all the more difficult by the fact that the integrity of local government across the State, if not across the entire nation, is under a serious cloud. And it is more than likely that the confusion that reigns in the minds of electors is also to be found among the Borough’s councillors.
To recap: in the Borough of Queenscliffe election of 2017 the candidate who subsequently received most first preference votes and became Mayor failed to disclose his political affiliation during the election campaign. His political affiliation became evident a week after being sworn in as Mayor when it was revealed that he had been elected as the Chairman of the Bellarine Liberal Party. The announcement of his Chairmanship was in terms of him being the best person to lead the Liberal campaign to challenge and defeat the sitting Labor member at the next election. The fact that the sitting State member of Parliament for this state electorate is also Police Minister adds further complexity to this issue. And we must not avoid mentioning that this person who holds the positions of Mayor and Chairman of the regional Liberal Party is also a senior police officer with the important task of heading up a police task force to investigate the serious drug usage (ice) among the region’s youth. On top of this he is the proprietor of a local restaurant and is regularly seen on site running the operation.
This post, as a follow-up to the previous post, has been provoked by a Council request for submissions on a proposed pay rise for the Mayor. This increase has already been endorsed by the Council.
A local media report on the question of the pay rise deepens the problem faced by Council and the Borough’s electors. The article quotes the Mayor as saying that the pay rise is justified because of his own personal loss of earnings. The incumbent’s personal financial situation cannot justify the pay rise. His personal loss of earnings from his police work are not actually germane to the issue under discussion: how should a Mayor be justly remunerated? The fact that he has not been able to work in his restaurant and has had to put on staff is likewise a non sequitur. If he did not know about these constraints upon his earning ability before becoming a candidate, let alone after being asked to assume the Mayoral office by the vote of his fellow councillors, then one can justifiably ask whether he has the appropriate level of understanding necessary to properly carry out the demands of the position as it is currently constituted. If a public office needs structural reform the time to say so is before and during an election campaign, not after one has been successful in winning office. There is, among electors the considered view that the Mayoral task requires the incumbent to work at it in a full-time capacity. But our system of local governance is still beholden to a complex and demanding way of operating that assumes it is a part-time job at best, and that the payment for services is actually more like an honorarium than a salary.
But how are electors to respond to such a meeting? Council has effectively put a question mark against its own legitimacy by failing to address the election deceit. Electors – citizens and residents – would be quite within their rights if they refused to attend since the meeting is not being held to discuss the deceit but a matter that is made all the more complex because of the deceit.
This is why such a meeting in this context is highly problematic. The Borough of Queenscliffe is already too tiny to justify more than a part-time Council, let alone a full-time Mayor. The proposed new Mayoral pay-rate is $61,642 a rise of $7000 well above CPI increases. But the underlying assumption here, is that people who are elected to the Council should expect to be able to maintain the wealthy life-style to which they have become accustomed and therefore we have the bland assumption that this Mayor can hold onto and fulfil his Council responsibilities while deriving an income from his restaurant, as well being paid at Senior Officer rates for his work in the police force. And at the back of all this is his Chairmanship of the Bellarine Liberal Party that apparently sees no problem with such conduct of local government affairs.
Moreover, the Liberal Party would seem to endorse the view that it is quite appropriate for its members to refrain to acknowledging their membership of the party when they stand for public office at the Local Government level.
Well then, this gives some context for the ongoing unwillingness of the Council to publicly address the other, more basic problem. To convene a meeting to discuss the Mayor’s salary is simply a further avoidance of the issue. There is every indication that any discussion that focuses on the Mayoral payment will “keep to the topic” and avoid looking carefully at the the erosion in the public trust which this and every other local council requires for effective representative governance. But the problematic facing the Council has everything to do with the conduct of the last election, the conduct of the candidate who received the highest number of first preference votes, and the council’s own election of this person to the Mayoral Office.
Just as the the role of Borough Councillor is different from that of members of the Ice Task Force convened by Victoria Police! And are we to simply allow the role of a Borough Councillor, let alone that of the Mayor, to merge with the Liberal Party’s electoral programme for the next state election?
We here are considering the public conduct of a senior police officer. He did not disclose his political party affiliation in his election campaigning. After being elected it took the public announcement by the Bellarine Liberal Party that he had been appointed its Chairman to alert electors to the fact that he was a member of this political party.
So what did those police senior to this officer in Victoria Police have to say about this? Does this not reflect poorly on the ethical standards that are to be upheld by those entrusted with the State’s law enforcement?
And what are we to say about the Liberal Party’s seeming turning a blind eye to its new Chairman’s failure to disclose his party membership to electors during the election campaign? Have they simply flagged through that as a deceit that was necessary to ensure election? He got away with it and attracted the highest number of first preferences, so is not this the kind of political candidate Liberal Party supports and applauds? Apparently the Liberal Party by its silence on its Chairman public conduct wants the country’s citizens to believe that success, however achieved, is basic to its political philosophy!
Then there is the failure of the other (4) elected Councillors, their unwillingness to object to his election, let alone raising objections to his remaining in the Mayoral office when a week later the Bellarine Liberal Party made its appointment. Does not the Council’s unwillingness to object to this councillor’s election leave electors in doubt as to the legitimacy of the Council itself?
The political question is: how do we NOW raise such questions since to do so is also to call into question
police standards concerned with policemen working two jobs – let alone that of a high-ranking police officer mandated with a crucial public interest issue across the Bellarine i.e. ice usage, let alone him being chairman of a political party and taking aim at the Crown’s Police Minister;
police standards with respect to scrupulous maintenance of public rectitude in the face of an elected councillor who is also a policemen who deceived the electorate;
policy development under the supervision of the Police Minister in the State Parliament (we need public discussion of how this state of affairs in which one public officer is allowed to occupy a variety of public and political responsibilities at the same time in understood by the act of Parliament that governs such public service including the police force);
the failure of other political parties to make good their public standing in order to raise questions about the modus operandi of their Liberal Party opponents;
the Liberal Party’s flagging through such a declension from the high standards of scrupulous rectitude demanded for public office hitherto associated with Alfred Deakin (see attached speech pp.29-31).
the manner in which the Victorian Electoral Commission does its work and oversees such matters and why it has failed to act on the matter that has been public knowledge for months.
the fitness for office of all councillors along with all those employed to advise them.
