This coming Sunday is the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. In yesterday’s post we covered some background on the solemnity, the titular use of “king” as applied to Jesus and an exploration of Luke’s use of the phrase “the kingdom of God.” Today, we take a look at Luke’s sparse description of the crucifixion and its location.
In verses just prior to our gospel reading, Jesus addresses the women as representatives of the nation: “daughters of Jerusalem” (Is 37:22; Mic 1:8; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9). Jesus notes that they weep for the wrong thing: “weep for yourselves and for your children.” This is because Jesus’ rejection means judgment for the nation (Luke 13:34; 19:41-44; 21:20-21). The tragedy, Jesus says, is not his death but the nation’s failure to choose deliverance, life and forgiveness. And that tragedy plays out on Golgotha.
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus and two criminals are delivered to their earthly fate.
From the gospels, the location is clearly defined with reference to the city of Jerusalem: (1) the site was known by its Hebrew name, gwlgwlt˒, transliterated into Greek as golgotha, which was translated Kraniou Topon (“Place of the Skull”) and Calvariae locum in the Vulgate (John 19:17–18; Luke 23:33; Mark 15:22; Matt 27:33); (2) the site was outside one of the city gates, but not far from it (Heb 12:12); the Fourth Gospel stresses that many Jews read the inscription on the cross “because the place was near the city” (John 19:20); (3) at the site of Golgotha there was a garden containing a new tomb (cf. John 19:41; 20:15, which implies the existence of a garden with the mention of a gardener); (4) the owner of the new tomb was Joseph of Arimathea (Matt 27:59–60); (5) the tomb was cut into the rock and the entrance closed with a large stone in the shape of a millstone (Matt 27:59–60; Mark 16:3–5; Luke 23:53; 24:2).
Very simply Luke tells of the crucifixion of Jesus, the supreme sacrifice for the salvation of sinners. In this form of execution a person was fastened by ropes or nails to a cross (which might be shaped like our conventional cross or like a T, an X, a Y, or even an I). Jesus’ hands were nailed (John 20:25), and probably his feet also (cf. 24:39), though none of the Evangelists says so in set terms. There was a horn-like projection which the crucified straddled, which took most of the weight and stopped the flesh from tearing from the nails. The discovery of the bones of a man crucified at about the same time as Jesus raises the possibility that the legs may have been bent and twisted, then fastened to the cross by a single nail through the heels. Such a contortion of the body would have added to the agony. Crucifixion was a slow and painful death, but it is noteworthy that none of the Evangelists dwells on the torment Jesus endured.
Image credit: Christ the King, Krakow Poland, Pixabay, CC-BY-NC