Sunday, November 13, 2022

'Christ the Crucified' Sunday

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary notes regarding Luke 23:33-43, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Christ the King Sunday. At the end is my little opinion on Christ the King Sunday, for better or worse. My views have morphed over time and I have published an essay on the Politics of Scripture blog that you can read here. Your comments are welcomed.

33καὶ ὅτε ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον Κρανίον, ἐκεῖ ἐσταύρωσαν 
αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς κακούργους, ὃν μὲν ἐκ δεξιῶν ὃν δὲ ἐξ ἀριστερῶν. 
And when they came to the place, which is called Skull, there they crucified him and the criminals with one on the right and one on the left.
ἦλθον: AAI 3p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  
καλούμενον: PPPart asm, καλέω, 1) to call 
ἐσταύρωσαν: AAI 3p, σταυρόω, 1) to stake, drive down stakes  2) to fortify with driven stakes, to palisade  3) to crucify  3a) to crucify one 
1. Verses 33 and 34 have “they” a lot as the implied subject of the 3rd person plural verbs. It is not easy to go back and clearly mark who the antecedent is for this “they.” In v.13, Luke identifies “the chief priests, the leaders, and the people,” as they ones who engage with Pilate and are the antecedent for v. 18, “Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’” But, v.25 does not identify to whom Pilate handed Jesus over, the “they” of v.26, “As they led him away.” But, by now the “they” cannot simply be “the chief priests, the leaders, and the people,” because v.27 says, “A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.” Besides, it doesn’t seem likely that “the chief priests, the leaders, and the people” have the role or authority to crucify or to seize a Cyrinian named Simon and force him to carry a cross. By now, although they are not named, the “they” seem to be Roman soldiers.

34[[ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔλεγεν, Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν.]] 
διαμεριζόμενοι δὲ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἔβαλον κλήρους. 
[Then Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”]  Then cutting his garment into pieces, they cast lots.
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἄφες: AAImpv 2s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away
οἴδασιν: PAI 3p, εἴδω, to perceive 
ποιοῦσιν: PAI 3p, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.  1b) to be the authors of, the cause
διαμεριζόμενοι: PMPart npm, διαμερίζω, 1) to cleave asunder, cut in pieces 
ἔβαλον: AAI 3p, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing
1. The whole reason that I began looking for antecedents for “they” in vv.33-34 is to listen for who the “them” is in Jesus’ words. It’s odd how we like to particularize the ‘they’ pronouns referring to those who crucify, but then generalize the ‘them’ of v.34 so that all of us can be part of this request for forgiveness. If I want to claim that “I” am part of the “forgive them” in v.34, then I also have to admit that “I” am part of the “they” who crucify and cast lots in v.33.
2. The reason the first part of this sentence is in double brackets is because it is not in many of the earlier manuscripts.

35καὶ εἱστήκει  λαὸς θεωρῶν. ἐξεμυκτήριζον δὲ καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες λέγοντες, 
Ἄλλους ἔσωσεν, σωσάτω ἑαυτόν, εἰ οὗτός ἐστιν  Χριστὸς τοῦ θεοῦ  
And the people had stood by, watching.  Yet also the rulers were deriding saying, “He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Christ the chosen of God.”
εἱστήκει : PluAI 3s, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set 
θεωρῶν: PAPart nms, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold  1a) to view attentively, take a view of, survey 
ἐξεμυκτήριζον: IAI 3p, ἐκμυκτηρίζω, to turn up the nose at, deride out and out.
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἔσωσεν: AAI 3s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
σωσάτω: AAImp 3s, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The arc of Luke’s story has been a testimony, beginning with the birth narratives of John the Baptizer and of Jesus, filled with promises and proclamations that John, then Jesus, are the prophet and Christ sent from God. At Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:22, a voice from heaven says, Σὺ εἶὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα, “You are my son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.” In Luke 4:3 and 4:9, the devil pushes those declarations into question, framing the 1st and 3rd temptation with the conditional, Εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, “If you are the son of God.” One way of reading Luke’s story is to follow the flow of this arc, making this a moment when the rulers are calling the declarations of Mary, Simeon, the angels, and even Godself into question by making this derisive comment conditional.
2. The use of the pluperfect, “The people had stood by” seems incredibly powerful to me. I don’t know if they had any realistic alternative at this point, but it seems to be the bed that they made themselves by demanding crucifixion.
3. “Let him save himself” is a 3rd person imperative. I wonder if there is significance that the derision is not in the 2nd person direct address. 

