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ACTA COMMENTARY
OUR SUNDAY LECTIONARY

PASSION SUNDAY [PALM SUNDAY]
YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK

Download>>> Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday)

 

On this occasion, rather than attempt to make our way through all the readings laid down for Passion Sunday, I will make brief comments on the readings other than the Passion Narrative assigned to this day.

The Procession

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 11:1-10

This episode is often, as in the English Standard Version, entitled The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Bible offers The Messiah enters Jerusalem. I wish to emphasise most strongly that there is no solemn procession into Jerusalem. There is a demonstration on the Mount of Olives. But what Mark records is this:

And he entered into Jerusalem, into the Temple, and having looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 11:11

It is really important, as we shall see, to grasp the fact that Jesus enters the city alone, that he goes straight to the Temple, that he looks around at everything, and he rejoins the disciples and heads for the village of Bethany.

Let me give you two examples. Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, and James and John to follow him. And they do. But the very next sentence reads,

And they went into Capernaum,
and immediately on the Sabbath,
entering the synagogue,
he was teaching.

Didn’t the brothers go into the synagogue? Very possibly. But Mark does not say so. He has Jesus confronting the unclean spirit alone.

Chapter 5 opens with all those in the boat with Jesus (and other boatloads who were with them - read 4:35-41) arriving on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee and landing in the territory of the Gerasenes. This is what happens next:

And he, stepping out of the boat,
immediately was met by a man
out of the tombs
with an unclean spirit.

Where has everybody gone? Again Jesus alone confronts the demon world - this time a legion (!) of demons on pagan territory.

As you read the Gospels, watch out for when Jesus acts alone, when he acts surrounded by crowds, when only the Twelve are present, when in a house, or on or by the sea. Location, location, location.

A reading from the prophet Isaiah 50:4-7

Just a tiny detail from this reading. The Jerusalem Bible translation opens as follows:

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.

The ESV and the RSV offer,

The Lord God
has given me
the tongue of those who are [being] taught.

I want to point out that “those who are [being] taught” are learners, those who are apprenticed to instruction. We often think that the word “disciple” means “a dedicated follower”, “a devotee”. But it doesn’t. Peter and Andrew, and the rest of them, are learners, pupils, students. It is vital to grasp this if we are to understand how Mark presents these men Jesus calls to be in his close circle. The Isaiah text is a help here.

 

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians 2:6-11

This is a hymn which St Paul picked up from among what appears to be a very early and very profound musical initiative by our very earliest mothers and fathers in faith. Think of the hymns in Luke’s Gospel: the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Nunc Dimittis, the Gloria in excelsis Deo (a wonderful Cappadocian hymn from the mountain Christians who lived (and live) where the Tigris and the Euphrates rise.

The hymn borrowed by St Paul not only captures the obedience of Jesus who submits his whole being to his Father but, as the great apostle insists, is the pattern to which every Christian life must conform. The hymn not only tells the story of the One who is obedient unto death and highly exalted by God, it tells the tale of everyone who is brought by that Son to the throne of God’s love and mercy.

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark
14:1 - 15:47

There are sixteen chapters in St Mark’s Gospel, making up a tiny pamphlet that may be read in an hour. Of these sixteen chapters, only two are devoted to the immediate events leading up to and including the death of Jesus. These two chapters (chs 14 and 15) are packed with incident, forming what appears to be a tragic climax to the whole story. It is true to say, as a famous German scholar remarked, that the Gospels present themselves as “passion narratives with extended introductions”. This is especially true of the first Gospel to be written, Mark’s little text. All of Mark’s Gospel is concerned with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The shadow of the Cross falls darkly over the first page as much as the last. The promise of resurrection is there from the first page, for can a Son be lost if God’s angels “are ministering to him”? If God is looking after you (and God always is), then the outcome of your life is safe in God’s hands.

Though this Gospel can be read in an hour, it takes a lifetime of prayer and meditation to plumb its depths. What I wish to do here is to select some of the rich seams that run through Mark. But before embarking on Mark’s account of the death of Jesus, it is necessary to understand what the Gospel Passion Narratives are about.

