Commentary on Mark 15:16-39
This passage comprises Mark’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Oddly enough, it contains no mention of nails or blood. Instead, it says simply, “They crucified him.” We can assume that the first readers of this Gospel knew only too well what that meant.
The passage ends with the centurion saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Is this a confession of faith? Or is it a sarcastic comment? He had probably presided over many crucifixions. And whether or not he knew the truth he spoke, Mark preserved it for us.
The first sentence of Mark proclaims: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” At his baptism, the voice of God announced that Jesus was his Son. At his transfiguration, the voice of God announced that Jesus was his Son. All along the way, the demons knew that Jesus was the Son of God, and it terrified them. Yet now, for the first time, a person said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Here, at his death, Jesus was named as the Son of God. He always had been the son of God, but on that day someone spoke it out loud. Here, on the darkest day of human history, the love of God shined forth in Christ’s self-sacrifice. Here, at the depths of human sinfulness and iniquity, God extended forgiveness to us all. Here, under the crush of all that was twisted, perverted, and gone wrong, the Son of God suffered and died at our hands that we might live and be made new by his hands. Here, Jesus accepted humiliation, degradation, and the loneliness of being forsaken by God in order to bring us glory, honor, and fellowship with God, himself, and each other.
What was the worst part of his suffering? His loneliness.
Jesus was accused and condemned by the religious leaders. He was rejected by his own people. He was betrayed and deserted by his disciples. He was convicted by the governmental authorities. He was mocked, stripped, struck, beaten, and spit upon by the soldiers. He was derided by the passersby. He was mocked by the chief priests and the scribes. He was taunted by the robbers who were crucified with him.
And then, Jesus, who had lived with the awareness of the presence of God, took on the sin of the world, stood before God as one cursed and condemned on our account, and realized the full weight of God’s judgment. He suffered the anguish of being separated from God, so he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And here is where Christ won the victory! One time in human history, the powers of sin, death, hate, and evil were defeated. Jesus took on the worst they could do, but they did not break him. Jesus never returned evil for evil. Jesus never cursed those who condemned and executed him. Christ remained sinless and obedient unto God, even while his obedience meant that he would die. The force of death is felt in its ability to make us fear death; but Christ faced it without fear.
According to verse 29, “Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’”
So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying in verses 31-32, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” They demanded the impossible, but they spoke truth they did not realize. If Jesus had come down from the cross, he would not have been the Christ. He could be the Christ only by staying on the cross.
Jesus could not save himself, for in saving himself, he would have lost us and not been himself; only by losing himself could Jesus be himself, the Christ, the Son of God, and so save us. In his dishonor we find our glory, in his rejection we find our acceptance, in his death we find our new life, in his loneliness we find our communion. In the face of the willing, lonely death of Jesus, the centurion spoke the truth: “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Jesus suffered the loneliness of being forsaken by God so that we will not have to. Jesus died and lives again to be with us and to have us with him. Neither God nor Jesus Christ ever forsakes us. None of us ever have to be as lonely as he was. No matter how alone we are, God and his Christ are always with us. And because they are with us, they provide the basis for us to be together with each other.
Christ gives us a wonderful example of obedience. Jesus realized that it was more important to obey God than to save his own neck. How wonderful this is! Jesus realized that it was more important to obey God than to go along with the crowd. No one was supporting him. Everyone was against him. Not only were they hurting him, but they were making fun of him. And yet, he realized that he was right, and he had the courage of his convictions.
Jesus gives us an example of dying well. He died a horrible death, but he died well. May God grant us the grace to die well. Dying is the last thing we do in this world. It would be good to be able to die faithfully, in full confidence of the love and forgiveness of God.
The crucifixion teaches us that we no longer have to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ has done that already. We can live and we can die in the confidence of God’s presence.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
Son of God, your suffering for our sin is great. We offer you all that we have and all that we are. Restore us as we are reminded that we are redeemed because of all you have done. Amen.
Crucifixus, Antonio Lotti