We were in the the trial and execution narrative section of the Gospel. Jesus has been condemned to die by a pragmatic Pilate. He is now ‘beyond hope’, the verdict has been passed, and he is given over to the authority and power of those tasked with torturing, killing and degrading enemies of Rome – the local soldiers.
On a random tangent here, I’ve just finished the third (Sovereign) of the C J Sansom’s wonderfully compelling Matthew Shardlake series – a sort of medieval detective but much more. He brilliantly evokes the day to day life, politics and grim realities of King Henry VIII’s England. And there is no more grim reality than the Tower of London. A place of fear, brutality and hopelessness.
I won’t give spoilers away, but there is a chillng torture scene as someone is left in the hands of the expert and coldly ruthless torturers in the Tower.
Reading it, I thought of this text in Mark and how Jesus is given over to the hardbitten professional killers employed to effect the brutal realities of the death sentence ordered by their (comfortably distant) superior.
Jesus is beyond the protection of any law; without hope of a reprieve and left alone to face his professional tormentors – who, Mark makes clear, are clearly enjoying the extra ‘twist’ this prisoner has provided them with all this talk of being the ‘King of the Jews’.
Mark is silent on how Jesus responds to the torture and mockery. There is a strong implication of silent endurance.
Here is the innocent lamb being led to the slaughter. Here is the true King being mocked and offered joking worship. Here is the irony and ‘foolishness’ of God revealed. Here is the upside kingdom of God in all its surprising weakness. Here is the path to the cross.
But, as with Jesus as every stage of his life, things are not all they seem.
And this, it seems to me, is a way of summarising the Christian faith. It is a belief that a deeper reality lies behind what we can see. That beyond the often grim and harsh realities of life there is hope because there is a God who has entered those realities and overcome them in the most counterintuitive way imaginable – death and resurrection.
The Soldiers Mock Jesus
16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.