PREPARE TO LISTEN. Sit in silence before praying: O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! (Psalm 71:12)
READ: Mark 15:25-32 Station 5: Golgotha. “That we may see and believe”
25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
Crucifixions were public events that attracted many people who came to mock and gawk at the dying victim. There is a similarity with the more recent practice in the U.S. of lynching, which was advertised in local newspapers and attracted crowds (men, women and children) as if it were a carnival occasion. The agonizing suffering and death of another was treated with callous disregard; just a common act for public enjoyment and indifference.
The people gathered in ‘layers’ at Jesus’ crucifixion, from those closest to the cross to those merely walking past. Most of them were his opponents including those callous soldiers. Only a few women, not mentioned in today’s lesson (15:40-41), who were on Jesus’ side. Noticeably absent in the ‘layers’ in Mark’s story were Jesus’ male disciples. It raises the challenging question: Where would you be?
Today, we focus on the opponents of Jesus. Mark highlights three different categories of mockers. First, “those who passed by,” pausing on their journey to deride Jesus. They remembered his claim about rebuilding the temple in three days and now mock him with it. They didn’t know that Jesus used the temple as a symbol of his body which would be restored, ‘raised’ in three days. He would wait for the third day and wouldn’t do what the mockers suggest. Second, we have the chief priests and scribes, who were no doubt feeling relieved to finally see Jesus on a cross. They’ll believe, they mock, but only if he comes down from the cross. They want Jesus to act like a ‘real’ Messiah and triumph over the occupying forces of Rome by stepping off the cross. There is a sense in which we’d all like a victorious ending to the story like this one; a Jesus who destroys our oppressive enemies right now through a surprise miraculous move that doesn’t entail more suffering. We’d all prefer to omit suffering and pain. Ched Meyers challenges us with his question: “Who of us is really prepared to accept that by remaining there he shows the way to liberation, to acknowledge that in this moment the powers are overthrown and the kingdom is come in power and glory?... Who of us can embrace the implications for our own lives?” (Meyers 2015, p. 384)
The last of the mockers to taunt him were the two bandits crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left hand. A ‘bandit’ wasn’t a common criminal, but a political rebel condemned to death for sedition against Rome. Jesus, also condemned to death for sedition (a false charge), is grouped with two other social bandits. Again, Mark hints at irony in the story. Not so long ago the sons of Zebedee, James and John had dared to request sitting at Jesus’ right and left hands, the places of highest honor. The rebels are given that honor, but what a horrifying honor! Now we understand Jesus’ response to the Zebedee boys: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Mk 10:38)
Did you notice that Mark uses three different verbs to describe each groups’ behavior? The first group deride him, the second mocks, and the final group taunt him. He has chosen his words carefully to highlight the callousness of the opponents towards one who was weak, vulnerable and in agony. It also highlights the strength of the opposition to Jesus from the political and religious structures. and the strength of Jesus’ loving obedience to the Father.
Imagine the scene and place yourself somewhere in it. What emotion and thoughts come to mind? The mockers, especially the religious leaders, felt good because they’d successively overcome the one who threatened their religious status quo. How far do we go today to maintain our religious (church) status quo?
Who of us can embrace the implications of the cross for our lives today?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God: all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.” (Isaac Watts)
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST who refused to exercise power and come off the cross.