Mark 15 – A Hard Day’s Night on the Cross

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Today’s PassageMark 15

The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was a dark day in history. I mean that literally: the bulk of that afternoon saw Golgotha and its environs shrouded in darkness. It’s not clear from simply reading the gospels whether it was simply overcast, whether a solar eclipse occurred, or whether this was a supernaturally-caused gloom. Nor is it clear whether we’re looking at a localized phenomenon, a global one, or somewhere in between. Scholars have turned to outside sources to figure out just what went down, but we’ll leave it to them to sort out the details. My point is that vision rolls were taking at least a -3 darkness penalty.

Oh, and it was dark in the metaphorical sense too. You know, insofar as the chief priests killed God.

The whole thing is grossly unjust. What are they executing Jesus for? Healing sick children? Telling people that God loves people and offers forgiveness for their sins? Teaching an interpretation of the Torah even stricter than the Pharisees’ (Matthew 5:19-21)? Jesus remains silent through most of the trial, perhaps because if he waits long enough, his accusers will contradict each other; they can’t keep their stories straight for half a second. And when they hand him over to Pilate, it looks for a moment like he might escape his travesty of a sentencing, as Pilate extends to the crowd an opportunity to pardon him. Pilate even goes to bat for Jesus: “Why, what evil has He done?” (14). But the chief priests have already swayed the crowd to their side, getting them to advocate for Jesus’ crucifixion. Instead, they have Pilate pardon a convicted insurrectionist, Barabbas.

Barabbas’ name in Aramaic means “son of the father.” And isn’t that all of us? Aren’t we all criminals who are offered exoneration while Jesus Christ takes the death penalty for us? Mark includes Barabbas so that we can put ourselves in his shoes.

Meanwhile, Roman soldiers escort Jesus to be crucified, and by “escort,” I mean something more along the lines of “drag,” with no shortage of brutality and mockery. They nail him to the cross at something like 9 AM, and he doesn’t give up the ghost for another six hours. And this is coming off an all-nighter, during which the time he’d normally reserve for sleeping is occupied by enduring false accusations and humiliating abuse from his own countrymen. Me? I’m hardly ready to face the day if I don’t get at least six hours of sleep. But here’s Jesus, going in sleepless for a full work day of getting nailed to a cross, suffering gross physical cruelties, and dying by slow asphyxiation for the sins of humanity. Color me impressed.

Color, also, a Roman onlooker impressed. The centurion overseeing the crucifixion has a front-row seat to Jesus’ six-plus-hour gauntlet of agony. I don’t know if he participated in the spitting and beating, the gambling for Jesus’ clothes, the thorn-coronation, but Jesus’ unprecedentedly loud death cry flips a switch inside the man. In awe, he declares: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (39).

Or a son of God. Or a son of a god. Much as I’d like to believe this guy was sympathetic to monotheism, the best I can say is that he recognized in Jesus an inherited divinity. Whatever happened next to this man is lost to history. Perhaps later on he joined the ranks of countless Jesus-followers not mentioned by name in the New Testament; perhaps he went back to worshipping the Roman pantheon of petty narcissists, or his boss the Emperor, and perhaps he carried alongside his gods an unspoken reverence for the man he helped to execute. I don’t know. But credit to him for recognizing the truth: on that day of shadows, when Jesus died, Deity died.

The good thing about Deity, though, is that when it dies, it doesn’t stay in the grave. But you probably knew that.

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