Archive for August, 2012

Friday, August 24th. Mark 16:9-19

August 24, 2012

[The New Revised Standard Bible I use calls this the SHORTER ENDING OF MARK]  And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter.  And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

 

[The same Bible calls this THE LONGER ENDING OF MARK]  Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

 

After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

 

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

 

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.

 

There is no way – none, nada, nyet – that these verses were part of the original work we now read as the Gospel of Mark.  They are clearly – in tone, vocabulary, style, and substance – later additions from editors who, as I wrote yesterday, were probably uncomfortable with the abrupt ending at 16:8.  So they added stuff in a desire to “improve” Mark.  What do we make of this?

 

I’m sure that whoever (and I have to say whoever because some details of life will forever be lost in history…which is good for historians who need stuff to work on) added these bonus endings were well intentioned people just doing their best.

 

But I’m still left with two questions.

 

First, why do modern translations, put together by scholars who clearly recognize what they are doing, insist on keeping this stuff in line with the rest of the accepted text?  Introducing them with ALTERNATIVE TITLES IN CAPITAL LETTERS or [[double brackets]] while yet another “bonus ending” is hidden down in the small print of the notes doesn’t help when they don’t belong in Mark in the first place.

 

My guess?  Money.  If a translation left them out altogether, or relegated all of the bonus endings to the textual notes, they might run the risk of public rejection of the translation.  (It wouldn’t sell.)  So it is just easier to leave it in.

 

But my second question is far more serious.  Why is it, when we take the opportunity to “improve” the Christian faith, that we end up making it more harsh, less loving, and less Christ-like?

 

Consider these words from the longer “second ending” of Mark:  “Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” 

 

Does that honestly sound to you like the Jesus we know?  Can you honestly imagine Jesus scolding the disciples for their lack of faith and their stubbornness?  We might think that is something they (we) deserve but that doesn’t make it what Jesus would think…or do.

 

Or these words:

 

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

 

Seriously?  Am I less of a Christian than I ought to be because I can’t remember the last demon I cast out (other than publicly renouncing all evil at our last baptism service), because I pray in English, because I DON’T, AND WON’T, pick up a snake, or purposely drink poison?  And what do I say to the family of the man I prayed with this week who died last night?

 

Obviously, according to some Christians, I am.  At some point, someone thought these practices were so normative that they included them in the final verses of a Christian book of the Bible.  Well sometimes people are wrong.  And sometimes Christians end up holding very very tightly to very un-Christian beliefs, ideas, and practices.

 

I love the ending of Mark at 16:8.

 

Fear will forever hold us back from carrying and living the Jesus story in our lives but faith overcomes fear.  I love knowing that the first witnesses of a very unlikely event were as unlikely as the event itself – and if the Bible says anything, it says that God has a thing for doing unlikely things in unlikely ways.

 

But mostly, I appreciate that the story invites us, urges us, to write an ending.  Not by adding words to a carefully crafted story but by adding stories to the lives we touch along the way.

 

I hope that the ending we write is as direct, truthful, loving, gentle, inclusive, incisive, and hopeful as an ending that Jesus would write himself.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of your love, your presence, your Word, your will, and the community which bears your name in the world.  May we surrender to your love, fight back against our fears, speak forth our truth, and be a sign of your inclusive, transformative, creative love.  Until we see you face to face.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Thursday, August 23rd. Mark 16:1-8

August 23, 2012

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  Mark 16:1-8

 

Mark is widely considered the first of the four gospels to be written.  When you read these final verses you can see why later writers felt the need to “complete” Mark’s account.

 

And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

 

After all they had lived, and all we have read, how could this story end with three women gripped by terror and amazement, who say nothing to anyone about discovering a tomb which, instead of the body that is supposed to be there, holds only a strange young man dressed in white who tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead and will be waiting for the gang back in Galilee?

 

Mark says he is a “young man dressed in a white robe.”  We read that and inside we scream, “He is an ANGEL.  Mark, call him an angel!”  We want to complete the story for Mark.  We want to make it better.

 

We want to see Jesus here.  We want others to see Jesus.  We couldn’t possibly carry on the message of Jesus if the only eye-witnesses are three women.  Why not?  Jesus himself has told us, three separate times, that death would not be able to hold him.  Jesus has told us, several times, that the disciples would carry on with his work.  But that doesn’t seem good enough for us.  And three women?  Base our faith on the witness of three women?  Are you kidding me?  The story can’t end here.  We want to make it better.

