Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Scripture - Mark 15:25-36

Mark 15:25-36

15:25-32 – Mark’s account of the crucifixion is layered with a single irony, over and over again: Jesus’ torturers acclaim him in mocking terms with grandiose claims, claims that actually happen to be true of him. This happens again in v.26, where Jesus is mockingly crucified with a notice that reads “the King of Jews.” Mark tells us that the “thieves” (so called in the other Gospels) crucified with Jesus are in fact “rebels”—that is, criminals who have threatened the stability of Roman rule in Judea; a similar charge for which Jesus was being crucified. And from these criminals, and those watching from every side, abuse is rained down on the head of Christ. The observers refer to Jesus’ acceptance of the role of Messiah, and assume that if this is true (they, of course, think it is not), that he will have power to save himself from the cross. The irony here is that Jesus could do that very thing if he chose to—he could come down from the cross, split the earth in two, destroy all his attackers with a single word, and ascend in glory to the heavens. But he doesn’t, because he must bear the sins, the brokenness, the pain and violence and heartbreak of an entire world.

15:33-36 – The unnatural darkness that Mark notes in v.33 is important. It shows, in symbolic fashion, the death of the Giver of light. More than that, it recalls us to the darkness of Gen. 1, before the creation of the universe, and sets the stage for the “new creation” about to be made manifest through Christ. Then, after hanging on the cross for six hours (parallel to the six days of creation?), Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Those who are looking on either mis-hear or misunderstand Jesus here; the similarity of the name of God (Eloi, my God) to the name of Elijah leads them to start wondering if he’s calling Elijah, and they bring up the strange possibility that Elijah will come to take him down off the cross. This idea would seem strange to us, until we consider the Messianic expectations of the time. If they have in mind Jesus’ Messianic claims (and they do—see v.32), then they would have known the prophecy that “Elijah” would come before him. In Christian tradition, John the Baptist fills this role for Jesus, but for those watching the crucifixion, there appears to have been some idea that perhaps, if Jesus truly were the Messiah, this would be the moment of his revelation: a heaven-sent figure of Elijah would appear from glory to deliver Christ from the cross and inaugurate his reign. These lines illustrate just how great the excitement was around Jesus and his claims, even if they’re being made here in mockery and disbelief. But what did Jesus really mean with his startling outcry, so resonant with despair? Three possibilities emerge: He may have been speaking forth the cry of all humanity, cut off from God by sin. In suffering on the cross, Jesus represented the new humanity, and this hopeless cry fits the brokenhearted spirit of human beings, cast out from our fellowship with God in paradise. Or (the second possibility) he may have been expressing his own personal emotions as he suffered an unspeakable breach in the unbreakable unity of the Trinity—feeling, for the first and only time in all eternity, the withdrawal of the Father’s presence because of the weight of humanity’s sin on his shoulders. But the third option is perhaps the strongest possibility, if only one must be chosen: Jesus is here quoting the first line of Psalm 22. This psalm, written down a thousand years before the cross, records how the suffering messiah would be surrounded by mocking, torturing adversaries, how he would suffer thirst, have his clothes gambled away, and be pierced through his hands and feet—all very specific prophecies that are fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ. But Psalm 22 doesn’t end there—it shifts tone in radical, dramatic fashion, and ends with a vision of God’s acceptance of the suffering of his Messiah, resulting in the eschatological renewal of all things and the coming of all nations to join in the worship of God. That’s the message of the cross: it begins in anguish, and ends in joy that knows no end.