36  ἐνέπαιξαν δὲ αὐτῷ καὶ οἱ στρατιῶται προσερχόμενοι, ὄξος προσφέροντες αὐτῷ 
Yet also the crucifiers approaching him mocked, bringing vinegar to him
ἐνέπαιξαν: AAI 3p, ἐμπαίζω, 1) to play with, trifle with 1a) to mock  1b) to delude, deceive
προσερχόμενοι: PMPart, npm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach  2) draw near to  3) to assent to
προσφέροντες : PAPart npm, προσφέρω, 1) to bring to, lead to 
1. The agency here is now directly attributed to “the crucifiers.”
2. The main verb here is “mocked,” with ‘approaching’ and ‘bringing’ (and ‘saying’ in the next verse) as participles of how they mocked him.
3. The mention of vinegar may not mean that they were torturing Jesus by giving him “Three Buck Chuck” instead of something aged in an oak barrel. The definition of ὄξος in is “the mixture of sour wine or vinegar and water which the Roman soldiers were accustomed to drink.” If that is the case, the quality of this wine is not its inferiority but its being at hand for the crucifiers, the Roman soldiers. It seems to me that ‘why they would give him wine’ is more of an issue than that they gave him bad wine.
4. Why would they give him wine? My guess is that it is a further description of the ‘mocking’ not an act of compassion. It might be a way to sustain him and to make the crucifixion last longer, rather than to deaden his pain or slake his thirst.

37καὶ λέγοντες, Εἰ σὺ εἶ  βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, σῶσον σεαυτόν. 
and saying, “If you are the king of the Judeans, save yourself.”
λέγοντες: PAPart nmp, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain  1b) to teach  1c) to exhort, advise, to command, direct 
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
σῶσον: AAImpv 2s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
1. The word “saying” is another participle that conditions the main verb of ‘mocking’ in v.36. In approaching, bringing vinegar, and saying this, the crucifiers mocked him.
2. Now, the imperative “save yourself” is a more common 2nd person address, unlike the 3rd person imperative “let him save himself” in v.35. The crucifiers are echoing what the rulers said in v.35.
3. Again, like the words of “the devil” in c.4 and “the rulers” in v.35, who Jesus is becomes a conditional, “If you are the king of the Judeans.” But, unlike v.35 the phrase is “king of the Judeans” instead of “son of God.”
4. Richard Horsley argues that – in Mark – the word Ἰουδαίων should be translated “Judeans” instead of “Jews,” because of Mark’s polemic of Galilean piety v. Judean piety. Phonetically, Ἰουδαίων certainly sounds more like Judeans than Jews. I think “Judeans” is more appropriate here also, because the first time this phrase is used in Luke’s gospel – slightly different – is 1:5, where Herod the Great is identified as βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας, “king of Judea.” (Judea is singular in 1:5, plural in 23:37.) The exact wording of this phrase is in 23:3, when Pilate asks Jesus, Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; “Are you the king of the Judeans?” Jesus cryptically answers, Σὺ λέγεις “You say.”
5. The parallel conditional statements in vv.35 and 37 might suggest that while “the rulers” are mocking Jesus’ blasphemy as claiming to be the son of God, the crucifiers (Roman soldiers) are mocking Jesus’ sedition as claiming to be the son of Herod (or Caesar, since βασιλεὺς could be translated as “emperor” as well as “king.”)

38 ἦν δὲ καὶ ἐπιγραφὴ ἐπ' αὐτῷ,  βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων οὗτος.
Then there was a superscription above him [or, Then a superscription was above him], “This the King of the Judeans.”
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. The note from the KJV and other earlier translations that the superscription was in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin does not appear in older, more reliable manuscripts.
2. The superscription lacks a verb. 

39 Εἷς δὲ τῶν κρεμασθέντων κακούργων ἐβλασφήμει αὐτὸν λέγων, Οὐχὶ 
σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός; σῶσον σεαυτὸν καὶ ἡμᾶς. 
Yet one of the criminals who were hanging blasphemed him, saying, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us.”
κρεμασθέντων: APPart gpm, κρεμάννυμι 1) to hang up, suspend 2) to be suspended, to hang
ἐβλασφήμει: IAI 3s, βλασφημέω, 1) to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile, calumniate, blaspheme 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
σῶσον: AAImpv 2s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
1. The challenge to Jesus’ identity seems infectious. And the idea that every gets to tell Jesus what to do.