 

So, as we’ll see tomorrow, other writers try to improve Mark’s ending.  Matthew improves on Mark.  Luke improves on Mark.  And John writes as if he has never seen a copy of the others.

 

But I’m thinking that Mark has ended his story exactly as he intended to end it. “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  He knows that ending will be unsettling.

 

What he hopes is that we might end the story differently.  That, afraid or not, we DO tell someone.  That, whether we were there or not, we trust that Jesus was in fact waiting for the gang back in Galilee.  And that Jesus will ever be traveling ahead of us, that there be no place we might go where Jesus isn’t already there.

 

For the temple curtain has been torn in two, God is on the loose, and, like a bloody Roman soldier, we have come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, you swallowed up death to give us life.  You have taken upon yourself the weight of human sin, rebelliousness, and brokenness, that we might know forgiveness, acceptance, and new found purpose.  You call us to follow and we answer that call.  You invite us to trust and we surrender to your love. By the power of your Spirit, use us in writing your story, one not ended until time is brought to its fullness in you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 22nd. Mark 15:42-47

August 22, 2012

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid. Mark 15:42-47

Joseph and Mary were common names in first century Judaism.  To name a child “Joseph” or “Mary” was to honor the memory of great heroes of the faith.

Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob and Rachel, sold into slavery yet protected by God and put into a position where he could later rescue his family from a famine.  Without Joseph, there would be no story of the Hebrew people, no salvation history.

Miriam first appears in the Bible in Exodus 2.  Pharaoh, concerned about the growing Hebrew population, decreed that every male child born among the Hebrews was to be put to death.  When Moses was born, his mother put him in a papyrus basket in the Nile river, hoping that he would be spared.  Miriam, his sister, stood close by, watching what would happen.

When Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the Nile she discovered the baby in the basket.  Miriam the approached her and asked, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”  Granted permission to do just that, Miriam brought Moses’ mother who was allowed to nurse and care for Moses as he grew.  Without Miriam, there would be no Moses, no escape from Israel, no salvation history.

Many years later, after escaping the Egyptians by crossing the Red Sea, Miriam, now named a prophetess and leader of the Hebrews with her brothers Moses and Aaron, gathers a chorus of women:  Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” Exodus 15:20-21

Many years later, at another turning point in salvation history, who should God choose to raise his only Son but Mary and Joseph?

And now at the cross, another Joseph and other Marys gather to do what must next be done.  This Joseph, a leader among the same council who have conspired to kill Jesus (though not listed among the parties at the trial) risks his life and reputation in demanding the body of Jesus from Pilate.  The Marys, having themselves been touched by the ministry of Jesus, see where Jesus has been placed and they begin their preparations to see that Jesus’ body is treated with respect and dignity.

Could this be the end of the story?

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we look back through history and see the signs, again and again, of the consistency of your love and care for those who bear your name in the world.  In so many surprising ways you confront the powers of evil with the persistence of love.  May we be numbered among those who do their part in caring and carrying your love to all.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 21st. Mark 15:40-41

August 21, 2012

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.  Mark 15:40-41

 

When I entered the seminary, in the fall of 1983, I was fresh out of college.  It did not strike me as unusual that roughly 50% of my class were women.  Fairly quickly I learned that the Lutheran Church in America first ordained a female pastor in November, 1970, followed quickly by the American Lutheran Church in December, 1970.

 

(I also learned, especially when a male professor had an audience of male students, with a wink and a nod and a bad joke, that there was significant lingering resentment about the long lost days of yore when the seminary was the ultimate good ole boys club before they let women in to play.)

 

A couple of years ago, when I was working in our synod office, I had the responsibility of putting together teams of people to work on specific projects.  I wanted those teams to reflect reality, which meant that they had to reflect the diversity of people in our synod.  But it was hard to find those voices.  At one point, (in 2009, after 39 years of ordaining women), I looked at the list of clergy in our territory and discovered that only 17% of our pastors were female.

 

One Sunday I was scheduled to preach at a little church out in the country.  They had lost a previous (male) pastor as a painful consequence of misconduct but had been well served by a gifted (female) interim pastor.  In their search for a new pastor they had identified a strong (female) pastor with great leadership gifts who was willing to come and serve in what promised to be a difficult setting.  They would be voting on her one week later.

 

I got to the church quite early.  It was just me and the person who unlocked the door and started the coffee.  I went out to the sidewalk as the first car drove into the gravel parking lot.  “Good morning,” I said with a smile as I met the older couple that got the prize for the first people to arrive to church that day.  They smiled back as we exchanged handshakes.

