May 20, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 15:26-32.
The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.
Mark felt it was important to convey the extent of the abuse that Jesus suffered at the hands of first the soldiers, then the passersby and the chief priests and last by the political criminals who were crucified on either side of him. To mock means to assail or attack with ridicule, scorn, contempt, derision. Pretty strong words. We mock what we don’t understand, what we fear, or what we hate. Mark wanted to show the passion of the reaction that Jesus evoked.
That’s what happens when someone challenges the status quo, all that is held dear and sacred, the way of believing and living that is foundational to our identity and measure of ourselves and the world around us. We resist mightily being cut adrift from what is known and familiar. We react angrily or fearfully when our certainty about the world and our position within it is undermined. That’s what Jesus did throughout his public ministry. Now he was getting his comeuppance, what he deserved for his audacity.
Those who looked upon Jesus in his abject torment must have felt justified. This couldn’t have been the Son of God to endure such humiliation, suffering, and shameful death. This man deserved the punishment, deserved to die for his effrontery. To see him as the Son of God was unthinkable. It’s hard for me to get my mind around, too.
How can this have been God’s will? It’s so hideous, stomach-churning, and repugnant. Barclay has a good answer for me. “The death of Jesus was absolutely necessary and the reason was this. Jesus came to tell men of the love of God; more, he was himself the incarnate love of God. If he had refused the cross or if in the end he had come down from the Cross, it would have meant that there was a limit to God’s love, that there was something which that love was not prepared to suffer for men, that there was a line beyond which it would not go. But, Jesus, went the whole way and died on the Cross and this means that there is literally no limit to God’s love, that there is nothing in the universe which that love is not prepared to suffer for men, that there is nothing, not even death on a cross, which it will refuse to bear for men. When we look at the Cross, Jesus is saying to us, ‘God loves you like that, with a love that is limitless, a love that will bear every suffering earth has to offer.'”
That’s a love that’s only barely within my ability to comprehend. Those who mocked Jesus weren’t able to. They utterly rejected the possibility that God could love us that much. That seems to me to be the whole crux of the purpose of Jesus’ enfleshment as the Word of God. Looking upon a crucifix forces me to ask myself, “Really? That much?” His answer is, “Yes, that much!” Jesus didn’t come down from the cross as the chief priests taunted so that I may believe. He endured it so that I may believe.