And all of those questions can be asked and should be asked to avoid any too easy narrowing of blame upon Council for its particular contribution to this erosion of public trust in its work – sure Council has been seriously neglectful of its public trust duty but it is a neglectfulness that functions in a context of public governance and a political context much wider than the Borough of Queenscliffe.
Perhaps it is not just the lack of Council action that has seriously undermined itself but to raise such questions as I have done is to put a serious questions against the future of the Borough of Queenscliffe as an LGA in its own right. Once again the Liberal Party reveals itself as the dogged opponent of genuine and principled public justice, the harbinger of a revolution of self-interest. But then of course, its major Tweedledee opponent is not so far behind and is in constant catch-up mode.
This matter is not going to go away. it will not be easily resolved. The discussion will continue in subsequent posts.
Bruce C Wearne
And [this is what] he said to them:
“These words of mine are the words I spoke to you then when I was with you, [and I did so] in order that all the things written of me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms would be fulfilled.”
Then as he opened up the scriptures with them, so that they might understand, he said to them:
“So that is what is written concerning the Anointed, that he would suffer and be raised from the grave on the third day and that in his name repentance unto forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed. You are the witnesses of these things. And this is so that I can send you forth with the promise of my Father upon you. But you must sit [and wait] in the city until you are clothed with such power from above.”
And having led them out on the way to Bethany he lifted his hands in blessing to them. And that is when, while imparting his blessing upon them, he parted from them [and was transported away to heaven].
And they were to return to [their place in] Jerusalem with great joy and were continually seen in the temple praising God.
We have noted how there is some divergence in the ancient manuscripts with respect to Luke’s account of whether Peter ran to the tomb as it appears from 23:12. It seems that it is quite possible for a copyist to have entered a footnote or a marginal note which, in time, became part of the main Lukan text. There seems no reason to be unduly worried about this discrepancy; after all Luke would have come to know, from the Apostolic witness, if not the other evangelists, that this is indeed what happened. And no doubt Theophilus, having already been instructed in the Good News, would have also known this well enough already. There may be something similar we have to say about the discrepancy among the ancient manuscrupts we have bracketed:
[and was transported away to heaven]
in the second last sentence.
We, in the 21st century, are still beholden to the mythic and fundamentalistic imaginative reconstruction of mid-20th century film-makers who presumed to conclude their cinematic representation with their camera ascending into the clouds aboard a heli-copter or a balloon. In their pious efforts they seem to have ignored the fact that their film was suggesting that Jesus’ ascension was somehow to overcome and even deny the laws of gravity. The Bible is clear about Jesus’ ascension to the right-hand of his Father in heaven, namely to occupy the place of Lord over the entire creational project. On the other hand such imaginative cinematic representations move us away from what Luke is seeking to convey to Theophilus into a mythic realm of what is essentially technological speculation. A child seeing such films, and thinking about them will inevitably come to ask whether Jesus had booster rockets on his sandels.
The discrepancy among the texts seems to be an attempt to answer the question:
Where did he go?
by reference to what Luke records as the witness of the messengers in Acts:
And having said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, a cloud taking him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he departed from them, that was when two men stood there with them in their white robes, saying, “Men of Galilee, why stand looking into the heavens? This Jesus, who was taken up to be received from you into heaven, will come in the self-same way as you saw him depart into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
Here, I am simply wanting to emphasise that we can be sure that Luke, in concluding his Gospel, is not wanting to answer speculative questions derived from aeronautics – in fact the discipline of the two men in their white robes is to redirect the concern of Jesus’ disciples to their earthly responsibilities. Luke is pointing out to Theophilus that that was it and what Theophilus has subsequently experienced of “the way” arose with the joyful and continual praise of the Lord God by Jesus’ disciples after he had left. Of course they had to ask or to answer when someone else who was not there asked them:
Where did he go?
But Luke seemingly has no interest in concluding his story, and confirming all that he has written in this sizeable Gospel, by trying to induce Theophilus to imagine an ascent into heaven as a rocket might speed through the clouds, riding an arrow fired into the heavenly realm. If we have been following his narrative this far, such a device does not appear as part of his stated authorial agenda.
It is indeed the case that in composing the Book of Acts, his second book, Luke had to continue to give an account of how Jesus had helped his disciples avoid being bamboozled. We read at this point how they were helped to overcome their gob-smacking bewilderment at his departure; but let us recall that Luke is fully occupied throughout his entire Gospel in confronting the lack of assurance with an account that encourages Theophilus to be certain and confident about his own belief in Christ:
… in order that you, my highly esteemed Theophilus, friend of God, might know the reliability of what you have been instructed, of what has been passed onto you by word of mouth (Luke 1:4).
Luke, now at the end of his narrative, tells us of the utter bemusement of Jesus’ disciples – even with their joy in the midst of this being so unbelievable for them (24:41) – but the disciples are those who found Jesus’ resurrection unbelievable, and when he was gasping his last breath on the cross they weren’t actually there taking it all in. And before that: what about their responsibility during his trial, and what were they expected to do when it was clear that one of their own number came to betray him?
And so we return to Luke’s theme throughout the Gospel. Those closest and dearest to Jesus – including nota bene his own pin-pointing of the serious misunderstanding of all of the disciples including John “the Apostle whom Jesus loved” (Luke 9:51-56) – were completely in the dark without Jesus’ own clarification of what his coming among them actually meant. And now that he had left them, Luke looks back on this time to tell us that they had the ten days until Pentecost to face up to the promises he had made to them and these he had given them as he spent those 40 days with them so that they, and those who believed because of their witness, would not remain ignorant and in the dark. They would live with a God-given sense of the reliability of the Good News.
Luke had been captured by the same message which was in the process of being fulfilled by the experiences of the young church. He reiterates at the conclusion of his Gospel what Jesus reiterated to his disciples in that period between his resurrection and his parting from them, what we now refer to as his ascension. This was the 40-day period in which the disciples were prepared for what the church has ever after referred to as “the great commission”. And then there was that other period of waiting – it would be ten days in Jerusalem until Pentecost.
