Commentary on Mark 15:16-47
As we marked the watches of the night identified in Mark 13:35, we arrived at the fourth watch with the religious leaders handing over or betraying (Greek: paradidomi) Jesus to Pilate: “Immediately it was dawn” 15:1 (Greek text).
This is the final “immediately” of the 41 occurrences in the Gospel of Mark, and indicates the immediacy of the handing over or betraying of Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders at dawn to the Gentile ruler, Pilate.
Now the hours of the day are marked in chapter 15. Pilate’s question to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”, and Jesus’ response, “You say so,” is followed by, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you” (15:2-4). The false charges of the chief priests and Pilate’s questions go unanswered by Jesus which leads Pilate to be amazed (15:5). Pilate realizes that it is for jealousy that Jesus has been handed over as they call for the release of Barabbas, an insurrectionist. Barabbas, a terrorist, an enemy of the state, is released with the ironic name, “son of the father” (Greek: bar–abba), while the true “Son of the Father” is met with shouts of “Crucify him!” as Jesus is flogged and handed over to be crucified (15:3-15).
The text for Good Friday begins with the incredible irony of Pilate’s acclaim of Jesus as the “King of the Jews” as he is brought into the courtyard of his palace together with a cohort (Greek: speira, hundreds) of soldiers. Mockingly clothed in the royal color of purple and crowned with thorns, they salute him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” (15:16-18). Jesus is struck, spat upon, knelt before in mocking homage, stripped of the purple cloth and led out to be crucified (15:19-20).
On the way to Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene is enlisted to carry the cross (15:21). Arriving at the place of the skull, Golgotha, Jesus is offered, and refuses a pain-deadening drink, and is crucified. An additional act of disrespect and cruelty takes place as they cast lots for his clothes (15:22-24).
We once again mark the time of day as the narrative identifies nine o’clock in the morning when Jesus is crucified. The inscription on the cross reads, “The King of the Jews.” Two robbers or insurrectionists are crucified on either side (15:25-27). Jesus is mocked by those who pass by, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests and scribes join in the mocking, “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.” Even the two on either side join in the taunts (15:29-32).
The time is marked as noon when darkness covers the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cries out with a loud voice: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which translates, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:33-34). The words of Jesus echo the lament of opening verse of Psalm 22. The Psalm continues through despair and assurance, mocking and deliverance, death and piercing, dividing garments and casting lots, prayer and praise. No wonder the Psalm 22 is known as the Passion Psalm.
As I write these words on December 6, 2011, the radio on my desk is playing “Silent Night, Holy Night” on this Tuesday in Advent. I have never before been flooded with the emotion of living in the season of Advent while responding to the text of Jesus’ crucifixion. The coming of God’s Son, the Messiah, is also the one who cries out to the Father in the agony of pouring out his life to death. The silence and holiness of the Christmas night is broken by the darkened hour and cry of crucifixion: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The bystanders interpret Jesus’ cry as calling for Elijah. A sponge with sour wine is put to Jesus’ lips, with the false expectation to see if Elijah will come to rescue him (15:35-36). With Jesus’ last cry “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (15:37-38). The Gospel of Mark began with the heavens “torn apart” (Greek: skizo) at Jesus’ baptism and the voice of God proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). Now the curtain of the temple has been “torn apart” (Greek: skizo) and access to the Holy of Holies, the presence of God, is open to all. In Jesus Christ, God is manifest in the Beloved Son, the Crucified. The words of the centurion proclaim the living word of the Gospel of Mark: “Truly this man was God’s Son” (15:39).
The women who followed and attended Jesus when he was in Galilee have come to Jerusalem. Looking on from a distance they view the incomprehensible scene of crucifixion. There is no mention of the disciples being present (15:40-41).
In Mark’s narrative, Jesus’ death takes place on the day of Preparation, which is also the day before Sabbath. In order to observe the day of Sabbath, which begins at sundown on the day of Preparation, there is an urgency to bury the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea, “a respected member of the council” requests Pilate for permission to bury the body of Jesus. Pilate wonders about the death and learns from the centurion that Jesus was dead, and grants the body to Joseph (15:42-45).
Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross and wrapped in a linen cloth and placed in a rock hewn tomb. This is all completed without the customary anointing of the body, and a stone is rolled against the door to seal the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observe where the body has been placed (15:46-47). The triumphal of the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (11:1-10) is now concluded in a stone cold tomb with this Good Friday text (15:16-47).