Even as they are killing him, Jesus’ accusers are half-hoping to witness a miracle – some kind of marvel that will help them “see and believe.” In Mark’s Passion, Jesus has no more teachings or miracles, but the cross shows us a God worthy of our faith.
Vicar Jessica Christy
Sunday of the Passion, year B
Text: Mark 14:1-15:47
Even as they were torturing and killing him, they were hoping to see a miracle.
Throughout his ministry, people were drawn to Jesus because of his power. Massive crowds in search of healing and hope chased him across the Galilee. The press of people was so eager that they forced him to preach from boats and to retreat to remote places. They were desperately hungry for a demonstration of God’s might.
Even though the crowds have turned against him by the time he is arrested, things haven’t really changed. “Prophesy!” his tormentors shout as they beat him. “Prophesy!” – show us your power, if you are so powerful. And then as he is being executed, they jeer, “Save yourself, and come down from the cross! Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Yes, they’re mocking him with these words. They’re taunting the helplessness of this man who said he would forever change the world. But in his final moments, they show their hand, and reveal that there is a core of truth in their taunts. As Christ is dying, he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and the people who have gathered to gloat over his death mishear those words. “Elahi, Elahi” – “My God, my God.” They think he’s calling out for Elijah. And this excites them. Suddenly, they rush to try to prolong his life, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to bring him down.” They despise him, and yet they can’t look away because they still think that Jesus might show them God in a marvel. They’re still looking and longing for something to see and believe in.
Jesus, of course, doesn’t give them the show that they’re half-hoping to see. Not only does he deny them signs and wonders, he barely even speaks. Pilate is amazed by his refusal to say a single word to defend or explain himself. In Mark’s Passion, Jesus has no more teachings, no more wonders, no more prophecies. If the people at the Crucifixion are hoping to witness something that will help them believe, they will only see an ordinary criminal dying a shameful death.
As we enter this Holy Week, what are we hoping to see? What are we hoping to believe in? Because if we are hoping to encounter Christ in great marvels and miracles over these next days, we are going to be disappointed. Jesus will be revealed to us in the ordinary – in struggle and in suffering. We will see Jesus anointed for death by an unnamed woman. We will see him breaking bread with his disciples, then going to pray in sorrow in the garden. We will see Jesus abandoned by his friends to die alone and in agony. And even on Easter, we will hear the good news, “He is risen!” but Mark will deny us a glimpse of the risen Christ. There is little glory to see in this story. If we call on God’s power, we will find a God who chooses to be powerless. If we call on God’s eloquence, we will find a God who chooses to be silent before his accusers. If we call on God’s salvation, we will find a God who refuses to save himself. The only Son of God that we can proclaim will be the one who subjects himself to suffering and death on the cross.
This might sound like a bleak picture, but it is far better news than any God of power and majesty, because in this week, we see a God who knows us. We meet God in weakness and despair because that is where God comes to meet us. We are reminded once again that there is nowhere we can go in this life where Christ cannot journey with us. There is no fear that is foreign to him, no hurt that he cannot bear for our sake, and for the sake of the whole world. Christ intimately knows our worst pains and sorrows, and takes them on himself so that he might raise us to new life. A God of perfect, shining glory couldn’t do that. Only a king who wore a crown of thorns and a savior who emptied himself on a Cross could know and love us like that. But that’s not all that we see; we see a God who knows what it means to suffer betrayal and humiliation and death at our hands, and who forgives and saves us anyway. We see a God who would rather be broken than break us. We see a God who has promised to never abandon us, even in the moments when we turn from God. We see a God who would do anything – suffer any indignity, endure any pain, harrow Hell itself – anything to bind up our wounded world.
This is the Son of God we can expect to meet. It isn’t going to look like much, at least not to the eyes of the world. There is no wondrous spectacle, no heavenly proofs to win us over. There is just incomprehensible love, and the promise that Christ can make even the worst instrument of death blossom into the tree of life. This is what we can see. This is what we can believe. And this is how we can live.