As we carefully attend to this, it seems that Luke is indicating that in his meeting with his disciples after his resurrection, Jesus was instructing them about framing, or perhaps better re-framing, their reading of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms. What he gives them is the “nutshell” of how they were to understand what we call the Old Testament. It all comes down to this. What these ancient scriptures say of the grace of the Lord, of the covenant of mercy, is that the Anointed of the Lord, the servant-saviour who comes to maintain God’s purposes by redeeming his ever-beloved and specially chosen image-bearers, members of God’s own family, will suffer and be put to death but on the third day he will rise. It is as if he said:
This is actually what I have been teaching you ever since I began proclaming the Kingdom of God in Nazareth, just after John, my cousin, was arrested. Yes, after my resurrection I told you straight that you have been wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts. And I’m telling you that you will continue to doubt the prophets, those you continue to say you trust, without me here countering your unbelief. You even lack understanding about your lack of understanding. It is not just about your inability to have anticipated my resurrection which I’ve been trying to counter ever since I called you to join me. It’s a Kingdom of God consciousness that you can only be developed in God’s Kingdom! I am the one who opens the way for you to enter into that.
So the stories you’ve been telling among yourselves of your experience as my disciples are going to be told and as you do so you need to take this scriptural view of my mission, and thus also of your mission, fully into account.
All the nations and peoples of the earth, must come to hear this. They must be called to repentance for the forgiveness of sins that is available through my blood. And this proclamation should go on as long as the generations of humankind are called to fulfil the creational purposes given them by God from the outset and maintained to this day.
You are those who have shared with me in my sufferings and trial (Luke 22:28-30). You have the initial foretaste of the full glory of these events. And your task is to bear witness as you share in this fulfilment.
Jesus instructed them to remain in Jerusalem – to establish their community in Jerusalem. But they were to wait. To enable such a community to be established, a community with such a mission, with such a way of life, meant waiting – they were commanded to wait for what he would surely send them – and they could depend upon his assurance that this Spirit would be coming to them as this group of his disciples after his departure, because it was the same Spirit promised and then given to Jesus by his Father in order that he could do his work (ref. 22:24-27, 3:15-22). In effect:
And so stay, waiting patiently together, develop your community by waiting to be clothed with God’s own power.
In Acts, Luke records that the disciples put this question to Jesus:
Lord is this the time when you will finally be restoring the Kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6)
And so we surmise further that what Jesus is recorded to have said by Luke’s account at the conclusion of his Gospel deals with many questions, including this vital one, put by the disciples to their Teacher, their Resurrected Teacher, at this time. The report of Jesus staying with them for 40 days suggests that it was indeed an “intensive” time; would it not take 39 of those days to discuss what “restoring the Kingdom to Israel” should now mean?
And here too is why John the Baptist has come to have such an important part in Luke’s story. He prepared Israel for the coming of God’s spirit, the descending Dove’s outpouring upon God’s Anointed. And now that the Anointed has done his work, those united with him, by believing in him, will share in that same Spirit.
The repentance that John preached was so that the people whose way of life was given with God’s promise to dwell in their midst could prepare for the coming of the Lamb of God who, through his death and suffering, takes away the sins of the world. Repentance is the only possible preparation for his coming. It is thus the continuation of a prayerful way of life, a perpetual request that God will fulfill his promises, allowing the Anointed One to continue to do in us what he was called to do in his time among us. It was not a preparation for kicking out the Romans. And at this point recall Luke 7:1-10 – the healing of the Centurion’s servant – and the second Centurion at Jesus’ cross (23:47). Luke is clearly aware that the “zealot option” had been nipped in the bud by Jesus’ words and by his works. And as much as these two references, now read in context, signal the breaking down of the wall between Jew and Gentile, we also recall the ripping of the temple curtain (23:45). If that were not enough, there is also the apocalyptic teaching Jesus gave concerning the future destruction of the temple itself (21:6). Luke, in speaking of the continual praise of Jesus’ disciples in God’s temple, could not have been oblivious to the profound anticipation of his concluding words.
It was preparation for a way of life that he made possible for his disciples then, and still makes possible for us today. A way oriented by his death and suffering, motivated by the power of his resurrection, and looking forward to his coming again to announce that his creational work focused in his image-bearers, has been redeemed, regained and renewed and has finally reached its fulfillment.
Luke 24: 13-43
And around the same time on that same day, two of them were journeying to Emmaus a village some 60 stadia [furlongs] from Jerusalem. They were discussing [earnestly] with each other all that had happened. And that was when, as they talked together, tossing it all over, that Jesus himself drew near to journey with them. But their eyes were restrained and [so] they did not recognize him. And he said to them:
“So tell me what you are discussing [so seriously] between yourselves as you walk?”
They stopped, downcast, and one of them, Cleopas by name, answered him:
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who has not known what has been going on in Jerusalem in these past days?”
And he said to them:
“What things are these?”
And they said to him: “The events relating to Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and in word, before God and all the people. And [we have been discussing] how our chief priests and ruling elite had him handed over, having stitched up his crucifixion. But we had been hopeful that he was to be the one to emancipate Israel. But also [that’s not all], we are now in the third day since all of this happened and some of the women in our company have completely perplexed us. They went early to the tomb and not finding his body came back saying they had [together] seen a vision of angels who have said [to them] that he lives. And some of our number went to the tomb and indeed found it just as the women had said it had been, yet him they did not see.”
At this point he said this to them, “O you are so wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts to believe all the things that the prophets have spoken. Were not these things necessarily all part of what the Christ had to suffer before entering into his glory?”
And then beginning from Moses and [also] all of the prophets, he explained to them from the scriptures all the characteristics that pertained to himself. And they drew near to the village to which they were headed and he gave every indication to them that he was going further. And they constrained him, saying: “Remain with us since the evening is coming on and daylight is quickly fading.”
And he accepted their hospitality and went in with them.
And it then happened that as he sat down to dine with them, he took the loaf, gave thanks and, having broken it, he handed them [each] a piece. And from this their eyes were opened [well and truly] and they recognized who he was. And that was it. Then he was gone.
And from then [and thereafter] they said to one another: “Did not our hearts light up within us as he spoke to us on the way and as he threw open wide the scriptures?”
