The Italian producer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini made a famous film called the Gospel of St Matthew. It is shot in black and white and the locations take place in lonely desolate place and blasted landscapes . The film is inhabited not by beautiful stars but by common people who were not themselves actors, even Mary is played by Pasolini's own mother. He captures mirth, intensity, controversy, the wonder of miracles and the telling of the story of Jesus’ life as few others have managed to do.
Today we hear of Luke’s version of the Passion of Christ. Like Pasolini and, like any director or producer worth his salt, he assembles his cast. He arranges his setting. He decides to tell the story in the best way that he can.
Here are some things he chooses to miss out: he misses out the trial before Caiaphas. He doesn’t tell us of Christ’s anguish and his cry from the cross. Here are some of things he includes: he is the only one of the evangelists who tells us about his sweating with blood, the trial before Herod, the meeting of the women on the road and the words of forgiveness from the cross.
The way he chooses to cast his scenes are certainly in sadness…. but not tragedy. Jesus is the victim of injustice and is innocent. Nevertheless he is painted as totally in control of his fate, he can choose to run away, to let the cup pass, to get Pilate to let him go, but he is in control of events accepting and triumphing over them. Luke emphasises Jesus innocence: Pilate declares him innocent 3 times, the thief on the cross declares him innocent and even the centurion standing beside the cross does the same. Jesus prays for his executioners, for the penitent thief. He refuses to rebuke his tormentors.
Luke throughout his Gospel emphasises that all this takes place. Jerusalem - a special place not just a town or a city. It is there that he is brought as a baby it is there he is brought as a child and ultimately it is there that there that he will be tested. It is there he will die and rise again. It is there that he will send the Pentecost of the Sprit.
Throughout Luke’s Gospel the evangelist paints Jesus as moving to his fate, moving towards Jerusalem, as if moving towards a final scene, a climax, and moment when all the loose ends will be tied together. He seems to control events, knowing that the trial will come whereby he will lay down his life, knowing that he will be tortured, knowing that he will taken, knowing that he will die a a terrible death but knowing also he will rise again ….. that failure will turn to triumph, that good will overcome evil, that the definitive moment of human history will be realised.
Luke assemble his players, sets the scene, gives the tone in a certain way. Jesus is the main player, all others revolve around him, shuffle on stage and offstage; they speak their piece in the spotlight and fade away. And in the end there is only Jesus, only Jesus standing there. He doesn’t lose his dignity, never forgets to show compassion, never forgets what this moment is about.
Luke’s account of the passion remains in the mind. His words stay with us. The scenes that he depicts are burned in our memory. They set once again the scene for this week that we enter into.