Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hail, King of the Jews!

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.

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.

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.

- Mark 15:12-21

Pilate wishes to please the crowd. Although he understands very well that Jesus has been brought to him out of envy, in the end Pilate pleases envy. He doesn't want to go against that crowd shouting, "Crucify him!"

Jesus is then taken away by the soldiers, after being flogged (or "scourged," with a Roman whip consisting of several leather strips with small pieces of bone and lead at the tips). The soldiers abuse their prisoner who is condemned to die on the cross: he is subjected to mockery by the entire cohort. They put a purple robe on him, fit for royalty, give him a crown of thorns, hit his head with a reed and spit upon him. Finally, they kneel down in mock homage: "Hail, the King of the Jews!" mimicking the salute to Caesar.

A passerby is then compelled, on the way to Golgotha, to carry Jesus' cross for him - this is Simon of Cyrene, the father of two sons who will become followers later on.

One gets the impression from these scenes of the brutality of power that we still have with us: prisoners who are abused, easy rulings to appease public mobs or opinions swayed by demagoguery or emotional appeals done deliberately for some sort of favor to be granted. We're all familiar with the notion of the mob, the individual who may be innocent yet alone in his quest or stand before justice. The easy appeal to a leader who would rather appease a mob or pressure from those who control it to some extent, the inertia that takes over large institutions where decisions are made that hold people's lives in the balance. The abuse of the prisoner, the seemingly routine brutality without reason except to abuse, to cause despair, to crush. All of these are familiar to us in one way or another. Jesus endures them all, and truly "takes on all our sins" through his endurance of what is unjust, undeserved -- brutality, violence, cowardice in the name of expediency, and at the root, the envy that so characterized the notion of evil in its absolute state: that of Lucifer's rebellion against God. Jesus will endure all the evils of the world loosed archetypally from rebellion against God and how they play out to this day in our world. His "Way" offers us the way out of that scheme, the antidote to the things that he is enduring in this scene and endures where we remember his life and his gift for us. When we endure, we are to remember all that he took on for us, and live as he lived in faith, and remember that there is no better thing we do for the world than offer our own gift of faith, our effort to heal a broken and brutal world, given to violence, cowardice and despair.

When we call for our Lord to be with us, we recall all that he endured, and we ask also that he be with us in time of trial for whatever we endure in the world. It is the best way, in my opinion, to undo its evils and to call for justice, and Judgment. To endure in faith is to overcome, and to see a way forward and into the future.

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