First, they are not historical records of precisely what happened in the last days of the life of Jesus. Nor do they provide a straightforward account of what happened on the first Easter Sunday. Far from it.

The accounts we have are intended to present what happened on those days in such a way as to emphasise God’s hand in what is told. Events are edited, speeches are invented, sides are taken, enlightening comments are made. That is to say, the writers who tell of the last days of Jesus are proclaiming that God’s hands are at work here, that the enemies of Jesus are God’s enemies, that no matter how powerful they may be, it is God’s story, not theirs, that will prevail, and will speak forever to our hearts. The Christians who first listened to Mark’s Gospel knew the facts. Mark presents the meaning in order to strengthen the faith of those who hear his words. Mark is much more a dramatist than an historian. I shall point out his skill in this regard as we go along. What I ask is that you read or listen to Mark’s great story more with your heart than with your head. And in order to listen with your hearts it is necessary to attend to the first scenes of Mark’s drama in order to be moved to pray what you see in the last.

Secondly, in order to understand the account of the death of Jesus and what followed that death in Mark’s presentation of what was said and done at the Place of the Skull, we have to watch everyone we meet in the story from the very first page. We need to be aware that everything that happens, everything that is said, leads to the Cross and beyond to the empty tomb. I suggest that we attend especially to the inner circle of men and women who accompany Jesus. But as you walk the way to Golgotha do not ignore the crowds, do not ignore all who are fed, all who not ignore those who are healed, nor, indeed, those who bitterly oppose what is done and what is said.

 

John the Baptist

The first chapter of Mark is much concerned with the appearance of John in the wilderness “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4). He had been sent to “prepare the way of the LORD” and this he did by his campaign urging repentance and baptising with water as beating breasts signalled confession made and mercy given. Jesus came to John and was baptised by him. Then the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, there to be tested (not tempted - God does not tempt people). When Jesus emerged from the desert, he began “proclaiming the gospel of God” (1:14). Mark announces this fact with another fact. This is the Jerusalem Bible (JB) account in our Lectionary:

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said’ and the kingdom of God is close at hand’.
1:14

The phrase I take issue with is: After John was arrested … . This is how I think it should be translated (and I am not alone in this):

And after John had been handed over, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is near … 1:14

You will agree that being “arrested” is not the same as “being handed over”. The police arrest you. Yours friends or your enemies are the ones who “hand you over” into the power of the authorities. John was not arrested. Mark makes it clear in the verb he uses that John was handed over. Herod sent his men to seize John. But they had to know where to go (see 6:14-29 for an account of the execution of John the Baptist). The Greek verb “to hand over” (which can be accurately translated as “to deliver up”, “to betray”, “to give over into the power of another”) occurs 20 times in Mark’s Gospel. With the exception of 4:29 and 7:13, every other occurrence, all eighteen of them, refer to Jesus and his followers being handed over into the power of their enemies. Judas is always identified as “the one who handed him over”. The verb occurs 10 times in the Passion Story (chs. 14 and 15). And in the end, it is Pilate who “hands him over to be crucified” (15:15). The shadow of betrayal and death in Mark’s story falls on the first page.

The Men

As you read Mark, keep your eye out for the “handing-over” word. Keep your eye out, too, for the women. To appreciate the importance of the women in Mark you have first to look at the men by way of contrast.

Jesus calls Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John, and eight more, named in 3:13-19, to be future apostles. The last named in the list, and so in Greek practice the one in the most prominent place, is Judas Iscariot, “the one who handed him over”. The rest are not much better. All of them fail, again and again, to understand what Jesus is about, so much so that on one occasion, Jesus complains, “Have you still no faith?” (4:41). And again, in 8:21: “Do you still not understand?” Peter is so off beam that Jesus calls him “Satan” (8:33). James and John want to sit on his right hand and his left hand in the glory days (10:35-37). In the end, “they all left him and fled” (14:50). Simon Peter - the Rock! - denied knowing him three times, cursing Jesus as he did so (14:66-72). There were none of them at the Cross, and, of course, none of them in Mark’s Gospel are invited to the empty tomb.

