29 March 2015Mark 15:1-39
“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.” (vv. 21-24)
Psalm: Psalm 31
The crucifixion of Jesus which we commemorate this week is the high point of all four Gospels. It is where the passion of the Christ reaches its dramatic conclusion, and Jesus' journey to the cross reaches its destination. This is particularly true of the shorter ending of Mark's Gospel, which has very little post- crucifixion detail. The Gospel more or less concludes at Mark 15:39.
Despite the importance of the crucifixion to the story of the Gospels it receives very little attention or description. In contrast, some elements in the story receive quite a bit of detailed information.
Note, for example, how we are told the name of the man who was compelled to carry Jesus' cross. We are told where he is from, and the names of his sons. In Jesus and the eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2008) Richard Baukham argues, persuasively, that one reason for including the names of people like Alexander and Rufus, is because they would have been known in the 1st-century Church. People who wanted to double check the veracity of Mark's account could actually go to find Simon or his sons Alexander and Rufus. It was for Mark a bit like a footnote in an essay; it indicates the sources.
Similarly we are told where Jesus was crucified, Golgotha, offered details of what he was offered to drink, the time of the crucifixion is recorded, the dividing of Jesus' clothes by lot, and even what one of the centurions had to say when Jesus died.
However the crucifixion itself is described with remarkable restraint in a surprising economy of words. Mark uses only two words in the original Greek: "they crucified him" (v. 25).
- If the crucifixion is indeed the climax of the Gospel, why do you think so few words are spent describing what happened?
- To what extent might the brevity of the description be an indication that few in the first century needed to have crucifixion spelt out or described for them? Were they already only too well aware of what crucifixion was and meant?
- If Bauckham is right and the few names we have recorded in Mark are a deliberate attempt to cite eyewitnesses, or the descendants of eyewitnesses, for the 1st-century Church, what might be their function for the 21st-century Church?
- Is it possible to overemphasise the cross and the painful nature of Jesus death? Are we better taking a leaf from the book of the Gospel writers who are satisfied to record the fact and circumstances of Jesus death without describing the details?