 

The mood dramatically shifted when I next said, “I hear that you’ll be voting on your new pastor next week.”  The woman’s face darkened when she barked back at me, “Well I wish the Bishop would read his Bible and send us a MAN to be our pastor like the Bible says.”

 

I honestly can’t remember what I said in return.  I was…flabbergasted.  I was angry.  And I was instantly convicted by how much I take for granted as so many doors magically open for me as a tall white male in a society that continues to struggle against God’s gift of the diversity of creation.

 

2000 years before, women had played a central role in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Over against the cultural norms of the day, Jesus went out of his way to bless women, heal women, listen to women, serve and be served by women.  Women stood closest to the cross.  Women were the first to the tomb.  Women were listed among the leaders of every church Paul started.

 

2000 years before, the letter to the Galatians had circulated among Christian communities which included the strong message:  “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

 

Oh that such faith would come….

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, our eyes see but are blind.  Our ears hear but are deaf.  We, though all standing together at the foot of the cross, continue our incessant game of divide and conquer.  Thank you for the courage of those who confront us in our blindness and who lead the way in celebrating the gift of diversity.  Thank you for the boldness of their witness and remind us that their work begins anew each day.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, August 20th. Mark 15:33-39

August 20, 2012

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”  Mark 15:33-39

 

Irony, surprise, the unexpected, immediacy – these have been features of how Mark has told the Jesus story from beginning to end.  And now we see all of these in this last moments as Jesus dies on the cross.

 

At high noon, the brightest time of day, the whole land is reduced to darkness.

 

At 3:00 PM, the hour of sacrifice in the Jewish Temple, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices dies on the Roman altar of a shameful cross.

 

Even his last words, a confession of utter godforsakeness, is misunderstood by the crowds who have misunderstood him from the very beginning.

 

The cup, which Jesus prayed to avoid but drank to the end, was a spongeful of sour wine.

 

The breath of life, God’s gift to animate Adam, is breathed one last time as the Son of God dies in shame.

 

But in this death – as the heavens were torn open at his baptism, as the veil separating the heavens and the earth lifted on the mountain of his transfiguration – tears open one last time that screen separating the “God in a box” that was the holy of holies in the majestic Temple.  Never again could God be confined, even in our imaginations, to a man-made space.  Now, revealed once and for all times, God was on the loose as God had always been on the loose.  No longer subject to man’s control, to man’s rejection, or rebellion.  Even to man’s religion.

 

In this death there is freedom for in this death there is life.  And who should be the first to see Jesus for who Jesus ever will be?  Of course, the most unlikely of all, it is a Roman soldier, the dried blood of Jesus on his hands, who first confesses, “Truly this man was God’s son.”

 

Let us pray:  Jesus, Lord, Savior, you are life itself.  Though rejected and forsaken, you loved to the very end.  No armies of angels to protect you.  No earthly armies to force you to a throne.  You died.  Our greatest fears, our deepest wounds, were all inflicted on you.  You died for us, that we might live.  Oh that our tongues would confess, and our lives reflect, the lordship of your kingdom of love from now to the end of time.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, August 17th. Mark 15:25-32

August 17, 2012

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 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!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “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.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. Mark 15:25-32

 

At some point earlier this year I had the idea of slowly walking through every verse from Mark.  Now that we are nearing the end, I am finding it excruciating.  If nothing else, this exercise will come back to me again and again as we nonchalantly fly through these verses each time we read them on Passion Sunday or Good Friday.

 

Each morning, I wake up knowing that my daily post deadline is 9:00 AM.  Now I’m reminded that it was 9:00 AM when Jesus was crucified.  Another day at the office for the Roman soldiers.  Another look for us at this grisly scene.

 

Today in Jerusalem there are two sites associated with the crucifixion.  One, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we talked about yesterday.  The other is located in a small park called the Garden Tomb.  Also a “must see” tourist destination, the Garden Tomb site was identified in the 1800’s by a group of people who questioned the traditional site based especially on the account of the crucifixion in the gospel according to John.

 

If you click on the link and take the virtual tour, you will see that “it’s all there” in the Garden Tomb. It is located outside of the walls of historic Jerusalem.  The site includes the rock formation that looks like a skull, Golgotha.  The tomb with the track for rolling the stone into place.  The Christian inscription in the wall marking a possible ancient worship site.