40 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ  ἕτερος ἐπιτιμῶν αὐτῷ ἔφη, Οὐδὲ φοβῇ σὺ τὸν θεόν,ὅτι ἐν 
τῷ αὐτῷ κρίματι εἶ; 
Yet the other having answered reproving him was declaring, “Are you not afearing God, that you are in the same judgment?
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nms, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
ἐπιτιμῶν: PAPart nms, ἐπιτιμάω, 1) to show honour to, to honour  2) to raise the price of  3) to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty  4) to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely  4a) to admonish or charge sharply 
ἔφη: IAI 3s, φημί, 1) to make known one's thoughts, to declare
φοβῇ: PMI 2s, φοβέω, 1) to strike with fear, scare, frighten.
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. I recognize my annoying habit of making the verb “fear” into “afeared,” but there is a reason. I’m trying to find a way to capture the middle voice, as opposed to the active voice.

41 καὶ ἡμεῖς μὲν δικαίως, ἄξια γὰρ ὧν ἐπράξαμεν ἀπολαμβάνομεν: οὗτος 
δὲ οὐδὲν ἄτοπον ἔπραξεν. 
“And we indeed rightly, for we are receiving deservingly that which we committed; but this one committed nothing out of place.” 
ἐπράξαμεν : AAI 3p, πράσσω, 1) to exercise, practice, to be busy with, carry on  1a) to undertake, to do  2) to accomplish, perform  2a) to commit, perpetrate
ἀπολαμβάνομεν: PAI 1p, ἀπολαμβάνω, 1) to receive  1a) of what is due or promised  2) to take again or back, to recover  2a) to receive by way of retribution 
ἔπραξεν: AAI 3s, πράσσω, 1) to exercise, practise, to be busy with, carry on  1a) to undertake, to do  2) to accomplish, perform  2a) to commit, perpetrate

42 καὶ ἔλεγεν, Ἰησοῦ, μνήσθητί μου ὅταν ἔλθῃς εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν σου. 
And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
μνήσθητί: APImpv 2s, μνάομαι, mindful of
ἔλθῃς: AASubj 2s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
1. This criminal asks to be remembered when he and Jesus had completed their journeys toward death, in contrast to the other criminal who wanted Jesus to save them from death.

43καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀμήν σοι λέγω, σήμερον μετ' ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ. 
And he said to him, “Amen, I say to you, today with me you will be in the paradise.” 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔσῃ: FMI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. This may or may not be an appropriate time to reflect on the view of life after death that is at work in Luke’s gospel. This comment certainly is a reflection of the idea that, upon death, the soul or the person or whatever is immediately transported to a place of paradise.

Mark’s Musing
On reflection I wonder if “Christ the King” is an appropriate title. Please don’t misunderstand, I trust Jesus Christ as my lord and savior; I just don’t think Jesus welcomed the title ‘king.’ I have read the history of the genesis of this celebration day and I know that one hope is to re-interpret the term ‘king’ in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But, I am not sure how capable we are of ridding our minds of what the symbol of “king” means. At worst, we think of tyrant kings, cruel emperors, absolute monarchies, and the like. At best, we think of constitutional monarchies where genteel royal figures are more symbolic than powerful. In every case, it reinforces a gender role onto God. I think we may be looking at a symbol that has essentially lost its meaning.

While it may be an act of piety to call Jesus ‘king’ – and might even be a prophetic intention to radically re-define kingship – I worry that it comes across as yet another attempt to establish power, to put on Jesus the desire to rule rather than to serve. I might be wrong, but I have never been comfortable with this title for Jesus or for the Sunday before Advent.

On the other hand, I think symbols change over time and perhaps this occasion marks a time of addressing the issues of power and liberation. That is the theme of an essay I have written for the Politics of Scripture blog. 


  1. "Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" ..... ? Could it be the church who needs to be forgiven for making Jesus a "King" rather then a lover of the people.

  2. It may well be just that, Coach. I'm sure there are folks within the church (throughout the ages) who have tried to do this well, by letting the servant love of Christ re-define kingship. But, sadly, I think the power of kings has often been the final result, pushing servant love aside.