And that very same hour, they got back on the road, and returned to Jerusalem to find the eleven and the others with them having met together with their announcement:
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.”
And they related to them what had happened on their journey and how he had become known to them in the breaking of the bread. And as they recounted these things, there he was standing there right in their midst. But they were in shock, even terrified, and began to think that maybe they were beholding a spirit. And he said to them:
“Why are you so troubled and why are those conflicting thoughts arising in your hearts? See my hands? Look at my feet! [Confirm this for yourselves.] It is truly me, myself. Take hold and look closely because a spirit that you may behold does not have the flesh and bones that you see me to have.”
And while they yet disbelieved from joy and with profound shock, he said to them:
“Have you any food here?” And they passed to him a piece of broiled fish. And taking it, he ate it [with them] in their presence.
Many Christians attest to the powerful impact that this penultimate part of Luke’s Gospel has had upon them. Indeed, the story of the meeting Jesus had with his two perplexed disciples on the road to Emmaus has maintained its profound contribution to the lives of men and women, boys and girls, generation to generation. These two, one named Cleopas and his nameless associate, had their own account and Luke includes it in his Gospel written for Theophilus. They too met the Risen Christ, and upon their hurried return journey to Jerusalem, they were able to tell the gathering that the account of the women had been confirmed to them by Jesus himself.
The women, of all of Jesus’ disciples, had been the first to trust what they were induced to recall of Jesus’ teaching about himself from the days back in Galilee. And now Jesus had come face-to-face with these two and reminded them of what he had, in fact, been teaching them all along. And on their return to Jerusalem, to meet the disciples who had been so saddened and perplexed, the two were to hear the disciples telling them:
The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.
Presumably, Luke means Peter (recall the interpolated v.12 we discussed briefly last time) even if, just a chapter or so earlier, he had introduced Theophilus to another “Simon” (23:26), the conscipted cross-bearer. At this point it is worth our while to try to put ourselves in the reading shoes of Luke’s reader.
Now, if I were Theophilus, might I not be wondering which “Simon” Luke is referring to here?
Apart from the carrier of Jesus’ cross, Luke tells us that Jesus also used the name “Simon” when he told Peter that he would be facing severe temptation in an hour or so’s time during the Passover celebration (22:31). And much earlier (Luke 7) there was another Simon, a Pharisee – but clearly he is not Luke’s referant on this occasion.
Let us think again and recall what Luke has already told us, and also how we have suggested that he (i.e. Luke) has “gone easy” on Peter in his account of his actions in Gethsemane as well as with respect to his three-fold denial. Then Luke tells us that at the cock-crow, Peter had gone out of the remand centre where Jesus was being held, and he was weeping bitterly. [There is also the question about the scribal interpolation of “Peter” in 23:12]. Theophilus will have known already, that is before receipt of Luke’s Gospel account, that Jesus had dealt mercifully with Peter who, after Pentecost, was clearly the prominent Apostle, the leader with John of those following “the way”.
So from all this we can, once more, affirm what we have said earlier about Luke’s account: he continues a story in which one thing he has discovered in his investigation leads on to another report of a further discovery. In this case, the one thing was the women’s report of the empty tomb and the angels and the initial inability of the disciples to consider it worthy of their trust. The next thing then is that the convocation of the disciples was presented with a further first-hand account of Jesus’ resurrection from two other disciples – this was a confirmation of the women’s report and their faith which also these two had hitherto found incredible.
And this return visit, Luke says, preceded, and also to some extent prepared the gathering of disciples for, Jesus’ next appearance to them. For this too helped to dispel the disbelief of the disciples, or at least to profoundly challenge it. When the two from Emmaus gave their report, they were to receive the report of the disciples that
The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.
And so Luke reports that these three reports affirmed Jesus’ resurrection.
But let us go back to when admonished the two walkers in the late afternoon. They had been trudging along despondently, walking and talking, on their way home to Emmaus. We get the sense of:
So much for what we had hoped! We thought this was it. He was our truly amazing teacher and with what wonderful deeds and teaching he had us wanting more and more! Do we really need more visions of angels being given to us by these hyperactive women?
And Luke’s account of Jesus’ admonition is presented as part of this most ordinary and everyday activity – his walking and talking with them. This was fellowship. This was friendliness. This was neighbourliness. This was going on a walk together. Slowly, slowly their sad perplexity seems to have been dissipated – their sadness is evaporated even while they don’t realise it. They absorbed this Stranger’s teaching.
And so they prevail upon him to visit with them and share an evening meal to bring the day to a close. We don’t read of their respective families sitting down and joining with them as they shared the meal with this Stranger. They may have offered him their hospitality but it was he who presided over the simple meal he shared with them. [We don’t even hear what was said as “Grace”!]
Our Father in Heaven thankyou for this day and this food. AMEN. Let’s eat!
I do not know how to properly understand the word [ἄφαντος] that is translated as “vanished” or “taken out of sight”. My preference is to avoid a translation that gives any implication of some kind of magical power, and yet clearly this Resurrected Person, the Lord Jesus, is beyond the grasp of those he meets, even when he meets them face to face, shaking hands, breathing the same air, eating the same food. And I also think it is well to recall that Luke is seeking to convey to his friend Theophilus why his faith is well-attested by reliable eye-witnesses who met the resurrected Jesus. His Gospel is in no way an appeal to him (or us) to believe in magic, to conjure up a resurrection in our own imagination even if we are invited to share in this mystery. Luke is reporting to his fellow, who is also walking with him on “the way”, something of how Jesus’ resurrection has been discussed among his disciples, among those to whom he appeared before his ascension. On that occasion:
And that was it. Then he had gone.
The emphasis here, and in fact throughout the entire Gospel, is of a Person who simply could not be subjected to human control. Even Pilate had discovered that before his execution, before he maintained his own control of the situation confronting Jesus by capitulating to the demands of the mob.
And so we might well reflect on what “that” (in my above transliteration) means in this instance.
As with much story-telling a “that” is as much a recognition of limits – as in “and that is the end of the story”. It is also referring to what had happened and how what had happened had a finish. Consider: how does one convey the ending of a meal, of a visit to your house, with a resurrected Person who then leaves? I think, in this case, it refers to the limits of the evidence given by firsthand witnesses and Luke tries to capture the lot by finishing it off –
And that was it. Then he had gone.
