Red Letter Year: 9/17

Luke 23.13-31

13 Then Pilate called together the leading priests and other religious leaders, along with the people, 14 and he announced his verdict. “You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent. 15 Herod came to the same conclusion and sent him back to us. Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty.16 So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.”

18 Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas was in prison for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government, and for murder.) 20 Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

22 For the third time he demanded, “Why? What crime has he committed? I have found no reason to sentence him to death. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.”

23 But the mob shouted louder and louder, demanding that Jesus be crucified, and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded. 25 As they had requested, he released Barabbas, the man in prison for insurrection and murder. But he turned Jesus over to them to do as they wished.

26 As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large crowd trailed behind, including many women pounding their chests and wailing in grief. 28 But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ 30 People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ 31 For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”


Luke has Pilate declare that Jesus was innocent three times with each declaration more general: he is not guilty of what he is charged with, he is guilty of nothing deserving death, he is innocent of any crime at all. This is one main point we are supposed to take away from this reading – Jesus was completely innocent, he was not executed for anything he did wrong. He committed no crime. He committed no sin. You’ve probably heard that a lot, but it stands as one of the basic facts of the Gospel message that we always come back to and repeat. Jesus died for our sins, not for his own.

As we have seen, Luke has tailored his narrative to put the people around Jesus in the best possible light. The crowds have been favorable to him throughout Luke’s Gospel, all the opposition has come from the religious leaders. Luke can’t remove the crowd entirely here because the only reason Pilate has for allowing an innocent man to be executed is pressure from the crowd. Jesus is illegally put to death by a lynch mob and there’s no real way around that. But Luke does point out that a large crowd followed Jesus. The apostles aren’t here, but many of Jesus’ followers are. Luke specifically mentions a group of women who are “pounding their chests and wailing in grief” (the NLT has “grief-striken” but I have changed it to what the Greek actually has). These are most likely (at least some of) the same women who had followed Jesus around and supported his ministry. They support him to the very end. Their mourning has an affect on Jesus and he offers yet another prophecy, even in the midst of his great suffering.

Simon of Cyrene is also here, carrying the cross. Luke’s wording echoes what we read in 9.23 about taking up our crosses and following Jesus. Together, Simon and the women give us one more picture of discipleship in Luke’s Gospel. Will we follow the innocent Jesus all the way, even to grief? Will we share in his suffering? I hear a lot about people getting excited about feathers, and gold dust, and jewels and such. I hear a lot about naming and claiming, about having what we say/want. But I don’t hear much about this. Are we willing to name and claim the cross? Are we willing to embrace suffering and mourning as signs of the kingdom? Or are we looking for signs for the wrong kingdom?

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.