One of the dominant images of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is that of Jesus as the Spirit-filled prophet. Luke begins Jesus’ public ministry in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, opening the scroll to do the reading from the text of Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…”(Lk 4:16-30).
That prophetic fire would drive Jesus throughout his ministry and bring him to the climax of his mission in Jerusalem.
Therefore, it is not surprising that in Luke’s Gospel Jesus faces his crucifixion with the courageous fidelity and prophetic sense of justice that had characterized his ministry all during the long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.
Luke’s Gospel delights in portraying Jesus at meals: the supper in the house of Simon the Pharisee where the woman had anointed Jesus and washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, and in turn received the gift of unconditional forgiveness (7:36-50); meals with sinners that provoked the ire of his opponents (15:1-2); breaking bread with the crowds who hungered for his word (9:10-17).
This eloquent sign of Jesus’ mission–the gathering of one people, breaking one bread–dominates the opening scenes of Luke’s passion narrative. This meal would be the Passover (22:1, 7), the great liberation feast of Israel. On this very night Jesus’ enemies had set a trap for him with the help of Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples (22:1-6). But Luke makes it clear that a drama more fateful than human failure is at work here: Satan, the prince of evil, “enters into Judas” and will attempt through such human agency to strike once more at the author of life (22:3).
Once the preparations for the feast are completed, Jesus takes his place at table with the disciples. Jesus had longed to celebrate this festival with disciples; even more urgently he had longed for God’s liberation of Israel, the meaning of this feast, and every fiber of his being was dedicated to that end. The bread and the wine become signs of Jesus’ own mission: his body broken and given, for them; his blood poured out in a new covenant, for them.
But the disciples do not yet fully comprehend who Jesus is or what is at stake on this Passover eve. Jesus’ warns them of impending betrayal but this seems only to confuse them. Even more poignant, nearly comic, is a scene unique to Luke’s passion story. At this most solemn moment the disciples begin to argue about which of them is the greatest (22:24). Jesus cuts through their clumsy arrogance by reaffirming the spirit of his own ministry: “I am among you as the one who serves” (22:27). The death of Jesus itself was the final act of service, the ultimate gift of life on behalf of others. This spirit was to characterize all expressions of authority and power in the Christian community. Luke’s scene is perhaps overlooked in the Christian liturgy of Holy Week but it has an impact no less compelling than the footwashing scene of John’s passion story that we remember each Holy Thursday.
Luke’s Gospel reserves a special role for the Twelve, that core group of Jesus’ disciples. The very number was symbolic of the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel, the renewal of God’s people that was the object of Jesus’ mission. His disciples were to be the witnesses to Jesus’ teaching and healing (24:44-49); they were to gather the church and take its mission to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) So Jesus prays for Simon and for the other disciples that the power of evil would not sweep them away (22:31-32). Even though Peter will weaken, the power of grace will draw him back, and his ministry, in turn, is to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the community. As we will see, the evangelist does his best to tell the passion story in this spirit, downplaying the impact of Peter’s denial and passing over in silence the flight of the other disciples. For Luke the sure reconciliation that the Risen Christ brings to the community dissolves memories of its infidelities.
The Passover feast concludes with a strong warning from Jesus about the crisis that is about to break upon this fragile community of disciples. They should “arm” themselves and be ready; Luke’s Gospel does not underestimate, much less ignore, the aggressive power of evil that lifts its fist against the spirit of the gospel (22:35-38).
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour–when darkness reigns.” Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him.
The sense of crisis and danger that Luke injects into the passion story is apparent here in the haunting scenes of Jesus’ anguished prayer, his nighttime arrest and interrogation.
After the Passover feast, Jesus and his disciples go “to the Mount of Olives” (22:39). Luke situates this dramatic prayer of Jesus on that mountain where Judaism expected the end of the world to take place. And Luke alone describes Jesus’ prayer as an “agony,” one that causes him to perspire so that his sweat becomes as drops of blood. Greek literature used the term agonia to describe the extreme exertion of an athlete in training. So intense and anguished is Jesus’ prayer as he prepares to encounter death that an “angel from heaven” comes to Jesus to strengthen him.
Jesus asks his disciples to join him in prayer that they, too, “would not undergo the test” (22:40). The “test” here means that final struggle between good and evil that Judaism expected at the end of the world, a “test” experienced whenever a person of faith encounters the aggressive power of death and evil in the world. Jesus’ own prayer has that same fierce intensity: he is dedicated to doing his Father’s will but he also prays for deliverance from the power of death. The very act of prayer, of pouring out one’s anguish and fear before God, brings strength. So Jesus stands up and goes to find his disciples sleeping–“from grief” the evangelist notes, softening the impact of yet another sign of their weakness. Once again Jesus warns them of the approaching “test”; the community may not be ready for the fierce power of death but Jesus, the Son of God, is.
