The reading today is Jesus’ second trial, this time before Pilate. Peter’s denial falls between the two trials. The Jewish authorities were satisfied that Jesus deserved death on the basis of blasphemy against the Lord God. However, when they stood him before Pilate, they accused him, not of blasphemy (which Pilate wouldn’t care about) but of sedition—usurping the role of king of the Jews to overthrow Rome.
PREPARE TO LISTEN. Be silent and still and then pray: I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. (Psalm 119:15)
READ: Mark 15:1-5 Station 4: Pilate’s residence. ‘Early morning’
1As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
Mark now begins his careful annotation of the hours, highlighting the swiftness with which Jesus was tried, indicted, sentenced and executed. The marking of the hours is done deliberately to dramatize the story and heighten our emotional engagement with it. He begins with early morning, the first watch of the day at 6 a.m. The chief priests, elders, scribes and the whole council (Sanhedrin) “held a consultation” that resulted in Jesus being bound and led away and handed over to Pilate. The verbs are active and stark—bound, led away, handed over. Jesus, in contrast, is a passive while others do things to him. He is also entirely alone. His disciples have all fled. This was something Jesus had to do alone. His calm willingness to walk into his arrest after his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane means he understood and accepted the loneliness of the task ahead and thus never once resists.
The trial before Pilate begins with an immediate accusation related to the charge of sedition: ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus responds, but with an indirectness that admits little: ‘You say so.’ He neither claims nor denies the accusation, even though he is King, not merely of the Jews but also of Romans and indeed the world. His kingship, however, isn’t one of violent overthrow but of passive acceptance of the violence done to himself and no one else.
The chief priests butt in at this point and “accuse him of many things.” Jesus responds as in the first trial, with silence. He refused to use any form of defense even though he faced ‘capital punishment.’ He behaved as “a lamb led to the slaughter” (Is 53:7). Pilate was amazed. He’d never experienced such passive acceptance from an accused victim. If we think about it, Jesus’ passive acceptance should amaze us too. It’s so unlike the heroes/mentors we seek to follow and emulate today. Jesus never did conform to any of the images we design for leaders and authority figures.
FOR REFLECTION Today Christians tend to read this story with too much ‘baggage.’ We know Jesus did what was necessary for our salvation and therefore we fail to enter into the narrative as a participant and see it as if for the first time and feel the emotions. I encourage you to pause for a few minutes and enter the story. Pick a role, perhaps as an objective bystander or one of Mark’s characters and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as you prayerfully wonder about Jesus’ passive non-resistance, a lamb led to slaughter. Is this the Jesus you’re following?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Once again, Lord Jesus, you shock us all with your passive submission to the grossest of human violence. Help me today to walk in your way. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST who willingly let himself be led ‘to slaughter.’