But before we let the men of the hook and excuse their cowardly denial of Jesus, consider the facts, or at least consider three of them.

1. For the First Time Jesus Foretells his Death and Resurrection

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting
your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. Mark 8:31-33

2. For the Second Time Jesus Foretells his Death and Resurrection

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. Mark 9:30-32

3. For the Third Time Jesus Foretells his Death and Resurrection

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise. Mark 10:32-3

According to St Mark, those men chosen to be closest to Jesus and in the fullness of time, to be apostles, could not grasp the fact that Jesus would be done to death. Instead, they longed for glory, for advancement. They never seem to grasp the face that God’s glory is given us through the Jesus, through his life, his death, and only then his resurrection.

The women

Contrast the women. The first woman we encounter in Mark’s story is the mother-in-law of Simon the fisherman. But before meeting her it will be instructive to accompany Jesus as he is driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert, there to be tested by Satan.

For forty days Jesus does not fail. He is not overcome by Satan nor by wild animals, for while in the wilderness “the angels were ministering to him”. This, of course, means that he was in God’s safe keeping, by God’s command sustained by God’s ministering angels.

Now here is what the JB and thus our Lectionary reports about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law:

On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever let her and she began to wait on them. 1:29-31

Now this is an appalling translation and, again, comparison with other modern translations would be fruitful. I offer this:

And immediately going out of the synagogue they went into the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Now the mother-in-law of Simon was lying sick with a fever, and immediately they tell him about her. And approaching, he raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her. And she was ministering to them [him?].
1:29-31

 

Why are the angels said “to be ministering to him” (in the case of Jesus), whereas the very same verb, also in the imperfect tense, is translated by the JB as “she began to wait upon them”?

Here is what is really happening in this story. Jesus—a man not of the family—against all social convention, comes to a woman as she lies in bed. Taking her by the hand, that is, touching her (and so taking on her uncleanness as she lies ill), he raises her up. The verb used for “raises her up” is the verb everywhere used to speak of the rising of Jesus. It is the resurrection word. Jesus has not simply cured her. Jesus never simply cures people. He raises this woman to that quality of life which will characterise all who are transformed by Jesus into the kind of ministry that he himself was born to bring into our world. This is the ministry that has been given her:

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant (διακονος, diakonos) and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came no not to be served but to serve (διακονῆσαι, diakonēsai, to serve, to minister to), and to give his life as a ransom for many. 10:43-45

The point is that Jesus raises her to that quality of service with which he himself ministers to people. Christian service is doing that kind of care that God demands and Jesus gives. It is the care Jesus gives to this woman so that she becomes, if you like, a ministering angel. There is a new “why” to her care for people.

Now the men who were called to follow Jesus, to become pupils, apprentices, and, in the fullness of time, to be appointed apostles, at the end of the story they betray, deny, and run away. What of the women?

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. 15:40-41

Of course, it is these same women who bought spices and came to the tomb to anoint him. And there they were created apostles and sent to tell (“go, and tell …”) “his disciples and Peter” (especially Peter!) that “he is going before you into Galilee”. Perhaps, to start all over again?

Just keep in mind the women who come to Jesus in Mark’s version of the Jesus story:

3:31- 35 The Mother of Jesus
and Brothers and Sisters of Jesus.
3:25-34 The woman with the persistent haemorrhage.
3:35- 43 The daughter of Jairus.
7:24-30 The Syrophoenician Woman’s faith.
10:1-12 May a man divorce his wife?
12:41-44 The Poor Widow.
14:1-9 A memorable woman anoints Jesus.
15:40-41 Many women who came to Jerusalem with him.
16:1-8 Mary Magdalene and friends at the empty tomb.

 

Preparations for the Death: A Woman

Two days before Passover, the chief priests and their scribes plot to kill him. Two days before Passover, a woman comes with a very costly flask of perfumed oil and pours it over his head. This is not a mocking crown of thorns. Jesus himself explains:

She has done what she could. She has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And, Amen I say to you! Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. 14:8-9

When Jesus says Amen! I say to you!, he means it.

