Crucifixion

Mark 15:16-47

Mark-Book of Kells The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

T hey crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!" In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama "--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath).

So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The end comes swiftly in Mark's account; the story is told in few words, as if it were too painful to say more. Pilate gives up his attempts to free Jesus and condemns him to crucifixion. An execution detail brings Jesus to Golgotha where he is offered a narcotic (which he refuses), stripped of his garments and nailed to the cross. Two rebels are crucified with Jesus one on each side of him, forming a sad entourage. The sign over the cross acclaims in derision: "The King of the Jews."

During the death watch, a parade of mockery dredges up the issues of the trial and hurls them at the man on the cross: his threats to the temple; his power to save others and now his inability to save himself. Mark casts this last taunt in strongly ironic tones: "Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe" (15:32). But the reader knows that Jesus' power is demonstrated not in shedding the cross but in carrying it, in giving his life for others. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (8:34-37).

Darkness envelops Golgotha and out of that darkness comes Jesus' final lament: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It is the first verse of Psalm 22, the great Jewish prayer of suffering faith. Mark's passion story has been described as "dark passage'' -- Jesus stripped of his disciples, his freedom, his dignity, his life as he gives every fiber of his being for the sake of the world.

And so in Mark's account, Jesus dies with a wordless scream that echoes from that dread hill, splitting the veil of the temple and igniting faith in the centurion's heart. This unlikely witness sees in the manner of Jesus' death for others the true revelation of God. The sight of the Crucified Jesus triggers in him the full first confession of faith expressed in the gospel: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (15:39). A startling revelation--God's power revealed not through staggering prodigies but in a selfless death motivated by love.

Mark has an eye for the unlikely. The chosen disciples had long fled. But standing at a distance were other faithful followers, the women who had been drawn to Jesus in Galilee and had come to Jerusalem with him. They would stay with him now through death and burial, never abandoning him. Two of them, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses, would keep vigil at his burial and would be the first to discover the tomb empty and to know that Jesus was victorious over death (16:1-8). These "unlikely disciples'' who proved true where others more prominent had failed, would be the ones to bring the Risen Christ's message of joy and reconciliation to the disciples who had failed.

Now the Easter story could begin.

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