The Roman Trial

Mark 15:1-15

Mark-Book of Kells Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

"Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate.

"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.

The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of." But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. "Crucify him!" they shouted. "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The leaders take Jesus to Pilate to have him condemned to crucifixion. Mark rivets our attention on a single issue--Jesus' identity as king--as for the first time the power of Rome enters the passion story.

The scene is full of irony. Pilate, the representative of imperial power, confronts this battered Jewish prisoner and questions him on his supposed pretensions to be "king of the Jews." While Jesus' own people reject their true king and choose Barabbas, a murderer, Pilate, a Gentile and a Roman, appears convinced of Jesus' innocence and seeks to have him released.

Underneath all of this is the issue of kingship, the most forceful expression of human political power known to Mark's readers. Pilate and Jesus' opponents agree on one thing: Jesus is no king. In Pilate's mind he is a harmless victim of the leaders' envy; to the leaders he is a false and dangerous claimant to religious authority. So ultimately Jesus is mocked for his pretensions to kingship: a cloak of purple, a crown of thorns, a reed scepter, and a parody of homage that turns violent. But the reader of Mark's passion story knows that it is not Jesus but those symbols of imperial and abusive power that are being mocked.

Jesus is a king but one whose power is expressed not in exploiting or "lording it over others" (10:42) but in giving them life. Earlier in the gospel during the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had urged his disciples not to exercise that kind of power but only the power whose source and intent is to give life to others, the very power that animated Jesus himself (10:42-45). The passion story, therefore, stands in judgment over all forms of abusive power.

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