At that moment Judas brings a crowd to arrest Jesus. In Luke’s account, his treacherous kiss never reaches Jesus because the Servant-Master already knows its purpose: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (22:48). The disciples, dazed by this onslaught and still not comprehending Jesus’ teaching, reach for their weapons: “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?” (22:48). It is a question that Christians have often asked when confronted with evil. Without waiting for a reply, one disciple (unlike John, Luke does not identify him as Peter) slashes off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Characteristic of this gospel, Jesus’ response to the issue of violent reprisal is to reach out and heal the wounded man. The Jesus who taught his disciples to “love your enemy” and not to return evil for evil (6:27-36) lives by his own words.
“This is your hour,” Jesus tells the armed crowd, “the time for the power of darkness.” (22:53). But the reader knows that beyond this nighttime, the resurrection day will come.
The scene shifts. Those arresting Jesus bring him to the house of the high priest (22:54-65). Here he will be interrogated and beaten throughout the night (22:63-65). These scenes of a furtive and violent arrest, of nighttime torture and interrogation have been repeated over and over in the history of Christian martyrdom, including our day.
Peter had followed his Master to the courtyard of the High Priest’s house and mingled with the crowd around a fire built to cheat the cold night air (22:54-62). But Peter’s attempt to merge with the crowd fails; a maid recognizes him in the light of the fire: “This man too was with him.” Fear rising in his throat, Peter vigorously denies that he even knows Jesus. But a little later the danger comes again as another person recognizes him, then “an hour later,” another who catches Peter’s Galilean accent. Each time Peter–the leader of the twelve–denies that he ever heard of Jesus.
The first readers of this gospel, for whom Peter was still a fresh memory and the ancestor of their faith, must have found this scene painful. Luke adds a touch of exquisite drama and deep compassion. Unlike the other passion stories, the evangelist has staged this scene so that Peter and Jesus are within sight of each other: the warming fire and the knot of soldiers torturing Jesus are in the same courtyard. As the cock crows–the very signal that Jesus had foretold to Peter (22:34)–Jesus turns and looks at his disciple. That gaze penetrates Peter’s heart; he remembers Jesus’ words, words warning of failure but also promising forgiveness, and leaves the courtyard weeping in remorse.
At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together,and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Christ, ” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.” Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends–before this they had been enemies. Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
The long nighttime ends with an early morning session before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews in Jerusalem. Although the gospel accounts give this event the semblance of a “trial” it was probably an informal hearing as the leaders prepared their case against Jesus for presentation before the Roman governor. Luke brings us quickly to the heart of the issue: the reader of this gospel knows from the opening scenes of the infancy narrative that Jesus is the “Messiah” and the “Son of God”. But the opponents are closed to this truth.
The leaders bring Jesus to Pilate and begin to charge him with serious crimes. Luke alone emphasizes the political nature of the charges against Jesus: “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah a king” (23:2). Later they repeat the charges: “He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here” (23:5).
Luke’s account is filled with irony. It is ironic that the leaders whose responsibility was to defend the freedom and faith of Israel would become concerned with the rights of Caesar. But the reader of the gospel is aware of another level of irony: in fact, Jesus’ powerful ministry of justice was a profound threat to the oppressive might of Caesar. And indeed his mission had intended to “stir up the people” as the Lukan Jesus has journeyed majestically from Galilee to Jerusalem. But the revolution Jesus incited was not the predictable clash of alternate political systems, but a call for fundamental conversion and a vision of a renewed human family built on justice and compassion–a vision capable of shaking the foundation of every oppressive political system.
Further irony is found in the fact that the secular authorities, Pilate and then Herod, find Jesus innocent while the religious leaders tenaciously seek to destroy him. Luke has the Roman Governor and the vassal king of Galilee repeatedly affirm this. “I find this man not guilty”, Pilate declares (23:4). And in a curious scene unique to Luke (23:6-16), even when Jesus is mocked as a bogus prophet by Herod Antipas, the corrupt king and murderer of prophets (9:7-9; 13:31-33) could find no guilt in Jesus.
So once again Pilate refuses to condemn Jesus; the charges of sedition are emphatically denied: “I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him…so no capital crime has been committed by him.” (23:14; see also 23:22).
Some biblical scholars think that in so doing Luke wanted to assure his Roman readers that Jesus was not a political revolutionary and that the Christians could live in peace in the empire. Perhaps so, but Luke also presents Pilate (and even more so Herod) as weak and ultimately corrupt because they finally accede to the demands of the leaders that Jesus be crucified. Rather than attempting to soothe the anxieties of Roman officials, it is more likely that Luke wanted to show that Jesus died unjustly yet without swerving from his fidelity to God’s will. This had been the fate of the persecuted prophets of Israel and it would be the fate of courageous followers of Jesus down to our own day. Jesus was the first Christian martyr, following the pattern of many of his Jewish ancestors who had suffered for their fidelity to God.
As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
The devotion of the way of the cross finds its roots in Luke’s passion story. He alone gives details about events along that final stretch of Jesus’ journey from Galilee. The Messiah who has “set his face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) would now come to the summit of his journey to God.