  3. Mark, I hear your critique about Jesus' "kingship," and I appreciate its complexity. But I think that is precisely why we should keep the term, and the day, as part of who we are as Christians. The temptations of Jesus earlier in the gospel mean nothing if he is not the "King" of the Judeans. Every sermon this week must reinterpret the word King, to not do that is to let Elvis win. Our culture knows nothing about kings other than what Hollywood has given us, and a crucified God thrusts that knowledge into cold relief. Almost every sermon I've ever preached has been on Christ as the king...and I am sad the word suffers so much...but then, so did the Word. As always, thank you.

  4. "I guess if we want to claim that “I” am part of the “forgive them” in v.34, then “I” also have to admit to being part of the “they” who crucify and cast lots."
    Wonderful comment. Thanks.

  5. "I guess if we want to claim that “I” am part of the “forgive them” in v.34, then “I” also have to admit to being part of the “they” who crucify and cast lots."
    Wonderful comment. Thanks.

  6. Hi Scott,
    Yes, I'm thinking that we are both aware of both the improbability of hearing this word aright and the inescapability of having to use it anyway. I keep thinking of Niebuhr's phrase of the "impossible possibility" when thinking about power in all of its manifestations.
    Good to hear from you.

  7. I think we need to add the context that Israel was last among its neighbors to have an earthly King. They wanted a King, but although God consented, God rejected the idea because the people had run to other gods and done what was evil in God's sight.

    1. That is important context, Nonezoner. Thanks for bringing it up. Allowing a king reads like a concession on God's part to Israel.

  8. Mark, as we are all baptized into priests, prophets and kings, it seems to me that the fullness of being priest, prophets and king comes from the death of baptism which is most perfectly mirrored in the death of Jesus. Furthermore, it seems that a good and right king's first priority is the good of the realm. Jesus' death on the cross was the best that God could do for the good of his realm. It took the cross to conquer the foe of sin and death for the good of the "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people of his own." Therefore, Christ is the perfect king.

    1. Pierre, it's good to hear from you. I think you've stated well one way that we can think profitably about Christ the King. My concerns have less to do with the doctrinal rectitude of the title and are grounded more in the issue that Tillich raised about symbols and symbolic language. He cannot not use symbolic language, but symbols can lose their meaning from one context to another, from one time to another. Particularly in the US context, the symbol of 'king' seem archaic - legendary at best and negative at worst. I wonder if, in this context, the symbol of 'king' has the power that it intends to have.
      I don't have a decided conclusion, but the question seems important on a Sunday that we call Christ the King Sunday.

    2. Mark, I applaud your desire to exist in the question ... something that Jesus did quite well also. Also, my formation was less democratic and US focused, so I often think in different terms. That is why your posts are important to me. You offer a perspective that I need for my mission. Thank you

  9. I felt the power of that insight too - thank you. And for all your work and reflections Mark. I don't often go to The Text this Week, but when I do, I always go to your thoughts first (and often don't look much further because you have triggered a thought I can then run with.
    Every blessing

  10. to protect the widow,orphan and sojourner was the prerogative of the ancient near Eastern king,and the Levitical and Deuteronomic king -- however hypothetical in application. Jesus is indeed re-defining kingship, then and now, with an older, more God-centered model. Imagine a morality of power! That's a stretch for our sin-stained, glib, ironic state.
    While irony abounds in this passage, Jesus is not indulging.

  11. We're calling today Christ the Servant Sunday. The Servant is the title all the Gospels and Acts and Paul give Jesus. It is not said with irony nor does it require disambiguation. NT Wright argues the cross is the way Jesus restores the kingship of God. Perhaps. I've come to see how Jesus intends to use the cross as a tool of nonviolent overcoming of injustice and the sin it generates. He renders Caesar powerless through disarming the cross. He dies this in service to us and as the Servant of God. Jesus avoids political titles altogether.

  12. Terrific, Mark, as usual...
    I prefer to refer to today as "Anakephalaiosis Sunday." And I think a better Gospel selection, had the lectionary compilers been edgier, would have been the exchange between Jesus and Pilate at his trial -- "Are you a king?"

  13. This may be a bit out of line with translation protocols, but the root of βασιλεὺς is βασ or foot (base/basis). King comes from Euro/Germanic history that deals with noble birth or leadership. The 'Foundation' would be an interesting way to re-interpret the concept - are you the Foundation of Israel or is Caesar? (Which became Kaiser and Czar in Europe and Russia)

    1. That's a fascinating bit of etymology there, Bill. Thanks for that. Hmm....


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