The Crucifixion Periscope
The crucifixion periscope is one of the most read and studied stories of the gospels, second only to the story of the resurrection. Luke’s presentation of the darkest day in Christianity is appropriately not as poetic and literary elegant as some of his other writings, yet dramatic. He stresses some common Lukan themes of forgiveness, prayer and universalism.
The setting is a place they call The Skull, outside of Jerusalem. It was a place of death. Many criminals had been crucified at Golgotha and Luke emphasized that Jesus would be crucified right there with other horrendous criminals. Luke makes no time reference until Jesus’ actual death in Luke 23:44 when the sun’s light failed from noon until 3 in the afternoon. We can assume that our periscope took place earlier in the morning on the same day.
Jesus and the two criminals are the main characters in the story but a mass of people, soldiers and leaders of the church are also present. Luke is the only synoptic account to focus a lot of attention on the other crucified criminals and Jesus. I believe this is Luke’s attempt to show Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness for all humankind, even criminals. It is also interesting to note that Luke is the only one to draw attention to masses of people. Mark and Matthew mention that “those who passed by derided him” (Mark 15:29 and Matthew 27:39), but Luke really calls attention to them using a pretty dramatic writing technique: “And the people stood by, watching”. You can almost sense the disgust and shock of the writer at the passiveness of the people.
The plot is extremely straightforward and powerful almost reading like a climax of an action novel. Jesus, the hero of the writings has been betrayed and is about to be wrongly executed by his enemies. It is an ironic plot as you can read it a thousand times and each time Luke makes you think that Jesus just might show the bad guys who’s boss and save himself from the cross.
Overall, the telling theme of this passage and maybe the whole gospel of Luke is the overriding theme of forgiveness. Only Luke has included Jesus saying to his killers, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.