 

Preparations for the Death: Judas - An Apprentice Apostle

Keep in mind that the betrayal of Jesus begins within in his own chosen men. The one ‘who hands him over” is one of his own:

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. 14:10-11

Now is the time to read Mark 14:17-21.

 

Preparations for the Death: Passover

Elaborate preparations are made for the Passover are made. That the Passover meal and its rituals is the last celebration of Jesus and his friends before his execution is of immense importance for our understanding of the meaning of the death of Jesus, our understanding of what Christian witness in the world is about, and why the breaking of the Bread is the life and soul of Christian community.

Passover is the most important of the many Jewish feasts that bless our year. It recalls what God did for the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. It is a foundation event of Jewish faith. The events in which are rooted Jewish faith and celebrated in the annual Passover festival are:

The Call of Abraham by the LORD God.
The Deliverance from Egypt
The (Mosaic) Covenant on Mount Sinai
The Kingship of David
The Presence of God in the Temple
The Coming to earth of God’s Glory

Christians believe that these foundational pillars of Jewish faith underpin and come to their fullness in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is the life, death, exaltation, and return of Lord Jesus that brings all that was promised to God’s holy people to fruition. The expectations of God’s people were not realized in a series of events but in a person. The future will be glorified by God’s Son when the earth is transformed. Or to put it as it is expressed in the most comprehensive Christian prayer:

Thy kingdom come!
Thy will be done on earth
As it is in heaven.

The future is not earth going to heaven. It is heaven coming to earth. The Lord’s Supper tells the whole story.

As far as we know, it was St Paul who first recorded some of what happened on the night before Jesus died. He speaks of the Lord’s Supper and reports thus:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

 

Mark’s brief account of Jesus blessing the bread and the cup begins a sharing that must be done until he comes again. Until he comes, we eat the bread and drink of the cup in order to be readied and that we may ready the world for the flood of love to come from heaven to earth and to the day when the kingdom is come and we sit with Him and share the cup of eternal life.

Preparations for the Death: Peter

Mark’s story of Simon, ‘whom he called Peter” (3:16), is not a happy one. We have seen him grasp that Jesus is God’s Messiah. But have seen him reject a Messiah who must face death so that resurrection may come into our world. We have heard him throw back in Jesus’ face the word of warning and earn the name of Satan (8:31-33). The warning as they cross the valley to Gethsemane is impetuously dismissed: “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (14:31). And then a servant girl comes and Peter curses Jesus and three times denies that he even knows the man (14:66-72). He will be mentioned just once more in this Gospel. Mark does not tell us how Peter’s story turns out.

Preparations for the Death: Jesus Prays

The location of Gethsemane (“oil press”) is uncertain but it seems to have been on the western slopes of the Mount of Olives. It is never called a garden. It is here that Jesus prays and offers his life to Abba, Father. To understand perfectly what is happening here we need do no more than agree with the comment made by the author of Hebrews:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 5:7-9

 

What we learn in Gethsemane is that Jesus, no matter what fears may press upon him, submits to his father’s will. His prayer is heard and he is strengthened do face what lies ahead. As for the learners, the apprentices, the disciples, even Peter, James, and John, do not turn to prayers and they will all forsake him and run away.

Preparations for the Death: The Arrest

The betrayer, the kiss of treachery, the seizure, the sword play. To avoid “uproar from the people” (14:2), the dark of night, not the Temple precincts where Jesus proclaimed God’s word is the place of arrest. There is more than an echo here to the warning that Jesus had given those self-confident friends who sat at table with him. The sentences from which Jesus quoted were taken from the prophet Zechariah:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
Against the man who stands next to me”,
declares the LORD of hosts.
“Strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered …”
Zechariah 13:7

The words of Scripture come to pass as the friends of Jesus flee. A young man leaves his linen vest behind him in the hands of pursuers and disappears naked into the night. Jesus is left alone to face his enemies. Except, of course, for Peter, who turns out to be the unkindest cut of all.

