More about alliances against Jesus

An earlier post today brought up the idea of unholy alliances that stand against Jesus, especially in the events of Holy Week. We had referenced the work of Joel Green and I thought that I would make a longer citation from his work available for those who wish to take a deeper dive into this topic.

Green (Gospel of Luke, 745-76) continues:

In fact, the Lukan account of Jesus’ passion and death is in part the story of unholy alliances made and unmade, as this barrier is repeatedly, if only temporarily, breached. Satan and the Jerusalem leadership are allied in their opposition to Jesus (22:53), and it is through diabolic influence that one of the twelve, Judas, sides with the leadership against Jesus (22:3-6, 47-48). Judas is not alone, however. In their anxiety over relative honor and status at the table (22:24), all of the disciples participate in behavior reminiscent of that of the Jewish leadership (e.g., 20:45-21:4). Peter comes dangerously close to siding with Jesus’ opponents, and he ends up denying his Lord three times (22:54-60). If Luke narrates the inconstancy of the disciples, though, he also recounts their eventual separation from those who oppose Jesus — first in the case of Peter (22:61-62), then in the case of the others (23:49). The only exception is Judas, whose place among the twelve must be filled by another (Acts 1:15-26).

The crowds (or the people) have by their support of Jesus frustrated the malicious plans of the temple leadership (22:1-6), but their support also wavers. First, “a crowd” interrupts Jesus on the Mount of Olives (22:47); in narrative time, several moments pass before Luke identifies the crowd as consisting of “the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders” (22:52), leaving us to think, however momentarily, that the crowds had not only wavered in their support of Jesus but had actually turned on him. Indeed, this is exactly what they come to do. In 23:4 the chief priests appear with “the crowds” of other Jewish authorities (22:52), then, without advance warning; and in 23:14 the chief priests, the leaders, and “the people” are said  to have brought Jesus to Pilate for judgment. This alliance of leadership and people continues through the trial of Jesus before Pilate up to Jesus’ execution, when he requests divine forgiveness for all involved in his death (23:13-34). In fact, Luke seems purposely to have left open as a possible reading of his account our identification of the people of Jerusalem, together with their leaders, as persons physically responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (see the ambiguous “they” in 23:26, 33-34).3 Again, however, Luke also narrates how the people of Jerusalem distance themselves from their leadership — first in 23:27, where a number of Jerusalem’s “daughters” mourn on Jesus’ behalf; then in 23:35, where the people adopt a notably benign posture in comparison with the scornful demeanor of their leaders; and in 23:48, where “all the crowds” respond to Jesus’ death with sorrow. (In Acts 2:22-40; 3:12-26, the people of Jerusalem, held responsible for Jesus’ death, are invited to repent and participate in the salvation available through Jesus.)

Here resides the great irony of the conflict that weaves its way through the Third Gospel and reaches its climax in the Lukan passion narrative: Those who oppose Jesus believe themselves to be serving God, yet unwittingly serve a diabolic aim. Throughout his ministry, Jesus has, from their perspective, departed from the demands of Torah and set himself over against what had become not only unquestioned but also unquestionable practices by which one demonstrates one’s obedience to Yahweh. Again from their perspective, Jesus’ attempt to claim the temple for an alternative agenda was perverse; his teaching had resulted in the delegitimation of the temple authorities and even the relativizing of the temple itself within the divine plan. The charges on which the Jewish leadership have him arraigned before Pilate essentially involve his identification as a false prophet who, on account of his popular following, poses a threat to Rome (23:1-5). Throughout his ministry, Jesus has been involved in a war of interpretation: Who understands and serves the divine aim, really? Who interprets and embodies the divine word, really? Because both Jerusalem authorities and Jesus see themselves as acting on behalf of the divine will, the actions that unfold in chs. 22-23 are indeed tragic. They are, nonetheless, the fullest manifestation of the competing aims at work in the Gospel narrative. previously seen best in the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (4: l -13).

The making and unmaking of unholy alliances are symptomatic of how, in the face of hostility, people can be tested in their commitments. This is particularly true on account of the evidence Luke provides for the presence of Satan behind and through those who oppose the redemptive aim of God. One is immediately reminded of Jesus’ eschatological discourse, just delivered (21:5-36), with its admonitions to prayer and faithful vigilance. Luke’s readers are thus encouraged to find in Jesus an exemplar of proper response in the face of trial and persecution. He is the model for disciples to follow.

Here on Golgotha, where the fullness of God’s glory is revealed, we are people among the crowd who are called to choose a side – and to live out the consequences of our choice.


Image credit: Christ the King, Krakow Poland, Pixabay, CC-BY-NC

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