What then is Luke saying to Theophilus? Is it not something like:
And that is about all that can be said because it is all that Cleopas and his friend were able to say. He had walked with them. He had eaten with them. And then he went. They had begun to realize who he was and the next minute he was gone.
It bears repeating, as we have said last time: how does a writer of a Gospel convey a resurrection? I’m suggesting that Luke conveys the resurrection in ways that are not too dissimilar to how we live as those blessed by Jesus being raised from the grave:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And for my part in this I’m going to ask the Father, and he will give you another personal carer to be with you from hereon, the Spirit of truth, not for the world to receive, because it can neither see him nor know him. But you’ll know him, because he will dwell with you and in you [John 14:15-17].
We confess that this is the first resurrection, from which our own, in God’s good time, will follow. And here from Luke’s account there is absolutely no indication that the two were offended by any “impolite” departure of Jesus, even if we, reading this now, would wonder what else transpired during that meal. Luke tells us that the two fellows, previously so downcast and perplexed, had been lifted out of their depression, and a new chapter in their conversation, in their friendship, has been inaugurated. They begin to talk between themselves about what had taken place. Then, possibly before they realised what they were doing, they hot-footed it back to Jerusalem.
In retrospect, however recent, they lived in the realisation that something enormous, something incredible, something … how is one to ever talk about it? It is like creation – something that is self-evident but cannot be grasped or explained. But once confessed, we might say, a whole new world opens up … in fact God’s creational purposes for what he had made and redeemed become intensely palpable.
There have been disbelieving and unbelieving attempts to reduce the account of Luke (and the other Gospels) to cognitive dissonance that presume that the discovery of a such human propensity (of cognitive dissonance) is the explanation of the resurrection. It is no such thing. Luke’s account puts it exactly the other way around. It might better be said that Luke’s account tells us that the disciples who met Jesus face-to-face after his resurrection, found they were being addressed with great kindness and mercy, even as they were unable to bring themselves to believe.
And while they yet disbelieved from joy and with profound shock, he said to them:
“Have you any food here?” And they passed to him a piece of broiled fish. And taking it, he ate it [with them] in their presence.
In the same Spirit that Jesus breathed on them, they and those who follow them, were able to face up to their “cognitive dissonance” and not avoid it. Jesus had spoken.
O you are so wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts to believe all the things that prophets [you continue to say you have trusted] all the things they have spoken. Were not these things necessarily all part of what the Christ had to suffer before entering into his glory?
Jesus asks them, point blank:
Have you really, after all that has happened, and after all that you have been taught, really believed what the prophets have said?
And now with Jesus’ appearing to them, he makes it possible for their wilful ignorance and heart lethargy to be overcome! He calls them – face-to-face – to believe in him! It’s a call full to overflowing with merciful kindness. He makes it possible for those following him to believe. This is also what his resurrection does and continues to do in our lives.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ opens the way for the Spirit to be breathed again upon the image-bearers of the Lord Almighty, those He has all along be seeking to save, ever since the disastrous departure when they had made their wilful ignorance the raison d’etre of their life and their times. The overcoming of that rebellion by God’s own action in Christ, the Messiah of Israel, brings the joyous hope into which Jesus invites his disciples to live, here and now, right away, not to be avoided, here and hereafter. The resurrection of Jesus is given to his disciples, to us, to humankind, not to figure out how or whether it happened; it is a given personal reality in which the Living God reveals himself, in the way that he has chosen to make himself known for the whole world, the world of his creation – redeemed. And in doing so he carries of the fear of death, the dissolution and we might add, as the two on the road experienced, the disillusion.
This resurrection is not given so that the Messiah of Israel, the Son of Man who confirms the hope of all ages, can formulate a creed and hive off into a little self-contained ascetic community with their own rules and customs and emergent ethnicity. This is a resurrection for all the world, as it is a new birth for all of life.
The response then, as it has been subsequently, is what Luke said:
a joyous moment, a moment so unbelievable
in which he was happy to share a meal with them.
Luke 24: 1-11 (12)
But at the beginning of a new week, while it was still very early, these [same] women came carrying the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from [the entrance to] the tomb, and upon entering they could not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And so they were in great perplexity about this and at this point two men stood by them in shining garments. And as they bowed their faces to the ground, terrified, they said to them:
“Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here but has been raised. Recall how he spoke to you when you were still in Galilee saying, ‘It is necessary for the Son of Man to be handed over into the hands of sinful men and to be crucified and on the third day to be raised.’”
And they did indeed recall these words of his and returning [home] from the tomb they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others as well.
Now it was Mary of Magdala and Joanna and Mary [mother] of James with all the other women who told the apostles these things. But it seemed to them that on the face of it that these words were just talk and so they did not trust it at all.
How does one include a report about a resurrection into one’s account of the events that are presupposed by what we, who confess faith in Jesus Christ, believe? Luke has already told us that Theophilus has come to faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the God-given Prince of Princes, the Lord of all.
The Good News proclaimed by the apostles has borne fruit. The faith of Theophilus is already the precedent, and perhaps the motivation, for Luke’s Gospel narrative. And so he, like us, believes that Jesus has indeed transformed our lives, and has indeed been raised even though he, and us, does not have first-hand (i.e. hand-shaking) experience of the Resurrected One. We were not there to meet with him in the 40 day period between his resurrection and ascension having thereafter been received from the apostles and the disciples to sit at God’s right hand. But this does not stop us from returning to this account and this precise point in Luke’s Gospel.
So how do he one report on the resurrection?
Luke reports on what he knows, presumably of what he has been told by reliable eye-witnesses of his coming among them, and who became custodians of his word (Luke 1:2). His Gospel is a narrative of what he has been able to collect from his investigations.
Of course, we are prone to ask: what about what is written in some Bibles in verse 12?
Why is there some question about whether this should be included in Luke’s account?
But Peter got up, and ran to the tomb, and stooping and looking in he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home amazed at what had happened (Luke 24:12).