 

Preparations for the Death: First Identity Parade


As we listen/read the trial of Jesus before “the high priest, and all the chief priests, and the elders and the scribes” (14:53-65), and that before Pilate (15:15), there are a few matters that must be borne in mind. First, those men closely associated with Jesus have fled the scene. Peter is in the courtyard of the high priest’s residence and was busy warming himself and shouting at the maids. There is no record of any friend of Jesus being at his trial by the Jewish authorities. Nor were there any tape recorders. So the dialogue is a matter of conjecture; indeed, it is constructed by St Mark. Two things are happening here. The first is that certain charges are brought against Jesus and, secondly, Jesus gives answers. Mark wants to disclose precisely who is on trial here. So he manufactures the exchanges between the accusers and the accused in order to identify who Jesus is. Irony is at the service of theology in Mark’s dramatic exposure of who, in Christian belief, is being put to death here. Even Pilate will be made to serve in what is happening. The details of the trials of Jesus and the crucifixion scenes are one magnificent identity parade. The portrait is painted by the enemies who are, ironically, made to serve Mark’s purpose: Who is the man brought to crucifixion?

Consider the first trial (14:53-65):

(a) False witnesses declare that Jesus declared that,

I will destroy this Temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands. 14:58

So the very first voice we hear at the trial reveals God’s purpose to Mark’s Christian readers/hearers. We learn that his death will not be an end but, after three days in the tomb, it will be turned into a victory, a transformation, when the centre will not be the Temple bt a new way of experiencing God’s Presence.

(b) Jesus remains silent - for his life’s purpose has been told to the court by the false witnesses. His silence forces the hand of the high priest and he, with the deepest irony, asks,

Are you the Messiah,
the Son of the Blessed One?
14:61
So Mark’s readers/hearers are cheering in their hearts: “Of course he is! The very first sentence of the little booklet Brother mark gave to us told us of this good news, this gospel, this new beginning:

A beginning of the gospel of Jesus Messiah, Son of God … 1:1

(c) Jesus must acknowledge what is God’s truth, the gospel truth of who it is that is sent into our world:

I AM
14:62

(d) Jesus must do what God commands and reveal God’s destiny for humanity, declared to the world in God’s Son:

And you will see he Son of Man
seated at the right hand of Power,
and coming with clouds of heaven. 14:62

When we pray The Lord’s Prayer (not in Mark’s Gospel), we pray:

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in heaven.

These words explain what Jesus says at his trial before the priests. The destiny of humanity, of creation, is not to go to heaven. The destiny is that heaven will come to earth. What is today done in heaven will, tomorrow, be done on earth.

(e) So he is condemned to death by people who do not understand that they have just pointed out to the world who it is that God has put before them. The irony is that Jesis is guilty of everything the priests and elders charge him with!

(f) Then the soldiers spit on him and beat him up and -what irony! - declare Jesus to be a prophet, again confirming all that that has been revealed at the trial about the true identity and mission of Jesus, the man from Nazareth (14:67).

 

Preparations for the Death: Second Identity Parade

 

So Jesus is bound and he is handed over to Pilate. Immediately we are brought into another identity parade:

Are you the King of the Jews?
15:2

We must be very careful here for the phrase “the King of the Jews” occurs six times in the next few paragraphs. So it is very important. We need to ask to whom it refers and who it is who use the title as Mark’s story draws to a close.

Ask this question of any Jew in the days of Jesus: “Who is the King of the Jews?” There is only one answer and that is: “God is the King of the Jews”. No matter what foreign power ruled over the people of Israel down through the ages, the ultimate and supreme King was God. Not only Israel’s king, but King of the world. The God was Israel was the only God and as such the only true King of humanity. Listen to Israel’s prophets and poets:

Isaiah:
Thus say the LORD,
The King of Israel,
And Israel’s Redeemer,
The LORD of Hosts,
Is the first and the last.
Besides me there is no god.
Isaiah 44:6

Jeremiah:
There is none like you, O Lord;
you are great, and your name is great in might.
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
For this is your due;
for among all the wise ones of the nations
and in all their kingdoms
there is none like you.
They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction of idols is but wood!
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is violet and purple;
they are all the work of skilled men.
But the Lord is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
and the nations cannot endure his indignation.
Jeremiah 10:6-10