 

But best of all, in my opinion, is that it is located right next to the new bus station.

 

Roman crucifixions weren’t private or secretive.  They weren’t about punishing people; they were all about terrifying everybody else.  Their favorite locations were alongside the main streets heading into an occupied city.  So it was that Jesus was crucified beside two common criminals – all the more likely that it happened along the main road so that all the religious pilgrims entering Jerusalem for Passover would see a crystal clear message about who was the boss in the big city.

 

2000 years later we still remember this event but…we argue about where it happened just as we argue about what it means.  But this morning, let’s simply hear what it says:

 

The Savior of the world was rejected by everyone.  There is nothing pretty, romantic, heroic, or edifying in that.  It is simply ugly.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, our minds are so clouded with pious images and religious cliches that we use to insulate ourselves from the simplicity and tragedy of your death.   We are so quick to see your death “for us” that we utterly disconnect it from our calling to be in the world as you were in the world, and thus to open ourselves to the same kind of self giving, the same kind of courage, the same willingness to take the hard path, the same kind of compassion and love for the lost and the least.  As you died for us, may we die to ourselves.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, August 16th. Mark 15:21-24

August 16, 2012

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. Mark 15:21-24

 

What happens when we bump into Jesus?

 

Simon of Cyrene had no idea what the day would hold when he got out of bed that morning.  He thought he would be going into the city to celebrate Passover.  He thought he would sing the old prayers, offer the appropriate sacrifices, “get right with God” in the traditional ways, and maybe even spend time with some old friends.

 

He saw the commotion, the crowds lining the narrow passageway.  He saw the parade.  Maybe he heard a gruff voice call out, “Hey you!”  And then the next thing he knew, he was carrying the crossbar of a crucifixion.  No longer the audience, he had become an actor on the Via Dolorosa.

 

The Via Dolorosa is little more than a narrow passageway winding its way through the Old City of Jerusalem from the Roman garrison to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It is the traditional path marking the journey to the cross.  Today it is lined with shops, stores, apartments, occasionally opening into larger squares at the intersections and always full of crowds of tourists.

 

Along the way, nine stations of the cross tell the story of Jesus as he made his way to the place of crucifixion.  The fifth station remembers Simon of Cyrene. Five final stations lie within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a huge cathedral with many chapels, including the traditional sites of the cross and the tomb.

 

One of the great ironies of this place is the Christian in-fighting that has always marked the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Because the various Christian sects who laid claim to sites within the church couldn’t get along, the Arab conqueror Saladin entrusted the key to the Muslim Nuseibeh and Joudeh families.  For over 800 years, a Muslim opens the church door at dawn and locks it again at 8:00 pm.

 

Amazing, isn’t it?  Given all the anger, the division, and war, between Christians, Jews, and Muslims through the years, right there at the epicenter of the Christian faith, in a Jewish City, a Muslim opens the doors every day.  They co-exist in peace.  The lion lies down with the lamb.

 

And yet we continue to seek Jesus in the wood and rocks of relics and churches – and fail to see him in the pilgrims.

 

What happens when you bump into Jesus?  You never know…but it might involve carrying a cross that you didn’t see coming.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, as Moses lifted up the snake high in the wilderness, that all who looked upon it might live, so too we see you lifted up high for all to see.  In the pain and horror of your death, may we see the path that leads to life and may your love support us along the way.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 15th. Mark 15:26-20

August 15, 2012

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. Mark 15:16-20

 

Now the soldiers go on trial.  Guilty!

 

Mark tells us that they gathered the whole cohort.  While this might be an exaggeration (a cohort could include nearly 500 soldiers and Jerusalem was a busy place during Passover), it emphasizes Jesus’ powerlessness.  He is all the more alone given the sheer number of soldiers who are doing everything they can to humiliate him.

 

We see them, don’t we?  We remember the gang of bullies surrounding that day’s victim on the playgrounds of our elementary schools.  We’re read of the horrors of concentration camps.  We’ve seen torture scenes in movies and television shows.  Whether we want to or not, we think of Abu Ghraib and secret “detention centers” and it sickens us to see what happens when people tear others apart.

 

I exchange letters with people I know who are in prison.  I’ve been a volunteer chaplain in a prison.  I know there is a vast difference between the myths people on the outside carry about how prisoners are treated and the realities on the inside.  Prison guards have very difficult jobs.  They are not well paid.  They are most often the conduits for contraband.  They can take their frustrations out on the prisoners in cruel and demeaning ways.  There is nothing pretty or romantic about that.

