If you worshipped with us on Sunday you know that our service did not include a sermon due to unexpected time constraints. During Holy Week, we will be posting a series of three reflections on Luke 23, the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion, that was intended as a Palm Sunday message. We will look at these passages through the lens of our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, particularly the final phrase: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.”
And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:26-43 (ESV)
We can talk about power in a lot of different contexts, and we can define it in a lot of ways. But here in Luke 23 we have this repeated line: “Save yourself.” As Jesus is dying, we see three strata of people–three social classes–all say the same thing: “Save yourself.” First it is the rulers. Then the soldiers. Finally, the criminal being put to death beside Jesus mocks him with this phrase: “Save yourself.”
Power in this world, through our fallen perspective, means the ability to save yourself. When the penitent thief rebukes the other man, saying that what they are receiving is the due reward of their deeds, he’s explaining why ‘saving yourself’ is such a powerful notion.
If the universe works toward some total equilibrium, giving us all what’s coming to us in the end, then the ability to resist that by your own strength would be the definition of power.
Think about what we see in the news about those in power on Wall Street or in Washington–isn’t power mostly viewed as the ability to elude the consequences of your actions, to sidestep what’s coming to you? The football player given probation for killing someone while driving drunk, while a ‘mere mortal’ would receive decades in prison for the same offense? That’s power.
And so when the ruler and the soldier and the criminal speak to him, they mock what they see as Jesus’ total powerlessness. But the penitent thief sees that Jesus is different. The other criminals are getting what they deserve–they are powerless in this world’s eyes because they couldn’t save themselves. But this guy is different. This man has done nothing wrong. He isn’t playing the same game we are. He isn’t resisting this equilibrium like we are. He’s doing something else entirely.
What is Jesus doing while the rest of the world is busy trying to save themselves?
The power we see in Jesus as he hangs on the cross is a power that isn’t trying to manage or handle what is thrown at him, that becomes tunnel-visioned into dealing with his own issues. Instead, this is power that actively seeks out those who are unnoticed. Verse 27 describes “multitudes of people and women”–the language sets them off to the side. But Jesus directly addresses them using personal, empowering language, calling them “daughters of Jerusalem.”
And then, while Jesus is suffering the excruciating pain of the cross, he tends to the needs of one who is being mocked alongside him, comforting him with the promise of paradise.
And all of that sets aside the prayer Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood: Not my will, but your will be done. It’s the truth you’ve known about the crucifixion since you were a child–that Jesus endured it not because it’s what he deserved but because it is what you deserved.
And so when it comes to how we view power, my question for you is this: What if power was no longer about the ability to save yourself? What if your time and energy wasn’t dedicated solely to dealing whatever is headed your way?
If power wasn’t about saving yourself, who would you start to notice, and who might you begin to save?