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Jesus: Passionate to the End (Mark 14-16)
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“Truly this man was God’s Son.” (Mark 15:39)
The Cross (Mark 15:16-41)
After the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples go the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prays to be spared what is coming, while the disciples fall asleep. Judas comes, leading a group sent by the religious authorities, and Jesus is arrested and brought before the chief priest and council to be put on trial. Jesus is condemned as a blasphemer, while outside in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter denies Jesus three times.
Jesus is then sent to Pilate, where he is again put on trial—this time before the political authorities. In that trial Jesus is condemned as a political threat to the power of Rome, and sent off to be crucified, after being mocked and tortured by Roman soldiers.
On the way to the place of crucifixion, an African man, Simon of Cyrene, is forced to carry Jesus’ cross. (This implies that Jesus has lost enough blood while being tortured by the Roman soldiers that he does not have enough strength to carry the cross himself.) He is crucified between two bandits. Bandit was a term used of political revolutionaries, so this implies that the Romans saw Jesus himself as a threat to their power.
Jesus dies on the cross, calling out to God in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As Jesus expires, the curtain of the Temple that cordoned off the Holy of Holies—God’s dwelling place—is torn in two from top to bottom, implying that Jesus’ death has freed the Spirit of God (which had come into Jesus at his baptism) to be available for all people. A centurion—a non-believing Gentile—who observes Jesus’ death seems to catch that Spirit and confesses that Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus’ male disciples abandon him, but women who had followed him from Galilee stand by the cross as Jesus dies.
Questions for Reflection
Jesus is condemned by both religious and political authorities as a threat. What is threatening to you about the way of living that Jesus sets out in his teaching and in enacting the kingdom through his way of servanthood? What is freeing about it?
Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. Nonetheless, Jesus fed both of them at the Last Supper. Both actively and passively, we deny Jesus and betray him, by the way we live. What impact does the story of Jesus feeding Judas and Peter have on the parts of you that deny or betray him?
Like Jesus we have all felt forsaken by God at least once in our lives. How does Jesus’ companionship with you in your feeling abandoned help you?
Jesus’ death tears open the barrier between God and the world, freeing the Spirit to move freely to anyone willing to receive it. What part of your life most needs the Spirit of God moving into it and enlivening it? If you think of Jesus’ death as providing this sort of “saving help,” does that change your way of understanding the cross?
Christians call this story of Jesus’ death and resurrection his Passion. Passion can mean both suffering and love. How does Jesus’ death and resurrection express to you something of God’s love?
The Empty Tomb (Mark 15:42-16:8)
A member of the religious council that had condemned Jesus for blasphemy, Joseph of Arimathea, asks Pilate’s permission to bury Jesus, and then shrouds and buries Jesus, rolling a stone against the tomb’s entrance. Two of the women who had stood by the cross—Mary Magdalene and another Mary—see where Jesus is laid to rest. After observing their own day of rest on the Sabbath, they return to the tomb on Sunday morning, and find the stone rolled away. When they go into the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they find it empty, except for a young man in white who tells them that Jesus has been raised and is going before them to Galilee. The young man commissions them to tell Peter and the other disciples. The women flee the tomb in terror and amazement and tell no one.
There is a longer ending to Mark’s Gospel, in which the resurrected Jesus appears to various followers, commissions the disciples to spread the good news, and then ascends to heaven. Virtually all modern scholars, however, believe that this longer ending was composed later, and was not part of the original version of the Gospel of Mark.
Questions for Reflection
Joseph of Arimathea was part of the religious council that condemned Jesus. Yet he is the one who provides for Jesus to have a decent burial. What do you imagine happened to Joseph to change him? How might the freeing of the Spirit of God that happened when Jesus died and the Temple curtain was torn open play a role in the change in Joseph?
Women disciples are the ones who remain faithful to Jesus, both at the cross, and in their coming to anoint him. What do you make of the male disciples' betrayal, denial, and absence at the cross? What do you make of the faithfulness of the women?
In the original ending of Mark’s Gospel, there are no resurrection appearances recounted. Instead, the primary image is of an empty tomb. How is an empty tomb a helpful symbol of new life to you? How is it unhelpful?
Christ of St. John of the Cross – Salvador Dali – See Above
The Hope of Resurrection – Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)
Though I have watched so many mourners weep
O'er the real dead, in dull earth laid asleep—
Those dead seemed but the shadows of my days
That passed and left me in the sun's bright rays.
Now though you go on smiling in the sun
Our love is slain, and love and you were one.
You are the first, you I have known so long,
Whose death was deadly, a tremendous wrong.
Therefore I seek the faith that sets it right
Amid the lilies and the candle-light.
I think on Heaven, for in that air so dear
We two may meet, confused and parted here.
Ah, when man's dearest dies,'tis then he goes
To that old balm that heals the centuries' woes.
Then Christ's wild cry in all the streets is rife—
"I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
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