As the execution detail leads Jesus from the Governor’s palace to the rock quarry outside the gates of the city where public executions took place, they impound Simon of Cyrene, a passerby, to carry the cross of Jesus. Luke’s wording makes it clear that he sees in the figure of Simon an image of discipleship: Simon takes up the cross of Jesus and carries it “behind Jesus”. The phrase is identical to Jesus’ own teaching on discipleship: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27). Those who would live the way of Jesus must be willing to pour out their life on behalf of others.
The sense of urgent crisis reasserts itself in Luke’s story. The Jerusalem crowds are not all hostile to Jesus. Even though some joined in condemning him there are others who lament this tragedy (23:27). As the prophets had before him, Jesus warns the people of Jerusalem that sin has its consequences. Tears were not needed for Jesus but for the havoc that evil would bring upon the people of the Holy City. Luke’s Gospel has ambivalent feelings about Jerusalem. From one point of view, it was the city of God, the locus of the temple where Jesus began his life and where the early community would gather in prayer after the resurrection. “From Jerusalem” the gospel would stream out into the world. But Jerusalem was also the murderer of the prophets and the symbol of rejection. Luke and the early church interpreted the terrible suffering that befell Jerusalem during the revolt against Rome in A.D.70 as a sign of sin’s ultimate effect.
Luke adds one final, poignant detail to his description of Jesus’ journey to the cross; with him march two criminals. The Jesus who had been described by his opponents as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Lk 7:34) would not only live with such friends but die with them.
When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals– one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Luke fills the crucifixion scene with details typical of his portrayal of Jesus. He is crucified with the two criminals surrounding him, fulfilling Jesus’ own prediction at the supper table: “For I tell you that the scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, ‘He was counted among the wicked”‘ (23:37). Just as Jesus had repeatedly taught his disciples not to respond to violence with more violence and to be forgiving (6:27-36), so he forgives the very men who had condemned him and who drive the stakes into his body (23:34).
When one of the crucified criminals joins in the chorus of derision that accompanies Jesus to his death, the other confesses his sin and asks for mercy (23:39-43). It is Luke’s prescription for authentic conversion as exemplified in the story of publican and the sinner (18:9-14) and so Jesus promises this man not only forgiveness but a place at his side that very day as his journey to God triumphantly reaches its home in paradise. The moment of Jesus’ death is charged with drama. As a sign of the terrible power of death, the sun’s light is eclipsed and darkness grips “the whole land” (23:44). The Temple veil covering the entrance to the Holy of Holies is torn in two–as if to say that even God’s presence leaves the people. This is, indeed, the “hour of darkness”.
From the midst of these terrible omens comes Jesus’ piercing voice, his life breath poured out in a final prayer: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (23:46). The words are from Psalm 31 (verse 6) and express the core of Jesus’ being–his unshakable trust in God, a trust that death itself could not destroy.
His death has an immediate impact. The Roman centurion who had overseen his execution is struck to the heart by the manner of Jesus’ death, the first of an endless stream of believers touched by the cross of Christ. “This man was truly just”, he acclaims. The wording of his confession fits perfectly with Luke’s portrayal of Jesus in the passion. Jesus the martyr prophet was indeed a “just” man: totally committed to God’s cause; willing to face death for the sake of the gospel.
Luke also uniquely describes the impact of Jesus’ death on the bystanders. The people who had walked the way of the cross with Jesus (23:27) and now witness his death return “beating their breasts”–a sign of repentance (23:48). And standing at a distance are those “who knew” Jesus (Luke’s subtle way of inching the frightened and scattered disciples back into the story?) and the faithful women “who had followed him from Galilee” (23:49). The gathering of the community which would burst into life after the resurrection already begins, at the very moment of Jesus’ life-giving death.
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
The passion narrative ends on a muted note. The power of Jesus reaches beyond death as Joseph of Arimethea, whom Luke describes with his favorite terms as a “virtuous” and “just” man, a member of the very council who had condemned Jesus yet one who had not consented to their verdict, takes courage and comes to claim the body of Jesus for burial. In any age, claiming the body of an executed man from the authorities is a public act, exposing one’s allegiances for all to see. Joseph stands clearly with the crucified Jesus.
He wraps Jesus’ broken body in a linen burial cloth and places it in a rock tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Luke carefully sets the stage for the marvelous events of the resurrection. The Sabbath eve was approaching so there was no time to anoint the body. But the faithful women who had ministered to Jesus in Galilee (8:2-3) and stood by him at the moment of death (23:49) prepare spices and perfumed oil–ready to return and anoint the crucified body of Jesus as soon as the Sabbath rest was completed.
One cannot miss the touching poignancy of these details: the courageous devotion of Joseph, the faithful women who abide by the Sabbath law yet with their hearts in that tomb with the one they loved and had lost. The reader knows, however, that death will not have the last word. The “just one” would break the bonds of death and the tomb would be robbed of its treasure. The Spirit that had fallen on Jesus at the moment of his Baptism would once again pulsate within his living being as the Risen Christ would rise triumphant from death and charge his disciples to bring God’s word and the witness of their lives to all nations.