Psalm:
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves.
Selah
God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted

Psalm 47

So whenever Pilate, the people, or the priests speak “The King of the Jews”, ask yourself whether a political entity is in question or whether, in Mark’s supreme, he is pointing to Jesus the King as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the songs of Israel claimed their true King to be. And when you read this: head,

The inscription of the charge against him read:

THE KING OF THE JEWS
15:26
—to whom do you think Mark intends we have in mind? Yet again the enemies point unerringly to the true identity of the man on the cross.

The business before the pagan Pilate, as far as Mark’s readers are concerned, brings in one verdict: Jesus is the King of the Jews.

In mockery the pagan soldiers clothe him in a purple cloak and crown him with a crown of thorns and salute,

THE KING OF THE JEWS
15:16-18

Those who pass by go back to the beginning of the trials and repeat the Temple charge, the charge which reveals the Temple’s end. And mockingly they bid him to come down from the cross and save himself. But mark’s hearers and we, too, know it is by staying on the cross that he will complete God’s salvation of the world.

The final irony comes in the mockery of the chief priests and the scribes, the theological establishment, the supreme scholars and authorities when it comes to identifying God’s will. Notce the subtle change. There is an ambiguity in King of the Jews, for they were many kings from the days of David and Herod the Great was given the title “King of Jews” by the Romans (see Matthew 2:1-18). But the title

KING OF ISRAEL

Unerringly points to God. The supreme religious authority of the Jewish people finally reveal the true identity of the man on the cross. That is Mark’s supreme irony and our supreme enlightenment.

The Death of the Son of God

Darkness descends over the whole land for three hours before the death of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel was, in my opinion, written in Rome for Christians scattered in little huddles around the city. Romans believed that the death of Julius Caesar, more than one hundred years before Mark’s Gospel was written (about forty years after the death of Jesus), was marked by darkness over the whole world. This, they believed, was a cosmic divine sign, marking the death of a great ruler. Mark says that the darkness came before the death and ends at the moment Jesus dies.

The cry from the cross is the first line of Psalm 22:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 15:34

The Aramaic version (not the Hebrew as in Matthew’s Gospel) was probably learned and remembered by the first Greek speaking Christians to recall the poignant last moments of Jesus.

Some scholars point out that Psalm 22 ends in supreme trust in God and that the words from the dying Jesus are given by Mark to indicate that Jesus prayed the psalm as he died, handing over his life in prayer, knowing that, as the psalm proclaims, God

… has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
Psalm 22:24

I think this is a misguided attempt to save the dying Jesus from the horror of abandonment, not only of all his disciples and friends, but by God. That may be a holy intention. But we can hardly imagine Jesus praying a very long psalm - 31 verses - while enduring the agony of crucifixion. I believe we should take it for what it is - that Jesus felt abandoned on the cross. But he never lost faith. God remains MY God and Jesus goes to his death crying out to MY GOD who will ever be his God. It is Mark’s supreme irony that Jesus, so often misunderstood throughout his preaching life—by friends and enemies alike—should be misunderstood to the very end.

That some of the bystanders mishear and think that the dying man is calling on the prophet Elijah will remind Mark’s readers/hearers that Jesus had identified John the Baptist as Elijah (read 9:9-13) and remember the horrible death visited on that man sent by God (1:1-8 and 6:14-29).

Sometimes crucified victims were given rough wine to drink to kill their pain. Since, in Mark’s stark account there are no friends around the cross, we must assume that the mocking crowd of priests and people offer him wine to extend the show. But with a loud cry, he breathed his last.

The Temple curtain marked off the Holy of Holies, the very place where God dwelt on earth. The death of Jesus tears down that curtain which veiled God’s presence from the world beyond Jewish faith. The death of Jesus is his pathway back to the God he has served and he does not travel alone. Those who keep faith must go back to Galilee. There they will see him. And begin all over again …

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Dr Joseph O’Hanlon