One of my favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 12:2. It describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” I’ve said before that there’s a fine line between Christianity and masochism, and it’s not difficult to fall into spiritual self-flagellation (or physical, if you’re a 13th-century monk). At times, to varying degrees, I’ve succumbed to the temptation to embrace and pursue suffering for its own sake.
My childhood saw a lot of messages emphasizing the brutality of the crucifixion. Some of these details one probably shouldn’t share with, say, kindergartners, but I’m guessing that by as early as age ten, I had a pretty good idea from sermons and event speakers what Rome’s best-known method of execution entailed. I remember one message from a Saturday event while I was in junior high that particularly impressed upon me the physical suffering and torture that Jesus was willing to endure for my salvation. Beatings, floggings, nails, slow asphyxiation: I heard it all. And I came out of high school with a strong conviction that understanding what Jesus physically suffered was crucial to appreciating the gospel.
The events of the Last Supper do not reflect especially well on Judas or Peter. In their own way, both men stab the Savior in the back. Peter denies three times that he even knows the man that he left his nets to follow, the man he called “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). And Judas…betrayed him for a hot buck and led an armed crowd to accost him in the dead of night. Yes, sin is sin, but I think pretending not to know a person constitutes a lesser offense than giving them over to their enemies and making oneself complicit in their death. Perhaps this is why Luke opts not to mention Judas for the rest of his gospel, though he later spells out Judas’ earthly fate in the first chapter of Acts. But I speculate. Let’s look at Peter and Judas here.
Sometimes, even though you’ve read a passage before, you open it up again and find that you’re reading it as if for the first time. It must have been early 2001 when I had that experience with Matthew 24, the analog of today’s chapter in Luke, and Matthew 25, which comprises several parables about the last days. I seem to recall that I was in Georgia visiting relatives over spring break, and I was sitting in the back of the family Toyota Sienna reading the passage. But wherever I was, I had recently learned from some book of N.T. Wright’s about the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD, and I remember trying to sort out the passage, asking which of Jesus’ prophecies had already been fulfilled and which ones genuinely pertained to the Second Coming.
Luke 20 is basically a religious judo match between Jesus and the Jewish religious elites. They exchange quandaries, parables, and counter-arguments; the scribes and chief priests even enlist double-agent disciples to try to catch Jesus in some error and find a pretext for getting him in trouble with the Roman authorities. Each time he prevails, however, and at the end of the chapter he presents a puzzle of his own about the nature of the Messiah. I was particularly struck by his debate with the Sadducees over the resurrection, so let’s turn our attention there.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree and he said,
Zacchaeus, you come down,
For I’m going to your house today!
For I’m going to your house today!
So goes the Sunday school song. But if the song were all you knew of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus, you’d be missing all but the barest bones of the story.
Like the chapter before it, Luke 18 has a lot of stuff happening. There are parables about unjust judges and self-assured Pharisees, there are children and rich men coming to Jesus, there are teachings about sacrifice and predictions of crucifixion, and there’s a blind man who gets his sight back. A single post would only afford me space for a cursory glance at each portion of the text if I attempted to cover it all, so we’re going to zero in on our friend the rich young ruler.