Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark and specifically within the climax of the passion narrative.
The fresco from the Kloster monastery in Alpirsbach shows Jesus being offered the drink described in this text.
Jesus approaches his inevitable death: the slow agony of crucifixion, the struggle for breath, the heat of the sun, blood loss and trauma from multiple injuries, desolation at his Father’s absence have all taken their brutal toll. No-one gets down alive from a Roman cross.
At his cry of desolation the onlookers offer him a drink to moisten his mouth so he can speak, mistakenly thinking he’s making one last desperate cry to be saved by calling out to Elijah – the prophet around whom Jewish eschatological hopes swirled.
Jesus’ final cry here is loud – the text has a sense of a ‘great cry’ – it is a horrible, shocking scene, filled with the finality of death.
Mark’s focus is on at least two things:
1. Jesus revealed, against all the odds, as the Son of God
2. The decisive spiritual significance of the moment of Jesus’ death witnessed by the tearing in two of the Temple curtain
3. The Gentile centurion being the one who recognises Jesus’ true identity
I’m just going to comment on the first of these and come back to the others in the next couple of weeks.
Jesus as Son of God is the ‘red thread’ tying Mark’s view of Jesus together.
His sonship is announced at his baptism; known by demons; revealed to Peter & co on the Mount of Transfiguration; disbelieved at his trial; and now finally announced by the centurion at the cross.
‘Son of God’ has reference to Ps 2:7 and Is 42:1 which allude to the kingly character and power of the Son – and thus Jesus’ baptism has overtones of a kingly enthronement.
Here is God’s anointed one, but his identity is only revealed to Jesus at his baptism and is a continual source of ‘hiddenness’ and ‘secrecy’ within the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 9:2-9 – the Son of God is revealed to the disciples, this revelation is connected to the command not to tell anyone until the Son of Man rises from the dead.
There is an intentional veiling of Jesus’ identity until after Easter. The ‘messianic secret’ is to preclude misunderstandings of mistaken messianic expectations ‘getting in the way’. The Son of God continues his mission towards the cross, empowered by the Spirit.
Here, at last, is the identity of the Son of God being revealed. The mission of the annointed servant is completely surprising and paradigm shifting. And here, in the moment of Jesus’ death, it is ‘successfully’ achieved. Yet, those to whom it was revealed have fled. No-one understands what is really going on – and the one person who gets closest to this is a pagan soldier …
What does all this suggest to you about the way God does things?
The Death of Jesus
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”