 

We imagine this scene – a bloodied Jesus surrounded by cruel men, all the more cruel as the “crowd effect” kicks in as they dehumanize and debase him.  They cover the open wounds on his back with a royal purple cloak.  They dig thorns into his head.  They laugh as they kneel before him, oblivious to the irony that they are in fact kneeling at the feet of the King of kings.  Then they tear the cloak off his back, re-exposing his whipped back to the pain of the air.

 

And then, as they had so many other times, in so many other places, to so many other nameless faceless sacrificial lambs, they led Jesus out to crucify him.  They have had their fun with him.  Now it is back to work.  Another day, another dead body.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, as we listen again to this darkest of times, as we walk so slowly through these last days, strip away the veneer that protects us from what this story is really saying.  Expose in us the depth of the brokenness of sin, of cruelty, of pain, that our rejection of you and of your way of being in the world creates.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 14th. Mark 15:6-15

August 14, 2012

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Mark 15:6-15

 

Now the trial shifts to the crowd.  Guilty!

 

It is the crowd that asks Pilate to release Barabbas.  The crowd shouts, “Crucify him!”  The crowd that has no answer to the question of what exactly Jesus is guilty of and deserving death for.  The crowd then takes responsibility off the shoulders of Pilate – which ever remains the quickest and easiest way for politicians to shirk responsibility in their offices…just do what the electorate wants rather than what is good, right, and true…whether the electorate wants it or not.

 

Pilate isn’t interested in keeping the peace (the presence of justice); he just cares about keeping the peace (an orderly crowd.)  Like Bill Cosby would say about parents, “We aren’t interested in peace and justice, we just want peace and quiet.”

 

So Jesus is flogged and handed over to the executioners.  (Such an antiseptic word, “flog”, for the inhuman practice of skillfully tearing the flesh off a defenseless person’s back.  This practice still happens around the world today and it still remains an arrogant, humiliating, abusive practice of the powerful imposed on the powerless rather than a tool of justice.)

 

No one speaks up for Jesus.  No one shouts to shout down the crowd.

 

The  crowd chooses a murderer over the Savior.

 

Ironic, isn’t it, that even the decision to condemn Jesus meant freedom for the condemned?

 

Let us pray:  Lord, you were scorned, rejected, yet with your stripes we are healed.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, August 13th. Mark 15:1-5

August 13, 2012

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.  Mark 15:1-5

 

Now we come near to the end…of the new beginning.

 

The religious leaders, having held Jesus overnight, hand him over to Pilate.  Why?

 

They were under no obligation to do so.  Even though the Romans, as an occupying force, were the political powers-that-be, the religious leaders had no reason to turn Jesus over to them.  Their charges against Jesus, that he, according to them, falsely claimed to be the Messiah, were religious charges.  Their “problem” was heresy, not sedition against the government.  The religious leaders weren’t in the business of propping up or protecting the Roman government, so why hand Jesus over?

 

The Old Testament law was pretty clear. Deuteronomy 13:6-11 and 17:2-7 both outline the punishment fit for someone who leads others into false belief, into idolatry.  They are to be stoned to death.  The religious leaders could have carried that out and Rome wouldn’t have given them a wink.

 

As for the idea that the Jewish law had no provision for “hanging someone from a tree” or crucifixion, it actually did.  Deuteronomy 21:22-23 gives instruction on how to handle the body of someone executed for a capital crime and hung on a tree.  Such a practice, the public display of a dead body, performed the same function for both the ancient Israelites as it did for the Romans – it was a warning to the people as a whole not to step out of line or to get in the way of power.

 

So why didn’t the religious leaders just kill Jesus themselves and be done with it?

 

Perhaps because Jesus wasn’t really the one on trial.  Perhaps the real reason is that the ones truly on trial in all of this is all of us.  We who either enjoy the privileges of the powerful or suffer under them or both.  We who continue to seek salvation under religious systems and political systems that deal in death, division, greed, and power for the sake of power rather than power in pursuit of justice.

 

Thus does Jesus simply hand the charge back to Pilate – You say so – and then refuses to defend himself (Isaiah 53).   The sheep is now led to the slaughter.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, you came among us to teach us the power of love, to cut through our defenses of position and class and gender and all that divides us.  You fed the hungry, healed the hurting, and sought nothing for yourself.  For that you were rejected and are rejected still.  As we follow you through these last days, open our eyes to see what you would have us see, to learn what you would have us learn.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.