This Sunday is very special; it is the Sunday of the Passion. And so, the Gospel text for this Sunday is very special … and very long [Luke 23:1-56].
There are three noticeable parts of this Passion narrative that do not appear in the other three gospel accounts. Some people might consider them to be insignificant. But I believe they serve an important purpose.
In the first part of chapter 23, we hear that Herod and Pilate became friends because of Jesus (see verse 12). Near the middle of the chapter, as Jesus is making his way to the cross, he speaks to the female mourners for a significantly long time—especially if you consider his busy schedule! Jesus predicts some hard times ahead for the people in Jerusalem, and this was fulfilled in 70 A.D (see verses 27-28). Soon after, when Jesus is on the cross, one of the criminals next to him ends up repenting for his previous actions, and he asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus responds with those beautiful words, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (verse 43).’ When looking at the other three accounts, there is no indication that these three things happened.
The writer of the Gospel according to Luke begins the account by writing that he has done his homework. People have been interviewed. But I think there is something more to this.
These three ‘additions’ are similar in that Jesus is in contact with those who would have been looked down upon in some way. Those who govern are often corrupt (as is our own human nature). And perhaps you already knew that those who are women were also looked down upon. (The ISBE, volume 4, page 1089, starts with the following summary, and then goes on in some detail: ‘Nowhere in the ancient Mediterranean or Near East were women accorded the freedom that they enjoy in modern Western society.’) And it should go without saying that a criminal is also looked down upon.
The work of Luke-Acts as a whole has a high regard for those in authority, those who are women, and, frankly, those who are criminals. People change. Situations turn around. God works miracles. Jesus saves.
I also would be remiss if I do not bring up what could be considered my favorite reason for these differences. The living creature that is most often connected with this gospel account is that of the ox. I do not think it is a coincidence that the Hebrew word for ox, ‘shor’, is similar to the Hebrew word for wall, particularly a retaining wall. A retaining wall has to have some strength. It is not there to look nice. The ox does not look like a mighty one in the same way that a lion does. The ox does not have the great looks. The ox is usually silent and concentrates on getting the job done rather than fighting the enemy. The important jobs need to get done. The ox is willing to get dirty to get those jobs done. He is also willing to go alongside other animals, all with the purpose of doing his job.
To have a God that is willing to die next to a repentant person branded as a criminal, but before that happens, to promise him Paradise. Now that is a job well done.