We could speculate that this had been added by a transcriber of Luke’s Gospel at some later stage on the basis of what had been conveyed to him in the other Gospels. But if that is so, it is a transcription that simply confirms the initial amazement of the women, and all those others who would subsequently become caught up in the conviction that Jesus had been raised. And then we are confronted by the record of all 4 Gospels that Jesus presented himself to them and thus confirmed their faith that God had raised him. They then would live out their lives proclaiming his resurrection and ascension without any shadow of doubt.
It was an event of which they came to be convinced even though they had not been present when it occurred.
So there are questions for us as we turn to read this once more. We re-acquaint ourselves with Jesus’ resurrection, again and again, and not only at Easter time. This is the event that has brought us to the confession that our life is actually in the hands of this Person who was raised. But the question is not only:
How was one, like Luke, to include an account of a resurrection in his Gospel narrative? It is a valid question provoking us to reflection all the more because unlike Jesus’ last breath on the cross, there was no-one present at the precise time, watching and listening, when it occurred.
But also we might go further, having noted the above question about verse 12, and ask:
How does one transcribe Luke’s Gospel account of the resurrection when one knows, from other witnesses, that there was more to it than he has conveyed with what he has written?
How do we, in reading this book today, receive the news of Jesus’ resurrection and, in particular, reckon with what seems to be the main point of Luke’s account?
Luke says the women were terrified but when they were reminded by the angels, the messengers of God, that Jesus had already told them about this event, that he would be raised after a cruel death, they told the eleven and the others that they believed Jesus had been raised. But they were greeted with disbelief.
The Lukan amanuenses who added verse 12, seems keen to have us know that soon the return of the women Peter verified their story, at least that the tomb was empty, and yes he shared their utter amazement. And we can infer that this addition to Luke’s Gospel was based on the reports that are conveyed in the other Gospels.
Thus, we can suggest that Luke is saying to Theophilus:
This brief paragraph tells you what this is all about. It all comes down to this. It all hangs together on what happened on that first day of the week.
Luke, Paul’s loyal companion, who also seems to have been his chronicler, his scribe, now documents for Theophilus, the events that have been fulfilled in their midst. He does not call his correspondent to imagine “the moment”. Theophilus is enjoined to share in the women’s amazement.
Here is an account of a new creation, the raising of Jesus from the grave, that simply cannot be grasped by this or any literary account. The aim here is not to convey a picture; it is no appeal to Theophilus’s imagination. It is, however, what this book presupposes. Without this event this book would not have been written.
In that sense Jesus’ resurrection is like creation itself – our attempt to point to the creation is at every moment constrained by the creational ordering of our lives, of our thoughts, our imagination, our discussion, our writing, our reporting.
There is creational humility in Luke’s account. That is its glory. It is not as if Luke needed to psych himself into a special frame of mind. His “humble record” of this event is without any effort on his part to suggest “what happened”. We are simply told of the women’s loyalty, and their subsequent amazement. The Christian profession of the resurrection of Jesus can only ever be in the creaturely form of words put together to confess the new life that has been poured into our experience by this event. It is with such confessional fragility, such conviction about what God has done, that God has ordained that the Good News of his Son, Jesus Christ, is to be proclaimed.
Luke 23: 44-56
And it was now about midday, and the sun not shining with darkness coming across the entire land until mid-afternoon with the veil of the temple ripped down the middle.
And Jesus, crying with a mighty voice said: “Father, my spirit I leave in your hands”, breathed his last.
And having watched it all take place, the Centurion [on duty] gave [his] praise to God, saying, “Truly this was a righteous man!”
And the crowd of people who had converged to watch first-hand, all went off home beating their breasts. And meanwhile, those whom he had known, the women accompanying him from Galilee, stood far off watching.
And this was when, Joseph comes into this report. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, a good and righteous man, not at all consenting with the council’s decree and what they had done. He was from Arimathea, a Jewish city, waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God. He had gone to Pilate asking for the body of Jesus and taking it down wrapped it in linen, placing it in a rock-hewn tomb in which no-one had yet been laid.
And of course it was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was immanent. And the women, those having come with him from Galilee saw the tomb, noted how the body was placed therein, and then they went home to prepare spices and oils [for the burial]. And since it was now the Sabbath, they rested.
We have wondered how Luke came by the account of Jesus’ exchange with the two criminals who were executed alongside him. Given that his disciples had forsaken Jesus and fled, we are left wondering who was there who could have provided Luke with the details he presents to us? In asking this, we note that Matthew and Mark with some slight variation give similar accounts to this.
Luke’s brevity is notable and as I have suggested, it is a significant aspect of his creative literary composition. He gives emphasis to the relatively short duration, when all is said and done, between arrest and execution. He appears to be very keen to move on to get to the “punch line”, the explosive reality, and, as it were, to get it all down for Theophilus before the Lord returns. He pauses briefly to tell us that it was a day to be remembered for the failure of the sun to shine and when dark clouds overshadowed the proceedings.
And it was then, on such a gloomy and dismal day, when, as confirmed by Matthew and Mark as well, that the curtain in the temple was torn. Luke says it was “torn down the middle”. Matthew (27:51) and Mark (15:38) say it was torn “top to bottom”. Matthew also refers to other strange miraculous events and sightings as well (27:51-54). And all three mention the Roman officer witnessing the event.
By reference to the clouds and the sun withholding its light, Luke also indicates to Theophilus something of the mood that accompanied Jesus’ execution; but he does not expand upon it as Matthew does, nor does he at this point tell us the names of the women who stood at a distance watching (see 24:10). We can say once more that his account – perhaps with the “distraction” of the exchange between the criminals and Jesus – is characterised by his emphasis upon how it was all carried out so efficiently and quickly, even if there was a degree of administrative uncertainty. In writing this account, Luke is eager to get to the main point of his entire exposition ASAP.
When he tells us of Jesus breathing his last breath, we obtain a hint of one primary source for his account – the Roman centurion is quoted and we should also keep in mind that perhaps he was indebted also to the conscripted cross-carrier, Simon of Cyrene.
Then those who had been spectators of the event returned home for the Sabbath. Except Luke now makes a distinction among the bystanders; the woman and some of his companions from Galilee stayed while the corpse was removed from its brutal frame.
And here comes another witness; Joseph is introduced into Luke’s account. The arrival at Golgotha of the Council member from Arimathea is wholly unexpected (by us). It is not only crucial for validating and giving further depth to Luke’s account of the rank injustice that had overtaken the Sanhedrin’s deliberations, but Joseph’s involvement would prove vital when the disciples would later refer to the discovery of an empty tomb, the burial place that had been made available by Joseph’s personal stewardship.
But at this point the disciples had fled. Who was thinking about a burial place? Was not Jesus’ body destined for the same mass grave that would be the resting place for the bodies of the two criminals? John the Baptist’s disciples had taken the headless corpse and laid it in a tomb (Mark 6:29). But apart from Joseph and the women, Jesus’ disciples were in no state of mind to make arrangements for the burial. The women kept an eye on events. Were they perhaps expecting Joseph?
John tells us that Joseph had teamed up with Nicodemus (John 19:39) – the supplier of oils for burial. So Luke points us to a couple of possible reliable witnesses and we recall, as he has said, that this is his attempt to put together an orderly and coherent account of what has transpired, confirming the utter reliability of what Theophilus has already been told concerning the amazing news of Israel’s Messiah and the meaning of his coming for the entire world.
By mentioning the temple’s veil being torn in two, Luke provides his readers with not a few questions. He simply states it as fact. It is as if Theophilus has already some idea of its meaning – it is also a metaphoric allusion to the fulfilment of Jewish temple rituals in the slaying of the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But the report of a coinciding event that happened on that same day, around that same time, it doesn’t seem to make much sense unless Theophilus had already been instructed in these ancient teachings. In that sense what we have said about Luke’s ongoing interest in linking his account of Jesus’ ministry with that of John the Baptist also comes into focus here. After all, John was well-known among Jesus disciples for having pointed them to Jesus “the Lamb of God who is taking away the sins of the world.”
And that then might suggest that Theophilus has some knowledge of John’s baptism (Acts 1:5; and also significantly 19:1-10). Would it not be another indication of how Luke’s two books were framed to tell how baptism in the name of Jesus, with the coming of God’s spirit, superseded the water baptism of John for repentance?
So far so good, but why does Luke’s narrative not provide us with any account of the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension? Could it then be that it is not elaborated because it was simply the time when Jesus clarified his teaching for his disciples? Was it not then that he answered their questions in the context of a reiteration of why his suffering was necessary for them. And so we have the repeated refrain in all Gospels that when he told them about his coming suffering they had no idea what he was talking about. Did he not have to provide them with the definitive explanation of the temple’s torn curtain to break through their “wilfully ignorant and lethargic hearts” (Luke 24:25)?
Luke, by his account of the haste by which Jesus’ crucifixion was carried out after his arrest and trial, seems to have taken on that characteristic into his own telling of the story. And indeed, it is, under his hasty telling, that this final chapter of what we have as “Luke’s Gospel” – his announcement of the Good News following Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. This then is all part of culmination of the story“until the day on which he was taken up from them into heaven” (Acts 1:2 see also Luke 24:51), and on the surface, it seems, we learn very little of the 40 days, apart from the account of the meeting on the road to Emmaus.
Of course, we can speculate about the exchange that took place between Jesus and his disciples as they regathered to meet him, and as he met them, in the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. On one reliably reported occasion there were up to 500 disciples, brothers and sisters, meeting him (1 Corinthians 15:6). But what are we to understand by that 40 days – let alone that crowd of 500 witnesses? What are we to understand concerning what happened during this time? It would seem that these witnesses were participating in Jesus’ glorification in ways not dissimilar to what Peter, James and John had experienced on the “mount of transfiguration”, except now, instead of refraining from talking openly about what they had seen, as Jesus had then instructed them, they were to consider themselves as those called to prepare for the time when they would spread the word to every creature under heaven!
So as we consider that – provoked by the seeming riddle of Luke’s fleeting reference to “the temple curtain torn down the middle” – we might also come to a surprising conclusion. Rather than concluding, as we might easily do, that we only have sparse written accounts of what transpired on the 40 days between resurrection and ascension, we could just as well conclude that we have 4 Gospels which are the definitive account of Jesus’ “intensive” with his disciples during that period. That was when he taught them how his ministry had prepared him and them for his suffering and resurrection as Israel’s Messiah – his death and raising in which they now shared. It was also then that his relation to John the Baptist was clarified, and it was then further elaborated by Luke’s painstaking investigation, the results of which we now have in this Gospel.
After all, the meaning of the “ripped curtain”, is also definitively explained by Jesus in his teaching about himself. Before this curtain was torn in two Zechariah had received the promise of a son from the angelic messenger (Luke 1:21-22). And now, before the close of this scroll, Luke will recount how Jesus in his resurrection power, in his own body represents the tearing of the curtain “down the middle” that the other evangelists denote as a rip that came from “top to bottom”. Jesus challenged the “wilful and lethargic ignorance” of the disciples by presenting himself to them as the one who has brought the true and living way (Hebrews 10:20).
Were not these things necessary for the Anointed to suffer in order to enter into His glory?” And then beginning with Moses and all of the prophets he explained to them all the characteristics of himself from the scriptures (Luke 24:26-27).
Luke 23: 32-43
There were others – two criminals – led away with him to be executed.
And they came to what is known as Skull Place and there they crucified him along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left.
And it was then that Jesus said:
“Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing!”
And they divided up his clothing [among themselves] and cast lots for it.
And the people were standing watching [as if they were spectators], among them the [city’s] leading men, turning up their noses at him: “He saved others. Let him [now] save himself, if he is indeed the Anointed of God, the chosen one. [Ha!]”
And the soldiers made sport of it all, making out to pay due respect, when offering him vinegar saying: “Well if you are King of the Jews [as the sign says, now is the time to] save yourself.”
For there was a public notice explaining: “This is the King of the Jews.”
And [with all this going on] one of the criminals [joined in and] abused him: “Are you not the Anointed? Save yourself and us!”
But the other countered this, rebuking him: “Have you no fear of God since you are now under the same sentence as he is. And we indeed now receive our just deserts for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, will you remember me when you come to inherit your Kingdom?”
And he said to him: “Truly I am telling you, today [this very day] you will be with me in paradise.”
Trust in the system of criminal justice under Roman dominance may have been busy undermining itself, as we have noted, with the kind of wheeling and dealing that had Jesus traded with the insurrectionist zealot, Barabbas. But in that hour of satirical brutality, there was one person there, one person who was able to take a stand, and he too was one of the criminal class. And Jesus’ own disciples had either fled or stood afar off.
Jesus not only suffered abuse from his sworn enemies. Luke presents us with those standing by, watching proceedings as if this barbaric cruelty was simply being depicted in street theatre terms. And so, for such a spectacle, the city’s elite offer, as if by perverted instinct, their cat-calls.
Luke catches this mood by depicting such abuse in sharp contrast with the intercession of the one criminally convicted.
Father, forgive them. They simply have no idea of what they are doing!
That is not only putting it kindly, it remains the evidence that God’s Anointed did not turn away from those bent on destruction of himself and themselves but turned to them in love. The gallery of spectators, at least those who came close to get a clear picture of the agony, obviously could not face the gruesome reality. Not really. They needed to turn it into something else. The soldiers turned it into a dice game, playing among themselves for the royal robe. Jesus had been given this robe thanks to Herod’s condescending satirical brutality and this, as we have said, set the scene; for Herod and Pilate it was now as much entertainment, a distraction, and as their entertainment it was their invitation to others standing by to endure its bloody cruelty as a joke.
And so, Luke tells us, the Jerusalem elite played their obsequious part, making stupid, abusive cat-calls and their cruel conduct was confirmed by Pilate’s own prop, a multi-lingual bill-board (his equivalent for his time of a Face Book page).
Here hangs the King of the Jews!
And then, as if this is not over-the-top already, one of the criminals – no doubt in horrendous pain as his life began to ebb away – gets caught up in the blood-lust, the pagan mood and joins in.
Will there be no-one to come to Jesus’ aid in all this cruelty, in this resounding chorus of satirical abuse? Does Jesus have to suffer this thoroughly demeaning invective as a value-added part of his punishment?
And here, in the full agony of this sorry tale – a tale we now read as a story which should evoke our tears – were people just like ourselves, people who could be so cruel and unremitting in their venom even there, in the context of an execution that made an abattoirs look squeaky clean.
Here, in the midst of this miscarriage of justice, this gross administrative and government sin, is the thoroughly undignified, foul and obscene attempt to turn it into a mere theatrical event so that those who have responsibility for carrying it out can cope. Forget the needs of the three who have to be despatched from this life. They have to be done and dusted, but those involved in carrying out the execution have to get on with the rest of their lives. Treating it as a game, as theatre, was claimed to be simply part of the gruesome reality they had to deal with.
And yet, here is this other criminal, who demonstrated that this was a view that spits in the face of God himself. For him, it simply was not right. Faced with his companion’s blast of life-concluding anger, pouring out his venom onto the innocent hanging helplessly alongside him, he has had enough of this sport. He turned to his friend and rebuked him, reminding him that this was no theatre of the kind that his words suggest. He tells his fellow that this grievous moment is being played out before the Almighty’s Throne. He might as well have been singing Psalm 91:
He who dwells within the shelter
Of the Most High finds his place,
He who lives beneath the shadow
Of the Almighty’s word of grace,
Says straight up: “You are my lookout,
Refuge sure that’s built to last!
Your love is the source of power,
My life long you’ll have my trust!”
With his last gasps he makes this appeal to his still unrepentant colleague:
Have you no fear of God at all?
Yes, this is a rebuke of unrighteousness arising from the agony of crucifixion. Luke details this courage effort to distance himself from those who are wanting to pretend it is all a matter of cat-calls and abuse. In the presence of the One who has been satirically proclaimed as king, this dying criminal refuses to be part of a game that reviles Israel’s hope of a coming Messiah. We do not know anything else about this man. The two of them were executed together for their crimes. It may be a fair question to ask whether the two of them had been convicted along with Barabbas for insurrection. Luke does not tell us. Yes, Jesus is interchange for the one who has been granted the Passover release.
We do not know whether these two were Barabbas’s accomplices but with Jesus hanging there too we are left to wonder. Luke hasn’t deemed it necessary to say so. What he does tell us is that this man, dying with Jesus, turned to him and asked him for his merciful attention.
Remember me, Jesus, when you come to inherit what is rightfully yours in God’s Kingdom!
And Jesus’ response – can it ever be penned without tears, stated in words without a lump rising in the throat? – is to tell him, a criminal who will die a criminal’s death, that having given his allegiance to God’s servant in this way, means he will inherit a share with him in his Father’s vineyard:
Truly, I am telling you, today, this very day, you will be with me in Paradise!
- How did Pilate and Herod respond to the challenge of having to pass judgement on a Galilean Rabbi who had been betrayed into the hands of those who had long conspired against him?
- How did the soldiers, provoked by the lamentation of the women and the song with which Jesus joined in their paean of woe, conscript an extra for the drama in which they were required to play their part?
- Why should they have played dice while these dying men breathed their last? Why grab the opportunity to score a royal robe?
- Why should the city’s elite have felt constrained to be there, let alone resort to satirical cat-calls? Why should the soldiers, whose job it was to oversee this barbaric punishment until the victim had died, mimic such cruel abuse?
- And then Pilate whose sense of justice failed him, also grabbed the opportunity to advertise his strong arm, using Jesus’ cross as a bill-board announcing his intolerance of this all too Messianic Jewish hope. Was it not a pantomime anyway? Did he not seek to advertise his judgement on this case so all could read his billboard, whatever their language?
And then one of the criminals chimed in, only to be countered by his associate:
Have you no fear of God?
This indeed was no play. This was not theatre.
If this is to be seen by you, with your foul dying breath, as theatre, look again, look again at what we have here. Here is a righteous man alongside of us! Does he not remind you of your need to plead to God for mercy?
But that was not all. He turned to Jesus and Jesus replied with kindness and with compassion.
Truly, I am telling you, today, this very day, you will be with me in Paradise!
His turning to Jesus had been confirmed by Jesus’ own assurance; Jesus speaking to him minutes before both of them breathed their last. Luke’s informant here seems to be via the Centurion who was on duty and who listened in wonder to this exchange.